A lovely little read courtesy of The Independent
There’s nothing better than feeling like you’re at home, when you’re eating out. The key elements are the same – comfy seating, relaxing décor, friendly people – with the added bonus that someone cooks for you, meaning you can sit back and enjoy eating, drinking and leafing through the weekend papers.
It’s a vibe The Corner House, with the help of manager Thea, has spent a lot of time cultivating – making you feel at home, in their home...Read the full article here
Day 318 Of My Captivity.
The restaurant world keeps its own time. I've been the GM for nearly eleven months now but it feels like I turned around and a few seasons passed. I worked for Mr Morrisons when I was student up north doing night shifts at his slaughterhouse near Wakefield. I was a dinner lady serving breakfast at 11pm to men who'd previously worked on oil rigs. Lunch was around 3am. The other dinner ladies were usually married to the men, or would be, and the sons often came to work there too. We were all locked in together and the shifts would pass in a dreamlike state, as though non of it were real and we only existed at night. I once bumped in to one of the other women in the town centre mid morning and we exchanged shy hellos, feeling exposed outside of our parallel time zone.
Comparatively this job is a breeze. I mean, at no point during a busy night has anyone dragged me in to a staff room, handed me half a pint of cheap wine and a Lambert and Butler and said 'Get that down ye luv, it'll carry you through till finish.' Not that I'd complain. When I started at the slaughterhouse I asked one of the less terrifying women how many sausages, bacon etc I should put for each serving and she said: 'Put it this way, if they can see t'plate there'll be hell to pay.' Oh, okay. So, yeah, comparatively, this job is a breeze. Not easy though. I'm still learning. Every time I think I'm beginning to get my head around it all there's something new to learn, another element of the job that I've been shielded from until deemed ready.
I need Lara, the previous Manager, less, but lord knows I still need her. She's my 'Restaurant Management for Idiots' guide. We're about to head in to our first Christmas together and she is bright eyed and bushy tailed whilst I stare at the already heavily booked calendar with a sense of mounting bewilderment. Of the staff who were here when I arrived only Lara and Simon remain. Everyone else I either employed or brought with me from previous jobs. So my safety nets have been slowly disappearing and more often now I find myself turning back to ask an adult what I should do and finding only myself there. My wonderful, utterly capable and profoundly chaotic Ali has moved to our new pub, The King Alfred, and is now quite rightly an assistant manager. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed taking that darling for granted. Apart from her multi tasking genius on the floor, she did a lot of background stuff that I consequently never had to think about. Until now. And Karon. Off she went and gave birth to a Henry. She'll be back though. Mark my words. Every time I get the place ready for an evening shift I think of Karon moving a table one inch to the right, adjusting a candle, all the little things that seem so inconsequential but strangely make such a difference. And then all the bright young things who come back for a month or two before heading off on their next adventure. So, obviously, I have some new staff.
There's Hannah, who in real life is one third of The Spitfire Sisters musical arrangement. She works for us around her gigs and much to all of our delights she'll be performing here during our Prohibition night for Winchester Cocktail week in February. All of the venues taking part will create two cocktails that wristband wearers can purchase for £4 each. I decided to serve ours in tea pots and keep to a prohibition style drink. Our cocktails will be The Mermaid's Tub and Moonshine Honey. It's all very exciting. We're using The Isle Of Wight Distillery and Fabian Chase (real name) is a mixologist who's helping me with my concoctions. Hannah is also a trained barista and makes the best coffees .
There's Dominic, Craig and Joshua who do a couple of shifts a week. Dom and Craig are students and very charming. Dominic in particular has been a hit with women of a certain age. I've had at least four come up to me after a meal and tell me he's 'just excellent'. Joshua does Viking re-enactments at the weekend and has promised I can come along one day. He turned up to work a few weeks ago with his hair carefully covering a fairly impressive battle wound.
'I like your hair like that.'
'I look like Justin Bieber.'
'No, no, no...yes.'
My old timers of the new wave are Sam and Janna, who joined me from my last job shortly after I started and I don't know what I'd do without them. Sam's main response to anything I or a customer says is 'No problem'. Janna comes in and quietly does everything that needs to be done without fuss or difficulty. And then of course there is Benjamin. I worked with him a few years ago at Loch Fyne. He was my supervisor when I was a waitress and now he's my supervisor again. Oh how the tables turn! Well, not really. We don't much do hierarchy here. I write him long rambling lists of things that need doing and he does them and ticks them off as he goes. His girlfriend Rachel has come to work here too. She's a student also and has a good dry sense of humour and like all of them, just cracks on.
So, our first Christmas booking is on the 24th of November and then its just a roller coaster ride to New Year's Eve. We're having a Day of The Dead themed party and Lara and I are having a ball sourcing decorations, drinks, Mexican style tapas. Quite a few of our conversations feature Pinata's and skulls. We've hired a close up magician who didn't baulk at all when I asked him to dress in top hat and skull face. It's going to be a splendid night and when it finishes I'll crawl in to bed, wake up on New Years day and remember that I will officially have worked here a whole year.read more
Tom’s Pies Background & Ethos
Tom Cull is the creator and Head Chef of Dartmoor Kitchen and the Tom’s Pies range of gourmet pies.Tom possesses a raw talent that has originated from a background of home cooking and beautiful food sourced on his own Dartmoor doorstep.He was raised in a cooking environment and has been inspired and guided by food from an early age.
After much travelling and gaining valuable experience cooking in prestigious kitchens, Tom returned to Devon with a keen plan to create a truly gourmet pie. He converted an old barn into a kitchen on his family’s 40 acre organic farm near Chagford in the heart of Dartmoor and started growing vegetables and making pies. Initially he supplied small delis, cafes and grocers locally before demand and production outgrew the barn and a bigger site was needed!
Tom’s Pies ethos comes from Tom’s firm belief in using responsibly sourced British ingredients, local where possible, and this is reflected in his insistence on sourcing only the best produce for all his food production. Tom’s Pies are all handmade from scratch in small batches by skilled chefs, the unique and delicious fillings are wrapped in the trademark thin and buttery short crust pastry.
Tom’s Pies Today
Tom’s Pies are now supplied nationally through a range of high-end independent retailers such as Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Partridges, Daylesford, Rick Stein’s Deli and River Cottage as well as Booths and Ocado whilst still maintaining relationships with many small independent delis and farm shops that have supported the brand from the start. On the food service side of the business they supply a range of pubs, hotels and restaurants such as Wembley Stadium, Eden Project, John Lewis, Geronimo Inns, Accor Group, DeVere Hotels, BA, The King Alfred and many more.
Tom’s Pies continue to win multiple awards, in 2014 Tom’s Pies won Great Taste Awards, Gold British Pie and Taste of the West awards as well as overall category winner for Savoury Bakery in the Taste of the West Awards. 2015’s awards included three Taste of the West Golds and three Great Taste Awards of one and two gold stars.
When I first started as manager at The Corner House I asked the owner what the difference between gross and net profit was.
No, really, I did.
Everything froze for a moment, the birds stopped singing in the trees, the coffee machine ground to a halt. To her credit she merely stared unblinkingly at me for a fraction of time (whilst she wildly calculated the risk she'd taken) before launching in to a 'Finance for Idiots' explanation: “Imagine you have a hundred pounds...”
Larabelle, my predecessor and educator, has fielded so many mind numbingly stupid questions from me its a wonder I haven't found her rocking in a corner. She sometimes draws pictures to explain things to me. And she does this on whatsapp whilst dandling a baby on her knee. The Corner House was her baby until she had an actual baby and she has bit by bit handed me the reins with great grace and kindness.
Everyone I work with in one way or another has had to teach me something they probably didn't think they'd have to teach me.
“Ali. ALI! How do I get someone to come and look at this beer thingy that doesn't work?”
“You see that number on the wall right next to the beer barrel?”
“Call that number and ask them to send someone.”
“Okay. And will they know what I'm talking about?”
“Yes. Just say you're calling from the – I'll do it.”
“Okay great! Thanks. Busy busy!”
I shuffle some papers.
“Ali. ALI! We need bin liners and -”
“I do that order on Fridays.”
“Right. Well there's hardly any Twisted Nose Gin left -”
“I've ordered some already.”
“Okay, good, great. Good job everyone, keep it up.”
During one of my early meetings with the owner she gave me some golden advice:
“The secret to good management is surrounding yourself with people who are better at something than you and then letting them crack on with it.”
Never let it be said that I don't listen.
But I am learning things. And I'm better at my job now than I was three months ago. The first time I had to arrange for a man from Dyno-rod to come I was so amazed that he actually showed up and fixed things I embraced him like a long lost friend and kissed him on both cheeks. I'm told this is unnecessary. But then on the two subsequent visits he's made he's always greeted me with a bear hug and a 'two sugars just a dash of milk sweetheart.' I feel like we're old friends now. His name's Rob and he and his wife are in Majorca at the moment so I'm not allowed to call him.
In the words of Blanche Dubois: 'I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.' Though I think she was largely talking about sex. And that's really frowned upon in a managerial capacity. Never let it be said that I don't listen.
The place is starting to feel like mine. As do the staff. They are mine. And if one of them leaves me for any reason at all (Damn you Karon and your glowing baby growing betrayal!) I will take it in much the same vein as I would being dumped. Three of my girls used to work with me at my last job and I brought them with me as a sort of security blanket. There's Janna who handles all my ailments with the stock phrase “Here, drink some water.” There's Sam who can answer most questions with “Yup, did it already.” Sophie who does one shift a week is basically a mum from the 1980's trapped in a 20 year old body “Everything looks better with a bit of parsley on top.” And now Ben has joined us. Ben and I worked together for a few years a while back and we compliment each other in that everything I hate doing he quite likes and vice versa. He is also growing a
magnificent red beard which you should really come and see. Laura is with us for a while before going travelling and Hannah is back for a bit before heading off to Canada. They are young and free to come and go but Ali, Karon, Simon and Ben are not allowed to do that. I'm trying to find a way of putting that in a blood signed contract.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the chefs at this point.
There's this joke about how all chefs are basically pyromaniacs with a knife fetish who work in kitchens because its the only place their tourette's is considered par for the course.
Our chefs are NOTHING like that.
They skip in to work every morning fresh as a daisy and rearing to go. They often wear flowers in their hair and listen to Joni Mitchell whilst prepping. They all drink nothing stronger than camomile and can be found weeping in butchers shops. Show them a 14 hour day and they will show you a heart giddy with anticipation.
I've enjoyed writing fiction from an early age.
Something you won't know unless you've worked in a kitchen or its vicinity is that chefs suffer the most physical ailments of anyone you'll ever meet. One chef sleeps with breathing apparatus stuck to his face because for the brief few hours he gets to be unconscious his body decides to try and kill him. It thinks its doing him a favour. Don't get me started on the varicose veins from constant standing, the burns, the scars, the high blood pressure. They can move seamlessly from humour to a towering rage and back again before you've had time to whisper 'Aneurism'. And no, being a chef does not mean that you eat wonderful food all the time. They all eat like 14 year old boys.
That said, if you show them a little appreciation, make them a coffee or take them a cold beer at the end of a long shift they will always have your back. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and care enormously about what they produce and how. The Corner House uses local produce wherever possible. They're passionate about cooking, all of them. If you ever meet an indifferent chef he won't be a chef for long. The positive feedback from a table means a lot. You know how it is when you're throwing a dinner party for say eight people and you're fretting that your soufflé won't rise? Now imagine there are between forty and eighty coming for dinner and a few people you weren't expecting might rock up too. And some of them have deathly allergies. It's important to love your chef. There's no magic in that room at the back. Just a lot of hard work, heat, and a stunning amount of preparation.
Over two decades of working in this environment on and off I've watched gangly monosyllabic kitchen porters become confident talented chefs. You have to learn to be disciplined, take criticism and praise (both can be equally hard) and be part of a team.
They always play tricks on the new kitchen porters. Always. You will have heard about those. Doe eyed kids being sent off to find glass hammers, tartan paint, salmon feet, or walking down to the hardware shop to ask for a 'long wait'.
They're a bit tribal really. The nature of the job means they often spend more time with each other than they do their families.
The Corner House is small by restaurant standards but it produces a vast array of different dishes and all of our menus; breakfast, lunch and dinner cater generously for the gluten intolerant and those that prefer not to eat anything that once had a face.
On the 18th we're having our first pop up vegan and vegetarian night and the bookings are flowing in.
Tuesday's Acoustic night is slowly finding its feet too. I've been sticking posters up around town and handing out flyers but I find asking a guest face to face if they'll pop in one night works best. Usually whilst holding their plate a food just out of reach and staring at them balefully.
People think of us in terms of food and I want them to know we're a bar too. We have an array of bottles that would give the most hardened of drinkers pause. I've been cataloguing our spirits. There's stuff I've never heard of. One chocolate liqueur called 'Mozart' baffles me. I tried it and its really nice. Trying everything is a very very important part of my job. At the moment I'm suggesting it as a shot or something to pour over ice cream as a boozy dessert. Unless you have any better ideas? Simon and I are compiling a list of cocktails. He's already done a few and he's laminated
them so he means business. He has been quietly biding his time by the coffee machine waiting for someone to let him off the leash and have at it. He loves the cocktails and he's really good at them. They'll be on the menu next week so you should really pop in and try one. Because y'know, we're a bar too.
A few weeks ago the owner printed off a ten foot X reading from the till and told me to study it as it would really help me understand what we we sell, how much, what that means etc.
After a particularly long day I took some scissors to it and made one of those banners of paper men holding hands. I then strung it up and took a picture of it which I sent to her saying “I really feel like I'm getting my head around these figures.”
She texted back: “We need to talk.”
Probably about how hilarious I am and that humour is a perfectly good substitute for business acumen.
Everything is going to be just fine. Every new job comes with a learning curve and so what if that curve is more of a bell curve? I now know the difference between gross and net profit. It's 20%. Right? I'm fine. This is fine.
You can have breakfast by candle light in The Corner House. And if you wanted cake afterwards no one would judge you. The coffee is roasted by Fran in his back garden, the gin is made at Twisted Nose down the road, Elizabeth provides excellent lime and courgette cake and the crooked building that contains these pleasures is littered with curiosities. A prohibition tea pot here, a victorian ladle there, an ancient type writer and old church pews made comfy by plumped cushions.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, there's something for everyone. Wednesday evenings are for vegetarians. It's all delicious.
Go alone and chat to the staff, become an old friend, or take someone you love.
Tuesday evenings there's live music, fine wines, cheese and charcuterie. Shout out a request. They're a small independent who support independents and they love what they do. The Corner house is local, loyal and just lovely.
We are Independent - Guest blogger and independent business owner, Jon Walker, explains our new initiative.../ By Sadie
Launched November 30, 2015
The Mantique was delighted to have been given the opportunity to form part of the inaugural Winchester Independents Trail!
A selection of independent businesses have combined to offer a map to visitors to the City of Winchester, and those looking to explore their own City further, to help them find the independent trading businesses, and enjoy themselves on their way!
A copy of the map can be found below, and each independent taking part will also have a paper supply too. Follow the trail, support our local businesses and have fun along the way!
Maps are also available at the Tourist Information Centre, High Street, Winchester. Or download one here
A very big WELCOME to The Little Pub Group blog site.
Let me begin by explaining who we are, what we offer, where you can find us and find out more about us!
The little pub group has evolved into a collection of five very unique, quirky and individual pubs. We offer great food, great drinks, great service and lovely local produce.
So, let's start at the beginning and I'll introduce you to the first member of the group...