‘Everyone needs to take their head out of the sand - it is time to reflect on the past and look at the future’

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th May 2020

On Saturday March 14th, Daniel Clifford sat down and ate a meal at the two Michelin-starred restaurant where he has spent the past 22 years of his career - Midsummer House. 

Unbeknownst to him, two days later, the Prime minister would deliver a speech warning people to stay away from public houses, restaurants and cafes in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, marking a turning point in the restaurant's history - as the chef and owner made the decision to close. 

We spoke to Daniel Clifford and his head chef at Midsummer House, Mark Abbott, about what they have been doing with their time since the lockdown began - and how different the restaurant will be when it reopens its doors. 

By the third week after Midsummer House's closure, Daniel said he had "itchy feet." And so, he and Mark met up to discuss practical things they wanted to implement when the restaurant can welcome guests once more.

Inspired by their recent travels, which saw them dine at restaurants like Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York and Frantzén in Stockholm - and, like many others in the industry, aware that cutting costs would be absolutely essential to the restaurant's survival - they decided to leave no stone unturned. 

Mark said: "Chef rang me one day and went: 'Right. What pisses you off the most, and why are we putting up with that?'" 

The list proved longer than they could ever have expected. From reviewing their relationships with their staff and considering how things were stored can affect service, to the very core of what the restaurant's offering is.

"Our KP is writing us lists of things that he doesn't need to wash," Mark laughed.

Daniel said: "It's really opened up a can of worms where we say to ourselves: 'what are we?'. Yes we're a two Michelin star restaurant, yes we're very proud of that, but what do we want to achieve? I'd like to die a three star chef if I'm being honest, and that's always been my ambition."  

 

What does the future look like at Midsummer House?

This self-analysis has led the chefs to review every aspect of the restaurant experience, and, when it is finally allowed to reopen its doors, will no longer be the establishment it has been for the past two decades. But instead of trying to do more, the plan is to do the opposite - providing a stripped-down, curated experience. 

The menu will be tasting only, instead of an extensive - and possibly intimidating - wine list, it will be paired, with an alternative alcohol-free flight prepared by the kitchen team. 

Daniel explained: "The way people eat has changed. My outlook - it's taken 20 years - but it has changed too."

As for dealing with allergen and additions, the chefs don't quite see eye to eye as of yet. 

"I want to scrap it all, he [Mark] wants to keep some of it," Daniel said, justifying his position as follows: "There are lots of different restaurants with lots of different offers. This is a unique experience. You're coming here to be blown away.

"I can't achieve that if I'm offering everything to everyone." 

What will the guide say?

Having already conceded his ambitions to bag the Michelin Guide's top accolade, we asked the chefs how they expect it to react to such drastic changes. 

"I think the guides are going to be blown away," Daniel said, confident that the quality of the cooking would remain unchanged, as would the quality of the produce, but that streamlining things would allow them to drive standards even higher. 

He added: "There's that golden saying - what Michelin have always said - they can only judge you on what you give 'em."

Though the future of the industry is uncertain, the pair have a positive outlook on what the future might hold for Midsummer House.

Daniel said: "Everyone needs to take their heads outside the sand slightly and realise that this is a problem for the whole of the hospitality industry. It is time to reflect on the past and look at the future."

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th May 2020

‘Everyone needs to take their head out of the sand - it is time to reflect on the past and look at the future’