When Rob Dawson decided to install a new kitchen at the Harbour Inn near Southwold, Suffolk, he had to overcome two natural elements - floods and marsh gas.
The 400-year-old pub is on the marshes at Blackshore, with the River Blyth at the front and a drainage channel at the back. Dawson, who took over the tenancy last October, was warned that flooding is likely about twice a year.
The inn's bars have tiled floors, moveable furniture and a drain to release the water, so little damage is left when the floods subside. But Dawson did not want his new kitchen appliances, which cost nearly £80,000, to risk a soaking.
The kitchen was installed on the ground floor of an adjoining grain store, built in 1817. On the upper floor a new 50-seat seafood restaurant was created to augment the 65-seat capacity of the bars. The garden seating capacity was doubled to 200.
The work took five months, and construction was organised by the brewer, Adnams, using architect Simon Merrett and contractor Duncan & Sons. Dawson was responsible for the kitchen, which was designed and installed by Crown Catering Equipment.
It was not possible to raise the kitchen ceiling because the grain store is a listed building, so it was given extra height by digging out the floor by 2ft. This incurred a risk of marsh gas (methane) seeping through from the ground.
To overcome the problems of gas and water, a special water- and methane-proof membrane was laid over the floors and up the walls to a height of about 4ft. On top of this was placed a thick concrete slab.
To prevent water coming in through the doorways there are galvanised steel half-doors with rubber seals. As soon as there is a flood warning, the flood doors are closed. "It's a bit like being in a submarine," says Dawson. "They've told us the water can rise to a metre high, but we'll be dry in the kitchen."
There is no mains drainage, so a large Klargester sewage treatment plant had to be installed to deal with the pub's expansion. The kitchen floor construction meant waste pipes could not be routed underground, so all water-discharging appliances have to be on the wall nearest the plant. Waste from a hand basin on the other side of the kitchen, and the staff shower and toilets, has to be pumped.
Gas had to be laid on for cooking. The old kitchen in the main building measured just 3.7m x 2.5m and used gas bottles. The new kitchen is five times larger so it needs a 2,000-litre underground Calor Gas tank. "We've had the tank strapped down and concreted in to prevent it floating in a flood," says Dawson. "We've also put the electrics in at a high level and we've got massive trips."
Only when all this groundwork was done could Dawson start to plan the kitchen layout and appliances. Almost everything on the menu is made from scratch - even ice-cream and green Thai curry paste - so Dawson's aim was to create a very flexible workspace.
The pub's menus had been changed to emphasise fresh, local seafood, with such dishes as stir-fried monkfish with asparagus and noodles (£7.95) served in the bar, and steamed fillet of brill on a julienne of vegetables (£11.95) in the restaurant. Dawson wanted to continue the tradition of serving fish and chips wrapped in paper on Friday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes, which can attract as many as 250 takers at a single session.
Key equipment includes a 40-stone fish keep from XL Refrigerators. To cook fish and chips Dawson bought a vast, second-hand Oliver Toms fryer with three wells for under £200. "A new one would have cost me £16,000-£20,000," he says.
Other second-hand equipment includes a Mulmar ice-cream machine capable of making about 2.5 litres of ice-cream every 20-30 minutes, bought from Secker & Sons with a six-month warranty for £2,200 - just over a third of the cost of a new machine. Dawson also bought a used Crypto Peerless mixer for just £1,500, with attachments including a whisk, dough hook, shredder, mincer and dicer. He considers it a real bargain because it has so many uses. "Most of the equipment we have bought is new, but I will consider second-hand if it's a decent make," he explains.
The new kitchen gives much more space, but within 12 days of opening the new restaurant was nearly as busy as the bar, making Dawson comment with a smile: "We could already do with a kitchen twice this size."