Describe your new restaurant
It’s a 300-year-old building so we’re going to give it a complete refurb. The big thing is that we need to build a new kitchen, which I’m really excited about. We’re going to have prep kitchen downstairs to do all the messy stuff and, on the dining room floor, there’s going to be a semi-open kitchen, so it’s going to be accessible.
What sort of restaurant will Sorrel be?
It’s going to be at the top end. I’m looking to cook the best food I possibly can here. Sorrel will be a continuation of the food I cooked at Drake’s, but I think I can make it better and more precise. Obviously there will be a few similarities, but I want to move it on. I’m ambitious and I want Sorrel to be one of the best restaurants in the country. The food will be incredibly seasonal.
Will you be using the same suppliers as Drake's?
In general, yes. But the one difference I want to make is to engage more with the environment here in the Surrey Hills. It’s a very beautiful place and I want to reflect that in the restaurant and the food. I want to use some more local suppliers and help them to develop their products so we can showcase Dorking and Surrey, in general.
You're opening in Dorking. Were you tempted by London or a city centre?
I was actually, and I had some really incredible offers from some very well-established operators. It was very humbling. But I knew that I wanted to do this on my own and have a level of freedom that might not be possible if another person was financing me. Also, I couldn’t really afford to go into London on my own; the rents and freeholds are ridiculous. I’d be a small fish in a big pond there, whereas in Surrey I’ve got more of a following.
Sorrel will open Wednesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Why the four-day week?
It’s a big risk because I’m funding this all myself, but the idea is to give us time to be creative, develop ideas and keep the staff fresh so they’re not working stupid hours. This is a strange industry, it’s hard to operate a kitchen at a very high level and just do eight hours a day. I know if I opened six or seven days a week I’d be here 24/7, but I don’t think it would bring out the best in me. If staff are getting three days off they can engage in the more creative side of things.
How different is it opening a restaurant now compared to when you launched Drake's in 2004?
I’ve changed a lot. When I opened Drake’s I was the only one in the kitchen and had one member of staff. By the time I left, there were 10 people in the kitchen. I was an appalling manager of people and I learnt the hard way that you must include people and they need to feel involved. If you can engage chefs in the creative side of cooking then staff retention shoots up. The one massive thing that has also changed is social media. Everybody wants more access to you. I’m not going to have any food photography on the Sorrel website, if you want to see it you’re going to have to come in and eat.
What were you most proud of at Drake's?
A few years ago I started to change my lunch menu there every month. In the beginning it was quite difficult because you have to come up with 60 to 100 new dishes a year, but there was a really nice pressure to be creative all the time and it gives you and the staff a real purpose. It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever done.
Will you be changing the menu every month at Sorrel?
Yes. It’s one of the reasons for us not putting food photography online as I feel it’s quite constraining. I don’t like things being set in time; at Sorrel we might plate a dish a certain way one week and then do it differently the next. It’s good to mix things up.
How does it feel to be starting out again?
My wife [Serina] and I got divorced last year and I realised that the easiest way for the separation to happen was for me to let her take on the restaurant in Ripley. In a way it has done me a huge favour. I’ve learnt a lot and I understand how I want to work a lot more. My dream is to be as creative and artistic as possible and, when I was younger, I was a bit coy about that. When you are a young chef, you almost try and copy the great people you work for, but it has taken me this time to find out exactly how I want my food to be. I’m quite excited about the future and the fact that, with Sorrel, I can do what I did at Drake’s, but hopefully now do it better.