The Harrogate restaurant, housed inside a listed building, opened in February - with its hometown chef-proprietor aiming to meet a demand for the use of high-end ingredients. Fiona Sims reports.
Harrogate doesn't really do upmarket restaurants - surprising, really, considering its well-heeled citizens and well-groomed homes. Two AA rosettes are about as good as it gets - until now, hopes chef Tom Van Zeller, who wants a Michelin star.
The Harrogate-born chef has always dreamed about opening his own restaurant, and Van Zeller opened in February this year. The 32-year-old, who has worked at the Michelin-starred Box Tree in Ilkley, spotted a gap in the market while he was heading up the kitchen in the Yorkshire town's Hotel du Vin.
"It was while I was cooking there that I recognised the demand for high-end ingredients. There's nothing else like this here," he explains.
Situated in the town's smart Montpellier quarter, the restaurant sits opposite an antique shop and an art gallery and is surrounded by chic clothing boutiques. He gutted the former restaurant, called Lord's, spending a modest £78,000 on the refurb, electing to do the bulk of the heavy, dusty, stripping-out himself.
The space, in a listed building, was transformed into an elegant dining room with high-backed brown leather chairs, aubergine and taupe walls, and a clever use of mirrors that instantly brighten the place - plus a large colourful painting as a key focal point.
"That came from Pied à Terre in London," says Van Zeller, pointing at the vast canvas. It turns out that one of his investors is David Moore, owner of the highly regarded two-Michelin-starred London restaurant, co-star of the BBC's The Restaurant and well-known for nurturing new kitchen talent. Moore has been on hand for advice throughout, though Van Zeller stresses that this is a private project between the two men and not connected to his London businesses.
A pork loin lunch dish, served with pak choi and a Pommery mustard sauce, is included in a three-course deal for £20, including a complimentary Bellini cocktail. And yes, it's selling well, reports Van Zeller.
And, more importantly, the diners come back to taste the evening menu, with an average spend of £35 per head for food. Included in Van Zeller's list of high-end ingredients is fillet of turbot, served with baby leeks, citrus fruits and coriander (£21.50) - a nod to a dish conceived by Marco Pierre White. Wild sea bass is served with an aubergine caviar, tomato confit and fennel, at £18.50, while foie gras is seared and served with mango, at £12.50.
"It's been a learning curve," Van Zeller admits. "While there is a demand for high-end ingredients, I've also realised I must keep costs down. If the customer sees too many scary prices on the menu, they might be put off."
One selling technique deployed for the more expensive dishes is to not include them on the menu - these include grouse and wild salmon, priced at £39 and £30 respectively.
"We describe the dish verbally to customers and tell them the price and we sell it that way. We're still playing around with supplements at the moment. I'm still not sure they would go for them here," he explains.
He has just two chefs working alongside him in the kitchen - the wonderfully named Sprog, his chef de partie, and a student on placement from the local catering college. Heading up front of house is Simon Winterburn, with his brother-in-law, Alex, waiting tables.
Most of the ingredients are as locally sourced as possible, with Goosnargh chicken encased in a terrine with leeks and served with pickled girolles and a peach chutney (£8), while his roast rib of beef, served on Sundays until 4pm, is from nearby Givendale. And new on is young grouse from Walshaw Moor in Lancashire, served with game chips, bread sauce and watercress.
The wine list is a work in progress. Van Zeller wants to employ a sommelier once he builds the business. But, for now, he uses just one supplier, Enotria, which writes the list for him and pairs the wines on the increasingly popular tasting menu, five courses for £35, with an accompanying wine flight at £18 per person.
"We want to make people think of Harrogate as more than just twee little teashops," declares Van Zeller.
Van Zeller, 8 Montpellier Street, Harrogate HG1 2TQ.
Tel: 01423 508762.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Lamb sweetbreads and broad beans "en croûte", £7
- Smoked eel, spinach, lentil vinaigrette, £7.50
- Chicken and leek terrine, spiced pear chutney, £8
- Cod with broad beans, girolles, watercress and Noilly Prat sauce, £14.50
- Lamb rump, courgette, samphire and sautéd potatoes, £16
- Goosnargh chicken, new-season carrots, shallots, parsley purée, £15.50
- Raspberry feuillantine with lemon posset, £8
- Strawberries poached in Champagne with vanilla cream, £8
- Hot chocolate fondant with crème crue, £8