Steve Love Loves Restaurant Birmingham

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2011

Steve Love has been cooking since he was 15, with his mother being his strongest influence for pursuing a career in catering. While working at Ettington Park Hotel in 1997, Steve won the Roux scholarship, the prize of which was a stage at Alain Ducasse’s three Michelin starred restaurant in Paris. When he moved back to England he worked at various restaurants, but it was while he was at Mallory Court in Lemington Spa that he met his wife Claire, and one year later in 2001 they opened Love’s Restaurant in Lemington Spa. They moved the restaurant to The College Arms in 2005, before opening up Loves Restaurant in Birmingham in 2009. Steve has also won the National Chef of the Year for Great Britain award, shared by only 22 other chefs. He talks to us about his menus and keeping the customer happy.  

Steve Love thank you for inviting us in. First question for you how many menus do you currently run at Loves Restaurant ?

Currently three, we've got the prix fixe which is £25 for three courses which runs lunch all week and then dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night. We've got the á la carte which runs all the time we're open and the same with the tasting menu we run while we're open as well.

And how many times do you change those?

It changes every month. It's seasonal depending on what we can get at the right price and what's coming through the door but a lot of local suppliers which we use and again the only problem with that is we get the good prices and you get the good products but you order ten and you might only get eight or you might get 20 and it comes down to the stuff that's coming through the door, especially with the game this time of year.

What would you say is your current best selling dish and how long has it been featured on your menu? Do you have a Steve Love signature dish?

Well they're all of our signature dishes it's nothing similar to anywhere else it's stuff we do of our own, nothing's copied, because it's plagiarism and I don't do that anyway.

All chefs do that don't they?

I might take bits of it but you do it in your own way. You don't do it exactly the same but then it's the evolution of food isn't it everything comes full circle and I know we've got a beetroot dish on which has been on since day one of opening, we had it at Cotswold House but again it's evolved in time.

So these are dishes that have evolved as you've evolved your style?

There's been things added, stuff taken away but basically we've got a beetroot dish with seven different ways of doing the beetroot with a little bit of feta on it as well. That's the main thing of what we do, is to take one main ingredient and do three or four things with that ingredient and put other flavours into it which match and go well. When I went to Ducasse it took my a while to get my head around it but it was about the quality of the ingredient and doing as little to it, to get it on the plate but to make it look great, taste amazing, and the guests enjoy it and that's what we're trying to do here.

Have you had to adapt the style of food that you do then from Cotswold House to Birmingham? I would imagine it's very, very different markets.

It's similar markets.

Okay.

As I said the only adaption is we've gone through and we've changed and evolved. We run a small á la carte at the moment it's four starters, four mains plus four desserts. And we do a beef for two as well included in that which has been on there since day one and basically we saw it as a safety dish for people coming through the door not knowing what we were doing, not knowing the style of the food that we were doing but if they saw rib of beef for two they'd go for it and we left it on and it sells really well.  

What makes you change or drop a dish then?

There's a few things, seasonality, availability, the price of the product, if the price goes through the roof we take it off. I can't afford, because the margins are so tight.

What margins do you work on?

I mean the food costs probably round about 15% for food.

Really?

It's 15 - 20% but that's about building up the sources that I've built up over the last ten years working for myself and also working at Cotswold House. We go direct to the producer rather than through the middle man so all of a sudden you're paying £2 or £3 less per item for a piece of game.

That makes a big difference once you're in business doesn't it?

It's massive. You might have to do a little more prep to it but then that's my time. I work it out and put it in at about 35p an hour.

As much as that? ((laughs))

Yeah if I'm lucky and that's on a good week. We get a lot of repeat guests and you do try and swap and change, again we keep it so tight the choices, I mean the more choice people have got the more they get confused. It's not a good thing.

You can give too much on a menu, absolutely I agree with you.

Also it's having to control it as well, we've got food costs if something's not selling you've still got to hold it. So you need to make sure you're keeping the portions tight and you're obviously keeping a control on it.

Steve you run your own business, you mentioned food cost there, customer is king so how big a factor is customer feedback in the dishes on your menu and how do you respond to negativity and positivity.?

You have to respond to both. Obviously it's nice when everyone says, everything's glowing and everything's great but you do get the odd person that turns round and says they've got a complaint and they didn't like it but whenever the food goes down on the table they're left for a few minutes and they're always checked back on to see if there's a problem, then if there is then you've got an opportunity to do something about it. It's the ones that say, "Yeah everything's fine," then they go away and then they complain about it and there's nothing you can do about that but I mean Trip Advisor, yeah I know it's a big bugbear"¦

It is hot topic of debate at the moment, Trip Advisor.

Yeah at one point probably about three months ago we were number two in Birmingham out of 400 restaurants which is fantastic, two or three negative comments and most of them were unjust so I started doing the right to reply on them and just trying to, without being nasty about it, just put them straight.

Have you read some of Sat Bains' Trip Advisor replies?

No.

They're quite legendary apparently.

He did say he was doing it before and I thought, "˜Why should you just have to sit and take it? Why should you sit and take the abuse from someone, I mean it's"¦

Is everyone a food critic now though? I mean you've got bloggers, everyone's got cameras on their phone. I can eat in your restaurant and I can post every dish on Twitter before you can give me the bill at the end of it. So does everyone become a food critic?

Yeah but then again they're paying the bill and if they've got something to criticise then they've got something to criticise but again it works both ways. as I said the customer's supposed to be always right but they're not.

I mean it does work both ways because I read Twitter and Derren Brown, he put up some wonderful tweets about you here. So it's a two-edged sword isn't it?

The business we got from that was massive and the hits on the website after that was massive.

But then equally if you get one guy that goes, "Oh I just had a really bad meal," you know it can work in your favour and against you obviously.

And we had one guy on Trip Advisor and I did a right to reply on it because he came in and obviously wasn't happy when he walked through the door.We sat him on a table next to the lounge/bar area and he first complained it was too noisy sat next to a busy bar and we've got two sofas in there and we had a table of six that were sat having pre-dinner drinks, were enjoying themselves. We moved him to another table and he then proceeded to say that he was sat around a pillar. I mean the tables won't bend

Couldn't Derren Brown have done something to the tables when ((laughingly)) he came in?

Unless Uri Geller's been in these tables"¦I can see a single one in my restaurant that bends round a table and he was moved for a third time and then he complained that somebody sat next to him was playing on a mobile phone and we request that people don't do it and we asked the people two or three times and then on the third time they stopped it. We can't enforce that. I can't take a mobile phone off someone if they're playing with it in a restaurant.

Absolutely not.

You can't do it. And he was miserable from the minute he walked in and I did put on Trip Advisor that most restaurants have got a black list for customers, like we have here and I said he was put on that list before he'd even paid the bill and we'd never have the guy back. So I put that on Trip Advisor

I think you have every right to respond. If people can openly criticise you I think you have every right to respond. I guess the challenge is it's very visible what you write and you have to be careful that it doesn't appear to be negative or you're not accepting the criticism.

I mean what I write is one thing and what Claire approves is a different thing. ((laughs))

I mean let's talk about social media then. I know you're using social media is it something that you use to drive business?

Something we're getting more involved with. Obviously Twitter is used locally, we've got quite a few followers locally as well and that's good if you've got a couple of late tables you need to sell you need to put them out there and we'd normally pick up but we use Facebook quite a bit as well and we've got quite a few people that book up on that but that makes it"¦it's a modern age and you've got to deal with it and move with it otherwise you're left behind. I mean I'm the type of guy I have a job to turn the computer on still I know I've got to use one otherwise I let Claire do it all.

Absolutely you talked a lot about local suppliers, you've built up a lot of suppliers over ten years. Is there flexibility in your menu that if one of them phones you up and says, "Look Steve we've got some beautiful whatever, that you've got the flexibility of going, "Yeah I'll have them," and putting those on your menu and incorporating them somehow into your menu?

Yes of course. It's the same when we were in the pub and there was allotments next to us and we used to give the guys beer for vegetables and it's cost us pence but they got a couple of pints at the end of the night and they're not going to use what they've grown and it's fantastic, locally grown and locally sourced.

How is Birmingham for sourcing product? I mean it's obviously England's second city, it's not London, how do you find getting a supply of some of the less obvious items?

We use the mainstream suppliers for a lot of the stuff, we still get stuff that's coming from France that if you can't get over here also, but I'm from Stratford On Avon, that's where we live and one of the places

So Evesham and places like that?

Yeah it's massive and we still use a couple of suppliers which we go and see and we've got a local butcher in Stratford which we use and have used him before, we used him at Cotswold House, he helps us out as much as anything else and he gives us the bones, we don't pay for the bones, he gives us the trotters.They do moan when you walk through the door, "Are you actually going to spend anything with us today?" but it's saving them money but it's also great to be able to go in and use lesser cuts of meat because with the knowledge these guys have got I go in there most Mondays and just pick through some stuff and just say, "What have you got? What can you use? What have you got a glut of that you need to shift?" and we'll utilise it.

It's important isn't it especially when it's your own business to work with suppliers as you say you're buying power is small in a small restaurant like this so you've got to be economical with what you use and make sure that you are buying at the right price.

I mean the game around by us is phenomenal as well and you can see we had some venison and we get the whole thing in and we basically prep it ourselves but there again you have to have the right skills to go and do it and myself and Ed, I mean Ed breaks the venison down and seams it all and you're getting 70 portions out of a deer which has cost you not a great deal in the way of money but it's cost you two days working time to prep it. So it's not the financial side of it it's the time that you've actually got to spend in the kitchens to do it and when there's only three of us it is tough. We make all the breads, we make all the ice creams and it is a selection of five breads each day, fresh for each service and it's that time but then we do what we do because we enjoy doing it.

Yeah you have to with the hours that you do.

With the costing side of it if you buy a bread roll in it's basically ten or 15p a bread roll, if you're making it yourself the whole batch is costing that pretty much and it's saving that and that's why the food costs are so low but then it's"¦

But equally if you get bread right it's the first thing that people eat.

Oh it's fantastic yeah and you can tell the difference between going somewhere that's bought a generic loaf in which you go to all the other restaurants and you're served with exactly the same thing unless the pastry chef's doing a moonlight, you know.

You've mentioned the seasons a lot but last question then as a chef what's your favourite menu season and why?

It's probably now, coming into the autumn but again we've got a local farm shop next to us which we go and use probably the food which they're growing and you've got local squashes coming through now and I walked in Monday and they've got ten different squashes and they're fantastic and it's stuff I haven't seen for years. You don't get them in the supermarkets because it's mass produced to look pretty rather than taste nice.

Whereas this have got knobbles all over it and all out of shape.

I know it's great and it tastes phenomenal and again we've got the game season

Are you more feathered or hoofed for game?

Both. I mean this next week we've just had some wood pigeons again this week but next week we've got rabbits, we've got widgeon, we've got"¦

Got what sorry?

"¦widgeon.

What's a widgeon?

A small duck.

Okay I thought you had like a speech impediment for a minute ((laughs)). I thought you were like Jonathan Ross.

No basically we've got ducks that come in, we've got teal.

So let's just go back to a widgeon, a widgeon is a what?

It's a duck, a little duck.

Seriously a little duck. And what makes it a widgeon?

It's the same family, it's what's come through the door and I can't remember exactly why it's called a widgeon?

I've never heard of that and I genuinely thought you were mucking around for a minute there.

We get the mallards in and we get the teal and we get the widgeons.

Okay fantastic and what do you do with that? Do you treat it at as a pigeon?

The pigeons and ducks get treated the same anyway early we spoke about planning a dish how, we take the main ingredient and we do as much with that ingredient as we can. Most people throw away the pigeon legs, we braise them for two days and they're soft and they're lovely, it might only be a small piece to go on the plate but it's adding something to that dish that isn't on there. It sits in the water bath for two days at 75 degrees and it's brilliant and it falls apart, whereas you try and cook them and roast them they're like as tough as old boots. Until we had the water baths I didn't really do much with wood pigeon apart from making consommé out of it because it was always deemed to be tough but just the ways we cook it now they're lovely, they fall apart. Also this time of year you have the berries on the trees and you take the dog for a walk and you get all the rosehips coming through at the moment, you've got sloe berries which we're doing something with, elderberries are on this week, damsons, again it's great news just to see all this in the woods and on the trees by us.

Well listen good luck with Loves Restaurant thank you very much for your time.

Okay thank you.

Brilliant thank you very much.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2011

Steve Love Loves Restaurant Birmingham