As we were waiting to pick up our kids recently one of the other mums asked me how my restaurant, Gloucester Studio was going. I gave her a brief update of what’s been happening since it appeared on Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jr and suddenly it was as though everyone wanted to talk to me. I knew pretty much everyone has seen the episode as an irrepressible classmate of my sons had shouted across the playground that she’d seen me on TV. I suppose it’s awkward when the person you spend five minutes with each afternoon suddenly turns up on your screen.
It got me thinking as usually when I’m talking about what a meal involves, it’s a pitch in that I’m answering the call or email from someone interested in booking. So I’ve decided to explain what goes into a meal and share a week in the life of a booking. Meals at Gloucester Studio are for up to eight people including all food and drink. This includes a cocktail on arrival, bread and butter, three courses with local wines (or non-alcoholic alternatives), tea/coffee then frozen schnapps and marshmallows for toasting. My aim is to get every little detail perfect so my guests have a superbly memorable evening.
Bank Holiday Monday
My husband and I have taken our son and the dog around Gloucester Docks. We stop for a drink at our favourite watering hole, Tank and are heading back home when my phone rings. It’s a call forwarded from the restaurant number from a woman keen to know when my next available booking is. I don’t have my diary on me but I know May is fully booked aside from this Saturday. I suggest the date and she’s delighted. As soon as I get home I’m straight on my laptop to email her a link to the deposit page.
A quick email confirming receipt of the deposit and a request for confirmation of any dietary requirements.
I get my list of requirements; a mix of no alcohol, pork, fish, shellfish and nuts. As always the list is accompanied by a hope that they’re not too demanding. I think this is part of what makes Gloucester Studio special. The menu is designed just for you so almost any combination of tastes can be catered for (although I’m yet to have any vegans who have coeliac disease). I reply that it will be no problem and begin planning their menu.
She replies that as long as they get Bonfire Steak they’ll be happy. After I pick my son up from school we stock up on logs and kindling.
My first stop is to Homebase to collect an order I placed online. The blogger, Honeybourne Line described my garden as immaculate which I think is rather kind and this is definitely the standard I’m aiming for. Gloucester Studio had her spring clean recently but the work never really stops and my current project is staining the fence that runs along the side of the property. My order includes another ten litres of wood stain and three rolls of reed screening to replace the trellis that had been looking rather tired. I’m very inspired by the story (I’m not sure whether it’s true) that at Disney they check and paint their fences every night so it’s always spotless and while this is arguably a tad ambitious for me, it’s something I’m working towards.
Next stop and I’m starting on food. My butcher Nick feels like a friend now and we always have a chat as he prepares my order. Rumour has it I’m a tad fussy so the preparation of my rib of beef takes a few moments. He fills me in with all the usual detail about the animal; today’s rib came from an animal reared four miles away. He carries it to the car for me and as he closes the door says it was female. I usually edit the detail for my diners. I mean, locally soured aged beef is a real selling point but I don’t think anyone wants to know the creatures name!
I leave Longlevens and head to Over Farm Market where they now have asparagus! Suddenly I’m rearranging the menu to incorporate it as I start filling my basket. Over Farm Market is a fabulous stockist for local drinks and as I have limited storage I usually buy my wine and juices a booking at a time. I buy my favourite red and white wines then choose a selection of cordials and juices to use in my cocktails and for the non-drinkers.
My last shop is Sainsbury’s for the bits and pieces I don’t get from Nick or Over Farm Market (I also shop a lot at Pound Farm where I buy my venison and British cured meat).
Once home I unpack and hang up the laundry. I cook the majority of food on the day of the booking but there are a few things I need to do. I fill my stockpot which chicken, onion, carrots and herbs and put it on to boil. This stock will be used for my fondant potatoes and for the beef stock which in turn will be used to make the gravy to go with the Bonfire Steak. I love my gravy and the two-day process to make it is something that fills me with joy (yes, I’m a bit strange).
After starting the stock I make the frozen flowers for pudding. I give my son a sticker book then make custard. I prefer not to use thickeners in my dishes so custard needs my full attention and my son is only four; you need stickers to make custard! Custard made, I put it aside to cool. It’ll then be poured into silicon flower moulds and frozen.
I make some butter, noting that my supply of salt is running low. I smoke my own coarse sea salt over oak chips in my smoker before mixing it with black pepper and a little dried chilli. The salt keeps well so this is one of the few things I make in large batches. The fresh butter is pressed into a silicon mould of a cottage. Once turned out it has something of Gloucester Studio about it. I’d love to have a custom mould made of the building one day but the one I use is still cute.
It’s now early afternoon and it’s time to clean Gloucester Studio. With a huge open fire it gets pretty dusty but I spend more time vacuuming reindeer hairs than anything else. My diners sit on reindeer hides that are a side product of the meat industry in Finland (where my Kota Hut was imported from) and while they don’t look to be going bare, given how much hair I clear up its something of a miracle. I sweep the fire pit, vacuum then wash all the surfaces down and inspect for damage. While I repaint the floor and tables twice a year, they sometimes need touching up. Luckily today they look ok so all that is left to do is stack the new logs and kindling prettily (I’m adamant this matters) and replace the tealights. I set the alarm and lock up before preparing dinner for my family.
My alarm goes off at 7am and for the next eleven hours I’m against the clock.
The most important thing to do is light a fire. Gloucester Studio is set in a residential area and while the hut itself and smoker give out very little smoke, my external fire pit on which I cook my Bonfire Steak needs to be finished with my the time my neighbours might wish to hang out their laundry. Fire lit, I head inside to wrap my rib of beef in wet salt. If you’re interested in this, watch from 14:17 on my episode of Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jr.
I prepare my dishes like larger restaurants do, assembling my mise en place so that later I can create the key elements of the dishes then finally cook when my diners arrive. My morning’s tasks are hollowing out oranges to make the shells I’ll cook chocolate fondants in, making marshmallows, mixing drinks for the freezer (I serve slushy schnapps in tiny wooden mugs at the end of the meal) and preparing the vegetables. My deadline is lunchtime as while I could probably power through on adrenaline at this point we’ve got my step kids this weekend so I’m duty bound to make lunch for them.
After lunch I prepare the starter. I’ll be cooking parcels of chicken with mushrooms and truffle in a salt dough crust in the fire so I sauté shallots and make the mushroom filling then wrap up the chicken parcels in greaseproof paper then encase that in the salt dough. I pop the neat little parcels in the restaurant fridge (I have a second one for this purpose). The starter is being served with the asparagus and I’ve decided to make asparagus meringues with the stems and char the stems over the fire as I’m serving. I steam and puree the stems then fold this into egg whites.
I fry potatoes in butter then add the chicken stock and set aside. The Bonfire Steak is also being served with purple sprouting broccoli but this will be cooked over the fire with smoked garlic at the point of serving.
I make chocolate fondant and fill the orange shells, wrapping each in foil. At this point I turn out the frozen flowers and return them to the freezer on a tray, cut up the marshmallow and double check I’ve not forgotten anything. If everything has gone to plan it’s before 4pm and I’ve been on my feet for less than nine hours. I go for a hot bath with Epsom salts which recharges me somewhat.
At 5pm my husband takes the kids to McDonalds. Because there is no way I can cook any more food in the kitchen or allow anyone to mess up the dining room. From a tray with glasses for the first drinks to the butter coming to room temperature next to my bread basket, my kitchen is perfectly ordered. I go out to the hut and light the fire. When he gets back with the kids, my husband puts out the rope light and lanterns.
The bread goes in the oven and I cross my fingers my diners won’t be late. It’s tricky keeping the bread warm if they are but if I wait until they arrive it can be tricky getting through all the courses at a suitable pace. Of course the hardest thing is trying to appear serene even when things aren’t going perfectly as the only drama I want my diners to experience is the fire.
The guests arrive and the next four hours are a whirl of cooking and service. In no time at all I’m saying goodbye and while I’ve now been on the go for fifteen hours I need to gather glasses and mugs from Gloucester Studio and make sure the fire is out. Then it’s washing up and making sure the kitchen is clean and tidy for my family in the morning.
It’s my lie in so I listen to my husband shushing our son as they head downstairs for breakfast. When they bring me a cup of tea my husband asks whether I’m enjoying my rest. Enthusiastically I tell him about an idea I’ve had for my marketing my book and he laughs at me. The truth is, I rarely switch off from my restaurant and admit I’m something of a workaholic but being a hidden restaurant, it’s still enough of a secret that it takes a lot of work for my customers to find me.
It’s 100% worth it though as I love what I do and the review the party leave me on Trip Advisor means I spend the next week with a huge smile on my face.