ustainability ranked high on the agenda for Mark Cribb when he landed a prime site for his dream restaurant. Diane Lane went to find out more.
Tucking into a whole grilled line-caught sea bass out on the decking in the unseasonally hot October sunshine and gazing across the sandy beach just a few feet away towards a calm blue sea, it's not hard to imagine you're somewhere other than England. Not that the place has a Continental feel about it; on the contrary, the air is distinctly British. But it's just so laid back.
Welcome to Urban Reef, a restaurant and café on the Dorset coast at Boscombe. It's the brainchild of Mark Cribb, who four years ago opened Urban Beach, Boscombe's first (and only) boutique hotel.
Boscombe has undergone an £11m transformation in recent years. Besides the construction of Europe's first artificial reef, designed to make waves break better for surfers, the dilapidated seafront buildings have been spruced up, bringing a new lease of life to the area.
Urban Reef sits in a prime spot. Sharing the 1950s Overstrand building with 60 beach pods - a balconied apartment-style version of the traditional wooden beach hut - and a surf school and shop, the three floors of glass-fronted space offer panoramic views over the coastline.
When the seafront site came up for grabs, Cribb saw an opportunity to realise his dream of opening a beach restaurant offering simple, but high-quality, locally sourced food in relaxed surroundings with a view to die for. "It wasn't really the right time for me but it was too good an opportunity to miss," he says. "And I was confident it just needed some love."
His tender for the 25-year lease from the local council, which owns the building, was successful - probably in no small part because of the efforts to be sympathetic to the environment, with the likes of solar-powered heat exchangers, Forest Stewardship Council-approved timber and low-energy lighting included in the fit-out plans.
The ground floor houses the kitchen and bar, plus a delicatessen where customers can buy not only take-away sandwiches and baguettes, but also the same produce as used in the kitchen, which is displayed in two Williams Gem multi-deck display chillers. "It's a bizarre concept for the beach," says Cribb, who spent more than £100,000 fitting out the kitchen and bar areas. "It should have been fish and chips but that's not what we're about. It's a window into the Urban Reef soul to encourage people to come and eat here."
The outside deck seats 100 and the possibility of an inflatable roof for rainy days is being investigated. Indoor seating for 100 is on the next two levels, one a mezzanine, from where all diners have a sea view, whether they're seated at the 1950s-style wooden tables next to the floor-to-ceiling windows or in the more intimate booths further back.
"We needed to put in the mezzanine to make the operation commercially viable, otherwise we would have only 60 seats," Cribb says. "The whole design upstairs - for instance, the wood-burning stove - is about attracting people in winter. We had to think about how we make people come here when it's cold."
Charged with making the kitchen happen was Mike Mellor, managing director of Space Catering Equipment, whose green footprint scheme to identify on the kitchen plan any equipment or design features which use less energy and are better for the environment impressed Cribb, who was committed to going down the sustainable route.
"Mark could have saved himself 10-15% in costs by ignoring eco arguments but it's nice to work with a client who wants to walk the walk," Mellor says. "It's probably as eco as a kitchen can be while doing everything a kitchen has to, and there will absolutely be a payback in energy savings."
Head chef Janusz Szyszka presides over the kitchen and its brigade of seven. Having worked with Cribb for four years - starting in a junior role and progressing through the ranks - he was the natural choice to take on the food operation here. "He understands what I'm about," Cribb says.
The kitchen is open plan for a touch of theatre, although the space beyond the pass could be described as bijou. "It was a small space allocated for the kitchen but we stole six inches coming forward and a bit from the bar for some flexibility in the food-prep areas," Mellor says.
Although space was tight, the 1,250mm-wide range of pass-through modules from Mareno meant an island suite was possible and various electric elements were chosen with a view to using energy efficiently and keeping the kitchen temperature down.
"I knew the kitchen would be grill-based but didn't want chargrills because of the energy use and smoke and heat," Mellor says. Consequently he specified two griddles each with a 1/3 ribbed and 2/3 smooth chrome plate for searing fish and steaks. These sit back-to-back, as do a pair of single-well 12-litre deep-fat fryers for the chunky Jenga chips.
A pass-through induction unit provides four independent heat zones, each measuring 28cm and with a collective power rating of 22kW. Sitting above an ambient top and facing the pass on the mains and service side of the suite, a Hatco Quick-Therm rise-and-fall salamander operates by way of a plate-detection switch, which automatically activates the heating elements once the plate comes in contact with the grilling plate bar and turns them off when the plate is removed.
Two radiant hobs are positioned at the end of suite so they can be used during service on a low setting for plating up. Outside service times they are used for the stockpot. Above the suite hangs an Activair stainless steel extraction canopy and to one end is a hoist with access from both sides which sends food up to the next level.
Running parallel to the suite, the pass is a two-tier heated gantry built above an eight-drawer refrigerated counter by Gram which houses prepped produce for service. Drawers were chosen in preference to doors as the cold air doesn't tumble out when they're opened. A small prep bench sits next to the pass and alongside that are two Rational SelfCooking Centers - a six-grid stacked on top of a 10-grid.
Opposite the other side of the suite along the back wall of the kitchen another Gram refrigerated counter, this time with four doors, provides a 2,163mm x 700mm prep surface for the starters and desserts section. Chilled storage for garnishes is by way of a wall-mounted Williams refrigerated well.
An upright fridge and freezer, each with a capacity of 600 litres and both by Gram, provide additional storage space. There is a Storer coldroom with remote condenser although this is sited on the mezzanine level - it was the only space available.
An access route which runs from between the pass and the bar through to the rear door separates the food-prep area from the wash-up area, which houses a 65-racks-per-hour Comenda Eco hood-type dishwasher with a condensing and heat-recovery unit. There's also a GreasePak biological drain maintenance system, which dispenses a bio-enzymatic fluid specially formulated to degrade fat, oils and grease, into the drains.
Space Catering Equipment also fitted out the bar which serves smoothies and espresso-based coffees in addition to cocktails, spirits and the beers and wines stored in three low-energy Autonumis EcoChill bottle coolers, chosen for their energy-saving credentials. Take-away snacks for the beach are served from a Counterline Manhattan chilled unit.
An Astoria espresso machine copes admirably with a high turnover of drinks and monitors sales peaks and troughs. It recently recorded that, between 8am and 4pm one day, 502 coffees were served and that the bar took £20,000 on coffee alone during August.
Having opened in May, business has been good over the summer months, with Urban Reef regularly pulling in 150 covers on Friday and Saturday nights, although Cribb remarks: "You'd have to be an idiot to open a place on the beach in summer and not do well."
|1 The modest width of the Mareno units meant that the kitchen could have an island cooking suite, despite the lack of space. If you discount the Hatco salamander added to the service side, the two sides mirror each other, with a fryer and chrome griddle each and induction and radiant hobs which stretch across the middle and are accessible from both sides.|
|2. Minimising the impact on the environment was behind the decision to go all electric with the suite and it doesn't get much more energy efficient than induction, which operates only when a pan is placed on the surface. But it doesn't come cheap: the four-zone induction unit alone cost more than £12,000.|
|3. Designed to cook, finish and hold dishes, the Hatco Quick-Therm electric salamander takes just eight seconds to reach cooking temperature. The three heating elements are positioned so as to reduce the transfer of heat to surrounding areas and can be operated independently. Its cooking area measures 540mm wide x 36mm deep.|
|4. The majority of refrigeration is by Gram and includes two undercounter units providing valuable prep surfaces in addition to 670 litres each of refrigerated storage capacity. The counter on the service side has drawers instead of doors to minimise loss of cold air during a busy service.|
|5. The pass is a 1.1m-long wall-mounted two-tier heated gantry above a refrigerated counter. "There's very little requirement for hot storage under a pass now everything is cooked to order," Mike Mellor says.|
Autonumis 01666 502641
Counterline 0151-548 2211
Dawson Foodservice Equipment (Comenda/Mareno) 01226 350450
Gram 01322 616900
Hatco 01509 260140
Mechline (GreasePak) 01908 261511
Rational 0800 389 2944
Storer Refrigeration 0115 920 0329
Space Catering Equipment 01452 383000
Urban Reef 01202 443960
Williams Refrigeration 01553 817000