The Geordie chef who sold his flat and his car to risk it all on his own take on modern British cooking
Looking at chef/owner Chris Slaughter, with his curly hair, as he bounces enthusiastically around the Grainger Rooms bar to the strains of Bob Dylan, he seems remarkably blasé about the fact that less than six months ago he sold his flat and car (a 330 Diesel BMW, no less) to take on a "hefty commercial mortgage" on a property slightly out of Newcastle city centre to open his first restaurant. But to him it made perfect sense. "I didn't want to go into business with a businessman. This way it's just me, so I've got to keep it tight.
Over the past few months I've been the chef but I've also been the person who's gone to meet bank managers and I've been the interior designer, done it up the best I could."
It's not even as if he's got a huge kitchen brigade out back.
There's just Slaughter, Simon Wood (previously of the Baltic in Gateshead, who does have a 10 per cent share in the company but isn't classed as a director) and a commis in the kitchen, all "doing the work of five men", for now at least.
Although Slaughter has cheffed outside Newcastle, he says he always seems to be drawn back. Before he set up the Grainger Rooms he was Head Chef at Blackfriars and also worked at its sister restaurant, Sidney's in Tynemouth. "One day I thought what am I doing giving them all my best ideas?"
Brought up on a farm in Northumberland, Slaughter could be forgiven for getting maximum mileage out of the fact that he's "always been close to the produce". However, although the restaurant's website proclaims the Grainger Rooms is "supporting local farmers, fishermen and microbrewers"
and the menu is liberally peppered with North-Eastern ingredients, Slaughter is canny enough to recognise overkill when he sees it. "Everyone's claiming to do local produce and talking about cutting down on airmiles," he says.
He does have the advantage that he knows many of the small farmers already, though. "We're using suppliers other people don't use because they supply in such small quantities.
People turn up at the back door with stuff for us to buy."
The restaurant is housed in a beautiful Georgian listed building, architect Sir Richard Grainger's first commissioned build in Newcastle, and was owned by the Fenwick family until the 1940s. Slaughter quickly witnessed how the costs of opening a restaurant "creep up and up", landing him with a final bill of about £250,000 for the 15-year lease and fit-out.
"The massive expenditure means we're very prudent, everything gets used. I can count on one hand the number of people I know in the area who can butcher a piece of beef or pig but it works out so much cheaper." His strategy has paid off, with the restaurant only experiencing a loss in three weeks since they opened in November, "struggling through December" and a quiet week after Valentine's Day, which coincided with half-term. Although it's a big outlay for one man, the rent is half what it would be were it not for the fact that the owners are the Pen and Pallette Club, a not-for-profit gentlemen's club. Slaughter pays his dues by going through the committee of older gentlemen whenever he wants to make major decisions about the restaurant, as well as hosting private dinners for the club, which partially explains the presence of the piano in the dining room.
The Grainger Rooms has garnered approval from non-club members too, with impressive local reviews and a Bib Gourmand in January's Michelin guide. However, Slaughter admits, "Michelin isn't really what floats my boat. The produce is good enough to get a Michelin star but it's the refinement; I think we're probably a bit rough around the edges. I hate stuff too fine so I'm not going to be pushing too hard for it."
Which, I can't help but feel, will relieve his regular customers and club members to the same degree.
On the Menu? Pan- Fried Ox Tongue with Green Sauce and Sweet Cure Bacon; Locally Smoked Haddock Salad with Berwick Edge; English Chicken with Chips, Rare Breed Ham and Smoked Cuddys Stuffing and a Winter 'Slaw; Toasted Banana Bread and Whitley Bay Honey Sandwich with Banana and Baileys Ice Cream.
Size? 35 covers (can stretch to 50).
Where? 7 Higham Place, Newcastle- Upon-Tyne, NE1 8AF. 0191 232 4949, graingerrooms.co.uk