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The drinking man's menu

17 October 2002 by
The drinking man's menu

Head chef Christopher Richard and his wife, Donna, enjoy a bit of matchmaking. With wine and food, that is. So the menu at their Hampshire restaurant, the Yew Tree, is full of suggestions to steer diners towards the most appropriate choices from the 70-strong wine list.

For the popular game terrine starter of rabbit, duck, partridge and foie gras studded with walnuts (£6.25), the Richards propose a Crozes-Hermitage. Customers who choose the best-selling main course of baked fillet of lemon sole soufflé and caramelised scallops with chive mash (£17.50), might like to try a Sancerre or a Chablis Premier Cru.

Quality wines
The couple are also foregoing large mark-ups on top-quality wines. "We bought in some really good wines, not to make a huge profit but to attract quality clientele," Christopher says. "We have one regular who always spends £200 on a bottle of wine because he knows it would cost double that anywhere else - but he will then bring his spend up to £300 with food."

Building up the wine list is just one of the ways the Richards have put their stamp on their business since buying the restaurant a year ago. They have also refurbished the dining area. "We have had more comfortable furniture put in and although we have lost a few covers, customers are spending more time [over their meals] and so the spend per head has gone up," Christopher says. The 40-seat restaurant is now serving about 200 covers a week.

The Richards spent five years running the restaurant for the previous owners before opting for a management buyout last year. And they're certain that customers' response to the new initiatives vindicates their decision to go it alone.

Of course, Christopher's continually changing menu is the main focus of the restaurant. He looks to Larousse for classical inspiration, but his guiding principle is to serve seasonal produce. Often existing dishes are tweaked as ingredients come in and out of season. The partridge in the game terrine, for instance, has just replaced pigeon now that has become available from an estate down the road from the restaurant.

"The key to the game terrine is a reduction made from bone stock and Madeira. This is added to a liver parfait to bind it together. The terrine is then layered up with herbs from the garden and cooked slowly," explains Christopher, who heads a brigade of four in the kitchen. "I then press it and rest it for at least three days - it has to be mature, otherwise the flavours won't come out."

Desserts (there are nine) are well inside the comfort food zone. Baked Alaska filled with orange ice-cream and Grand Marnier créme anglaise (£4.95) is one of the most popular at the moment, but chocolate and sticky pudding options are also regulars.

Christopher is clearly enjoying owning his own restaurant after 20 years working in other people's businesses - his career has taken him to the Birmingham Metropole as chef de partie in its Terrace Restaurant, Le Place Hotel in Jersey as sous-chef and Rules in London, as chef de partie.

Being the owner does mean that he can't just concentrate on cooking, of course, although marketing, at least, doesn't seem to be a problem. With the restaurant situated on an unmarked A-road in the Hampshire countryside, the Richards have found that word of mouth has generated far more customers than local advertising. They have set their sights high, however - their long-term target is a Michelin star.

The Yew Tree Restaurant, Lower Wield, Near Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9RX. Tel: 01256 389224. Fax: 01256 389224

A selection from the Yew Tree Restaurant Menu

Grilled sardines with tapenade and Provençale sauce, £6.25
Gâteau of Cornish crab topped with avocado, £6.50
Grilled monkfish with crispy pancetta and tomato beurre blanc, £6.95
Fillet of pork with black pudding and apple and grain mustard mash, £16.50
Fillet of Angus beef with foie gras and truffle sauce on potato rösti, £17.95
Barbary duck breast with confit duck potato cake and red currant sauce, £17.25
Assiette of warm chocolate mousses
Sticky toffee pudding
Raspberry biscuit millefeuille

(All desserts £4.95)

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