Dominic Chapman, Royal Oak Paley Street

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 25th November 2010
We have three menus here at The Royal Oak, set lunch, lunch and then an a la carte dinner menu. There are similarities with the lunch and dinner menu, however we add more to the dinner menu, making it a greater offer. Are lunch and dinner the same price? Dinner is slightly more expensive, we offer a great value lunch menu £21.00 for three courses; £17.95 for two courses it's, in my opinion, a great offer. My values for lunch are not about using lesser quality ingredients, or trying to use up items that perhaps aren't selling. I want lunch to be good value, but also, be reflective of the ingredients that we use and the style of food we offer. It's something that I stress on the set lunch, the quality of it must be as good as the a la carte, if it's not it doesn't go on. How competitive is lunch for you in this area? Very, there are a number of Michelin star restaurants in the area, and not only very good Michelin star restaurants, but also some excellent pubs, there's probably half a dozen great pubs. What do people see you as here at the Royal Oak, Dominic? do they see you as a pub? or Michelin star restaurant? I think we meet both criteria, we do really well on walk in trade, which considering our location, is really positive. Yes, there's not a footfall passed the door. No, but we've built a reputation for good food, that offers value for money, using great ingredients. It's very important for us to look after the local trade, when you consider other restaurants around us. Dominic, what is the best selling dish on the menu currently, and how long has it been on the menu? The longest standing dish on the menu is the Venison "Peppered Haunch of Venison with creamed Spinach and Sauce Poivrade". It's Denham estate venison, I am currently using a Fallow Deer. It's by far our biggest seller, and one of those dishes, that if it's not on the menu, we get asked for it constantly. Another dish that is hugely popular is the "Lasagne of Rabbit with Wild Mushrooms and chervil", that's been on the menu for the last eighteen months. Do you sell a lot of game? We feature lots of game here, we are coming into that time of year and it's a wonderful time, we've just past the August 12th and of course Grouse, September brings grey leg Partridge, Teal, Wood Cock, always have Wood Cock and Hare, I love Hare, I think we do Game very well here at The Royal Oak. Dominic, is game still considered perhaps a "Man's Dish"? Yes, I know what you mean, but we have a number of our regular lady diners that eat game, I mean, when we cook Grouse, it's served pink. We get great feed back. We do a great Hare and Trotter pie, it's really our twist on the classic jugged Hare but in a pie. For me it's a wonderful dish, and people really enjoy the pies, we always have a pie on the menu, currently we're serving a Rabbit and Bacon, or perhaps Oxtail and Kidney. Dominic, how often do you look to change the menu? We look to the seasons, so for example, we always have a seasonal soup on the menu. Fish again is very seasonal, Sprats are coming into season, which is really exciting, in the Summer we featured wild salmon. I guess a strong relationship with your suppliers with continual communication, is very important? Absolutely, it's paramount, but I really look forward to things, like gulls eggs, I look forward to wild Salmon, Sand eels. We don't change the menu every day, I think we'd lose the consistency, also we don't change dishes that work, if something is right and it works and the customer enjoy it we don't change it. I agree with Dominic, changing things on a daily basis are recipe for inconsistency, but how do you evaluate when a dish should be changed, what process do you go through, is it driven by the season? Yes definitely, take Gazpacho for an example, in the summer it's fresh, refreshing, but as we enter September, the weather temperatures cools a little, and people are less likely to want to eat Gazpacho, so we look to what's in season. We have a sweet corn soup, with cockles and bacon. Sweet corn is at its best right now, so we look to what's best, what's in season, and move forward from there. Dominic, you look at the seasons; you balance your menu, but at what point do you say, we need to change that dish? To be honest when I get bored of it. That's an honest comment. Do sales play a part in the change process? Yes, they do. Let's be honest we've all created a dish that we think is going to be a winner and it doesn't sell. Yes, if it really doesn't sale for example Tete de Veau Calf brains, then I'll probably take the dish off pretty quick, having said that, we had Tete de Veau on the set lunch menu and we sold out. You have some very adventurous customers. Yes, we are really lucky with the clients, but I have to be completely confident in a dish, and if we get a few niggles from the customers, then I have to look at the dish and try to understand where their comments come from. Is customer feed back a driver to the dishes on your menu, then Dominic, here at the Royal Oak? A huge driver, if I'm honest - I'm paranoid. To get a dish on the menu, I have to have confidence in it, It has to be hugely tasty, seasonal, and balanced, it has to come together, and if your getting a few negative comments you have to taste that dish, and try to understand from the customers view point, and very often they are right, so yes you have to listen to your customers. Dominic, is there a flexibility in your menu's to respond to a recommendation from your suppliers, a phone call that tells you a special something has just arrived... Yes, if the supplier phones and for example says we've some outstanding mussels, then we can use them on the set lunch menu. But we have a procedure and formula that we work to, for example, if someone phones and says that I've got some amazing Snapper or Barramundi for example, I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. It has to make sense, something that we know and love and we know will sell - Mussels, crabs, langoustines, and then there's room to put a special on. Do you cost your menus? Yes, we do. And do you cost each dish? Yes, we endeavour to cost each dish, and of course that's what we aim to do, being honest ,it doesn't always happen all of the time. What food cost percentage do you work to? We work, to a food cost of 33%, so 67% GP Dominic, if you had to pigeon hole your food style or Genre, how would you sum up the food on the menu at the Royal Oak? That's a really hard question, a really tough question. I try to be seasonal, I try to be as honest as I can in my buying. I buy all of my meat and fish from the UK. For my vegetables I will go to France or to Spain because at times they are better. Dominic, where do you stand on local verses best quality debate, for example, French raspberries are tasting better than UK ones, which ones get on your menus? French, its simple, I want to by the best and if that means we buy French raspberries - I'll always buy the ones that are best, that taste the best, but when Scottish raspberries are at their best, then those are the ones that will be on my menu. I have varying rules, I'll never buy Kenyan "French Beans" I'll buy English bobby beans , they are fantastic, when in season. I've never quite worked out why Kenyan beans are known as "French Beans"? I know it's strange, but I will buy my tomatoes from France, you know that they are full of flavour, they are sweet and delicious, Charantais melon from France, are the best. So to go back to your original question, where do I place my food style, it's driven by quality produce that is at it's best, full of flavour. A melon salad, with ripe tomatoes some mint and that is the dish. You also have to treat the best ingredients with respect. I'm not a chef that likes to mess around with food too much, if you take a veal sweetbread, pan fry it until it's a golden brown and that's pretty much it. I'm not one to make a mousse then cover it in crepinette, there's nothing wrong with that, it's just not what my food is about, I guess it's intelligent simplicity. Everything we do is thought out, when I'm off or at home, when ever I get five minutes I'm looking at menus, I'm thinking, thinking, thinking. Everything is thought about, but equally it's not rocket science, it's taking a beautiful Lemon Sole, or Dover Sole cooked in foaming butter, but the butter is not burnt, it's golden brown, the sauce is seasoned correctly, the parsley is green, not brown, and that's the type of food that I love, but it has to be done right, simple food done badly is not good. Lets be frank here, Dominic, simple food is not easy, you have to have quality produce and be very confident. Yes, Yes, and not become too "Cheffy" and start adding things, that the dish doesn't need. Everyone is guilty of that from time to time, you put your Chefs hat on and... "What does it need? What does it need?" Yes, it's about bringing the dish together perhaps just a little sauce, I'm just not into these unnecessary garnishes. Dominic, how important are your front of house team, to sell the food that you and your team create and produce? It's paramount to what we do. It really is a 50/50 team effort. How do you get your front of house team on board with your menus and food? We have meeting every morning, talk about the menu, talk about new dishes, we do menu tasting. I get the front of house team involved by looking after the cheese. If we've got a dish that we want to sell that day, get it tasted, explain it. Specials for example, I may have four Red Mullet, I'm not going to physically add those to the menu, as they will sell in minutes. The front of house team can verbalise it. It is really important, that they understand the dish. If they're asked where the Cepes are from"¦They are from France, they need to know that, there is nothing worse, than "¦"I'll have to just ask the Chefs". I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes the team are young and they make mistakes, but it's hugely important that the kitchen and front of house team are talking and in communication, that can be passed onto the customer. I think the customer enjoys that knowledge also, or at least in my opinion they do. Yes, if a customer gets a warm welcome on arrival, and knowledgeable staff, then, it makes our jobs as chefs, that much easier. It really is a team effort, fifty percent kitchen and fifty percent the team on the floor - front of house. They have to be proud to serve the food that we cook, we encourage questions. Our manager Gherass Mo is a total foodie. Dominic, last question, we're approaching Autumn, and without influencing your answer, what for you is your favourite season, when it comes to writing your menu? Autumn for any chef has to be a brilliant time of year, there is so much produce, game, berries, apples, plums, Scottish raspberries, Cepes are around, cob-nuts, Almonds - it's endless. Autumn is a season that I really look forward to, we are moving out of Summer, things are getting a little dry, and then the mornings turn fresh, and suddenly the leaves on the trees are starting to change. Autumn is a brilliant time of year. The creative juices start to flow. I think Autumn may prove a popular answer. Dominic, thank you so much for your time today, I wish you all the very best and continued success here at The Royal Oak You're Welcome.

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Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 25th November 2010

Dominic Chapman, Royal Oak Paley Street