A line between genius and chaos: how Pine became the UK’s best restaurant

We chat to Pine chefs Cal Byerley and Ian Waller to find out how they turned a cow barn into the number one restaurant in the country.

Updated on • Written By Pete Dreyer

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A line between genius and chaos: how Pine became the UK’s best restaurant

If you arrive at Pine for dinner in the dead of winter, as we did, you might find yourself triple-checking Google Maps. After a 20 minute drive out of Newcastle, you eventually swing a left into what is, unmistakably, a farm, where corrugated metal barns and outbuildings loom overhead. You check your phone again. You’re in the right place. Down the track, you see the glare of a neon green sign in the darkness.

‘I don’t know another restaurant in the top of a shed on a farm in the middle of nowhere,’ laughs Pine owner and pastry chef Cal Byerley. ‘Sometimes people get here and you can see they’re a little bit uneasy about what they’ve got themselves into.’


Any doubts quickly fade away once you're sitting in front of the fire in Pine's cosy lounge, but how does a restaurant like Pine end up here, in the top of a weather-beaten Northumberland cow barn? The answer is right outside. Sit in the restaurant and you’ll find yourself gazing out through huge panoramic windows, into a series of windswept fields. Those aren’t just any old fields - they’ve belonged to Cal and his family for over 200 years. Even now, Cal and wife Sian (who runs front-of-house at Pine) live on the farm next door. The pair are inexorably connected to this land.

‘When I was a kid, my dad’s way of teaching me to drive was driving across the fields to the local pub, the Robin Hood,’ Cal says. ‘One day we drove over to the pub and he was like, “you work here now.” It wasn’t a choice I made! I used to drive him across the fields and he’d have a couple of pints whilst I did some pot washing. Not only did he get a lift to and from the pub, he was also teaching me the realities of work life!’

Choice or not, cheffing turned out to be a path that Cal hasn't deviated from since. He gravitated towards pastry from an early age - ‘I always loved being at work so I didn’t mind being one of the last ones there,’ he says - and his pastry proficiency led him into increasingly high profile kitchens, including Rogan & Co and then The Forest Side in the Lake District. ‘It’s a real band of brothers thing,’ he adds. ‘Once you're with the right people it’s just like a family, I’ve always just loved it.’

neon sign outside pine

Pine in the snow. Photos: Joe Taylor Photography

The Forest Side is really the beginning of Pine’s story - this is where three of Pine’s core four first met, and the focus on wild food and foraging provided a key part of Pine’s DNA. Cal had worked with The Forest Side head chef Kevin Tickle at Rogan & Co and followed him to Grasmere to become the restaurant’s head pastry chef. Pine head chef Ian Waller and head sommelier Vanessa Stoltz would arrive at the restaurant later, but Ian arrived altogether more disillusioned with cooking. ‘The plan was never to be a chef again!’ he says. ‘I was starting to not really enjoy it.’ In many ways, The Forest Side, Cal and Kevin included, restored his love for food. Without them, he admits, he probably wouldn’t be a chef. Instead, he rose up the ranks quickly, taking over as head chef when Kevin left to open Heft in High Newton.

‘As soon as I saw it, I started ringing people...’

Though they'd worked together, Cal and Ian had never had full creative control over their own restaurant and still harboured dreams of running their own place. Some years later after all three had left the Forest Side, Cal and Sian came across a barn at Vallum Farm for sale; the pair had been looking for a site for their own restaurant project, but had struggled to find something that fit the vision in their minds. ‘I lied to Sian and said we were going to open this laid back cafe,’ Cal laughs. ‘Then I told Ian that I wanted to have the best restaurant in the country!’

The barn at Vallum Farm was an ideal space - a downstairs kitchen already installed, two rooms for a dining room and a bar. The pair had no backers and no investment other than their own savings, but the project felt right and they dived right in.

‘As soon as I saw it, I started ringing people,’ says Cal. ‘We rung Ian and Vanessa and started convincing them to move back to Newcastle.’ This was no mean feat. Ian and Vanessa had moved to London and, at first, had little to no interest in moving back up north to rural Northumberland. ‘When I came up and saw it, I realised it could be really great,’ says Ian. ‘I had to do a little bit of convincing with Ness, but after that we just came up and started cooking.’

dining room at pine

And so, Pine had its core team - Sian managing the restaurant, Vanessa running the wine, and Cal and Ian in the kitchen, looking after sweet and savoury courses respectively. Much has changed at Pine since it opened in 2021, but these four are the beating heart of the restaurant. Every guest that visits will meet all four of them during the meal, and the bonds of their friendship filter through to every aspect of the experience. In contrast to the cold, industrial farm outside, Pine overflows with warmth and familiarity. ‘I always say that Pine is 40% food and drink and 60% everything else,’ says Cal. ‘A lot of people just love the atmosphere of the restaurant.’

‘It’s good for the younger chefs as well, because they get to go to the tables and they’re not in a rush if a guest starts talking to them,’ Ian adds. ‘We don’t have scripts or anything like that, so you’re getting everyone’s individual personalities throughout the meal, and those are the personalities that make the restaurant.’

‘If it’s delicious, it goes on the menu.’

It’s Ian and Cal’s symbiotic kitchen relationship that really defines the food at Pine. Although they look after two different aspects of the menu, there’s a refreshing fluidity of ingredients at Pine that means there’s constant crossover between the two. You’re likely to find a lot of preserved berries, fruits, even rhubarb among the savoury courses, for example, whilst the current dessert menu includes parsnip with verbena caramel, sea buckthorn, and chicory root with pineapple weed.

This unconstrained creativity makes Pine a difficult restaurant to pigeon hole - the produce is overwhelmingly local and seasonal, but the kitchen uses techniques from all over the world to mould those ingredients into a series of distinct dishes. Ian especially is a real scholar of world cookery, often adapting niche techniques to create new, interesting flavours for dishes, whether it’s paratha-like breads layered with langoustine brain butter, or sticky vegetable pastes fermented like Persian black limes.

‘The thing we realised when we started the restaurant is that we don’t have anyone saying no to us,’ says Ian. As a result, there are no rules at Pine, except one. ‘If it’s delicious, it goes on the menu.’ Unbridled creativity has the potential to go extremely well or extremely badly; in this sense, Pine is always treading a line between genius and chaos, but the freedom of expression is a vital part of the alchemy that makes this restaurant special.

barbecue skewer dish at Pine

In two and a half years, Pine has scooped a long list of awards, including a Michelin star and the title of SquareMeal’s Best Restaurant in the UK for 2024. Thousands have made the pilgrimage from nearby Newcastle, taking that same left into Vallum Farm and climbing the stairs to Pine to discover something truly remarkable. ‘I always thought Pine would be a special occasion, once a year thing,’ says Cal, ‘but I never thought it would become a 2-3 times a year place. For some people it’s become a 5-6 times a year place. We’ve had a guy come twice in one week!’

It might still be a surprise to Cal, but it’s no surprise to us; there’s no question that Pine has become one of the UK’s pre-eminent destination restaurants. This restaurant seemingly has no limits, but it's also not about to abandon its roots. When Pine opened, Cal's dad made them the neon sign that sits over the entrance, so that people would know where the restaurant is. Michelin star or not, that sign isn't going anywhere. ‘We refuse to change it,’ laughs Ian. ‘It’s so out of place but we love it.’

If you could give someone starting out some words of wisdom, what would they be?

C: There’s nothing wrong with going to work at a pub or something like that, as long as you’re learning loads and they treat you well. Do your research on places before you look for jobs.
I: Get in there with the places that are doing fast, active cooking. Learn your basics and how to deal with being busy.

Do you have a favourite cooking gadget?

I: Our fridge with a radiator in it! I build all our equipment - our charcuterie machines, dry-agers and fermentation chambers, I just build them out of old fridges. Our 60 degree cabinet is a freezer I found on the farm, with a radiator inside and temperature control, so it maintains 60 degrees inside and we make our black apples, black garlic, garums, soy sauces.

Can you remember the first dish you learned to cook?

C: Jam tarts. My mum’s a great cook, that’s where I got that from.
I: We used to make this Basque chicken thing - it’s just chicken, rice and chorizo all cooked together but it's delicious.

How would you describe your cooking style in three words?

C + I: Chaotic. Intriguing. Curious.

What's your favourite thing to cook at home?

I: Rostis. Or a pork jowl, love it.
C: Mince and dumplings, that’s my go to food at home. When I want to eat, it’s something hearty like mince and dumplings.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

C + I: Oh, Shin Noodle Cup, no question.

What's your favourite food destination?

C: We’ve just been to Noma, that has to be up there.
I: Yeah it has to be Copenhagen - some of the best meals I’ve ever had

If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?

C: I always wanted to be an archaeologist! There’s something about finding a dinosaur bone that I’d absolutely love. Or treasure! It’d be so cool to find treasure.
I: I’d have been a ski instructor, that’s the only other thing I really wanted to do.

What was the last great meal you had?

C: Noma. Outrageous.
I: I don’t know why anyone would say a bad thing about Noma, it was absolutely brilliant. I’d built it up in my head for so long and it was even better than I thought it would be. If you’re even 1% as good as that restaurant is, you’re doing alright.

Discover more of our chef interviews where we catch up with Roberta Hall-McCarron, Robin GillJames Lowe and many more.

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