This Chef’s blog will be an irregular column of news, progress and catastrophies (hopefully not too many of the latter!). If anybody has any questions, requests or comments please let us know.
Well all the hard work was worth it. Our first night has come and gone and was a bit of a success we think. Only 22 people but that is our maximum capacity and Val was a big star serving. I just hid in the kitchen until I knew that everything was ok!
We did have one small disaster. After about 20 minutes the new gas oven went off. There is no warning with the dammned thing and I was unaware of the problem. As we cook everything fresh it did cause rather a problem. The hot starters (scallops and very large prawns) are pan fried on the top so they were not a problem. There was a bit of a delay on the main courses however as it took ages to warm up the oven. People were very patient and understanding however and we were soon back on track. Extra glasses of fizz calmed any concerns and it was a celebratory atmosphere.
We did make one error which we have learnt from. I was in the kitchen where it is as bright as the sun from numerous flourescent strip light but the restaurant is lit only by candlelight in the evenings. When I popped out to say to some friends I could see nothing! We soon realised that two guests had gone outside to read the menu as it was too dim. Romantic is one thing but at one stage it was so dark that customers could have had sex on the tables and nobody would have realised! More candles were soon lit and people could actually see. We are learning lessons and it will a rather brighter affair in future.
It was a spectacularly happy night. Opening the restaurant is a lifelong dream for us. This old house was restored from scratch by us and was a labour of love (and ridiculous expense!) having been abaonded for 40 years. To see the restaurant full of happy smiling people was wonderful.
Val and I were tempted by the Champagne that we served but as a mark of our discipline and dedication we only had a glass at the end of service. However the myth of professionalism was somewhat marred as we then drank two bottles with some close friends to celebrate. We finished clearing up at 4.45am. Who said running a restaurant was fun!
The main problems that we have had in the run up to opening were deliveries of equipment. It is much more laid back here in France and the oven only came two days before we opened. It seems that if you close the door on the oven too strongly (and you need arms like Superman to fight the spring on the door which is very fierce indeed) it slams and there is a security cut out. That was the problem on our launch night. We are also awaiting delivery of a shelving unit which will make my job as chef much easier as I am struggling to find place to put stuff at present when serving plates. All part of the ‘new’ experience.
We are preparing for the normal first night of opening now on Saturday 2nd July and I am going to fishmonger to order the stock. We have a real find on our hands and have an excellent trade supplier for very large gambas (prawns) and scallops. Both are a bit of a triumph and taste superb.
For meat 90% of it comes from Richard Savy the superb local butcher in Quillan. We could obviously make far more profit by buying trade but Richard has the highest quality meat that we have seen here and all is very local. No crap intensively farmed stuff and it is nice to deal with somebody who is as passionate about animal welfare and protection as we are. The beef is from the neighbouring town and the veal is rose veal from a welfare supplier about 20km away and is delicious. Blanquette de veau (veal in a white sauce) will be a special on opening night and is a real French classic.
Next job is the creation of a vegetarian and gluten free menu which we hope to have up and running next week. I am ashamed to say that all the stress of the opening night led me to delay them. I am working on them now, I promise! Watch this space.