Local produce, a kitchen garden and a strictly seasonal menu make up the layers at Allium. Katie Pathiaki reports
“Allium: ‘any bulbous plant belonging to the genus Allium, of the amaryllis family, having an onion odour and flower in a round cluster, including the onion, leek, shallot, garlic and chive’ or ‘a modern restaurant and bar with rooms that has many ‘layers’ to it, located in the picturesque village of Tattenhall, just outside of Chester.’”
That’s the mantra painted on the wall of the 40-cover dining room at Allium by Mark Ellis. “We decided on that before we opened and I was a bit nervous about putting it on the wall because you have to commit to it, but in many ways we’ve exceeded it,” Ellis says.
The layers Ellis refers to start with his customers. When he opened just over a year ago, he was eager for the restaurant to be approachable to all by offering an à la carte menu, enabling diners to have a steak and a glass of red wine without the expectation of being suited and booted. Those who did want to make a night of it could choose the ‘Experience’ menu, offering six courses for £40.
Ellis is passionate about conserving energy and reducing his eco-footprint at the site. “There’s more to running a restaurant than just cooking,” he says, explaining that alongside collecting rainwater in a 200-litre tank, the restaurant is also fully sustainable, growing its own produce in the kitchen garden and composting its own waste.
“Food tastes different when you’ve grown it yourself,” he adds. “A great example is our raspberries from the raspberry bush that was here when we bought the restaurant. I’ve never tasted anything like them. The customers notice too and that’s so satisfying.”
Ellis’s dishes – which Michelin describe as “exciting, modern twists on comfort food” – are influenced by what is in his kitchen garden.
“You learn to appreciate the produce. If you have a raspberry dish you use all the raspberries you’ve got on the bush and that only lasts a certain amount of time. If you buy raspberries through wholesale you get lazy because they keep coming as long as you keep ordering them. Here, we are dynamic with our dishes. Once those raspberries are gone, we aren’t getting them from anywhere else – that’s it.”
Ellis also relies on a lot of pickling and fermenting to conserve excess produce from the summer, such as the pickled cauliflower florets used in a macaroni cheese dish. Here, locally sourced cream is infused with Parmigiano skins and left for two days. Fresh macaroni is then cooked in the sauce and the dish is finished with Parmigiano, cauliflower purée and pickled cauliflower florets.
Ellis’ dishes are light and simplistic on the plate, as he believes the good quality ingredients should speak for themselves. “I was talking to my head chef about what we would do with a rib of beef. We thought about truffle mash or roast potato gnocchi, but then I said, ‘What’s wrong with just having the beef on its own and letting it sing?’” The beef and onion dish is made from a 48-hour slow cooked rib of beef, vacuum-packed with treacle beef jus. It’s served with pickled shallot rings, watercress and a special Allium emulsion.
Going deeper through the layers that make up Allium, Ellis – who holds a national diploma in music theory – promises “no generic music or classical piano” will be heard there because “it doesn’t tell you anything about the character of the place.” Wheatus, Morrissey, Primal Scream, Mumford and Sons, and the Smashing Pumpkins make up some of the artists included in the unconventional playlist.
“We didn’t ever think we would be massively busy being out in the sticks, but people seem to really warm to the eclectic mix of food and music and a different vibe,” he says.
Ellis may only be celebrating Allium’s first birthday, but with his second restaurant on the way – Shippon, near Bangor-on-Dee in Wrexham – and a third site on the horizon, he’s far from done. “I always compare opening restaurants to having a baby – you can plan and plan but there’s no right time. You’ve got to just decide on it and go with it. People keep saying to me, ‘how are you going to manage?’ and I tell them ‘I don’t know, but it’s going to be loads of fun finding out.’”
From the menu
Cauliflower cheese (30-month-aged Parmigiano, macaroni, cauliflower) £7
Crispy pancake (confit duck, firepit beetroot, satsuma) £9
Liver and onion (scorched chicken liver, styles of onion, toasted butter bread) £7
Pig (crispy belly, black pudding, carrot) £14
Leek and potato (potato purée, roasted gnocchi, leeks, shimeji mushroom) £13
Plaice (fillet, fermented cabbage, compressed cucumber, oyster marmite) £16
Pavlova (curd lemon, Turkish delight, Nevado white chocolate, meringue) £7 Caribbean (coconut, dark rum, iced finger lime) £7
Lynedale House, High Street, Tattenhall, Cheshire CH3 9PX