Head chef Fred Clapperton is exploring creative freedom in his new position at this Surrey restaurant, says Amanda Afiya
As Surrey villages go, it's hard not to envy the residents of Ripley. With its picture-postcard high street and more than 20 listed buildings, it's been home to many a des res over the past few centuries.
Its most famous building, the Talbot hotel, dates back to 1453 and hints at the village's history for providing a pit stop to travellers through the ages. But with a population that just skirts 2,000, this leafy hamlet has been able to ensure it maintains its reputation as a sanctuary in the county while offering a smattering of boutiques and notable restaurants.
Standing proudly in the centre of the village is the impressive Georgian frontage of the Clock House. Formerly known as Drakes, it was operated by Serina and Steve Drake since 2004 and renamed the Clock House in January, after Serina took full ownership of the business. The restaurant's rebirth also happened to coincide with the re-awarding of three AA rosettes to newly appointed head chef Fred Clapperton.
Clapperton has now been at the 40-seat restaurant for more than four years, and originally joined as demi chef de partie on pastry before working his way up to the position of head chef last September. The 28-year-old is a native of Nottinghamshire who has worked at various establishments, including Bibury Manor in Cirencester. He now oversees a brigade of seven, providing eight services a week, from Wednesday to Saturday.
le Clapperton is keen to use local produce in addition to the herbs, rhubarb, beetroot and sorrel grown in the Clock House's own garden, his priority in his first few months as head chef has been to stabilise the kitchen following its chef-patron's move. Having said that, for him, quality produce is a must. "We obtain the best possible produce, so ingredients come from all over the UK. For me, it's quality over local," he explains.
pperton's style has clearly been influenced by his former mentor, but he says the new menu is very much his "own making". Take Wye Valley asparagus, duck ham, egg and lovage. Clapperton trims and scores duck breasts before coating them in a dry mix of black peppercorns, cloves, garlic clove, bay leaf, sea salt and golden caster sugar before wrapping them tightly with cling film and refrigerating them for two to three days. For service, the duck breasts are rinsed well, dried, thinly sliced and rolled, and served with asparagus spears, locally sourced poached duck egg and a dressing made from lovage and grapeseed oil combined with white wine vinegar.
"My style is still developing and I'm still discovering it," says Clapperton. He adds that, in addition to Drake, chefs that have inspired him include the rather more flamboyant Spanish chef David Muñoz. "But I like to cook food I enjoy," he adds. "When plating, I like to think how the guest would eat it and the best way to deliver the flavours in the clearest ways."
A dish of beef shortrib, sweetbread, brassicas and trumpet chanterelle is one he is most proud of, as it helped to convince Serina that Clapperton was the man for the job. It has been on the menu since his appointment. Sommelier Stephen Mostad, who manages an eclectic list of wines from smaller, lesser-known vineyards, recommends a Beqaa Valley Chateau Musar 2009 to accompany the beef.
The Clock House offers a selection of seasonally changing menus to cater for the 200 or so diners it serves every week. A set lunch is available at £26 for two courses or £30 for three, an à la carte (£55 for two courses, £65 for three or £75 for four), or a seven-course tasting menu for £70 with accompanying wine flight at £120.
"At this stage, I prefer tasting menus as they are a very effective way of maintaining consistency and I like to create smaller, impactful dishes that don't always transfer to à la carte-size portions," says Clapperton. "However, I do enjoy the buzz that à la carte brings to service and allowing guests that freedom."
Just over six months in, how does he feel about his new, lofty position? "I feel extremely privileged to be in this role and it was a move I was ready for. While it's been a huge learning curve and very challenging, I've been heartened by the extremely encouraging feedback that we've had from guests."
From the menu
- Loch Duart salmon, cucumber, crab, fennel
- Scallops, mushroom, chicken, sea beets
- Pork belly, apple, celeriac, alexanders
- Asparagus, duck ham, egg, lovage
- Beef, sweetbread, brassicas, morels
- Guinea fowl, artichoke, pearl barley, hay
- Sea bass, potato, parsley, lemon, brown shrimps
- Brill, pumpkin, mussel, coconut, ginger
- Pineapple, lime, yogurt, vanilla
- Blackberry, hibiscus, apples, shortbread
- Chocolate, thyme, rose
The Clock House High Street, Ripley, Surrey GU23 6AQ www.theclockhouserestaurant.co.uk