Former MasterChef winner Mat Follas is putting his foraging and liqueur-making skills front and centre at his new venture in Sherborne, Dorset.
Mat Follas first came to fame after winning BBC's MasterChef in 2009. The self-taught cook's culinary style takes inspiration from his early childhood in New Zealand, foraging the landscape and diving off the coast.
Since arriving back in the UK 26 years ago and settling in Dorset, the chef has continued to forage and dive for fresh seafood. "People expect a seasonal menu from me. I'm known for my foraging and run regular foraging courses," he explains.
The former home cook's new venture, Bramble restaurant in Sherborne, Dorset, which opened in September 2020, is a return to fine dining, following the sale of Bramble Cafe & Deli in Poundbury, Dorset, in August 2020.
The restaurant's menu offers four options for each course, priced at £25 for two courses or £29 for three. A six-course tasting menu is also on offer (£49), created from dishes on the regular menu. There are hopes to add a cheese course, with some high-end wines and ports to accompany Follas' homemade liqueurs.
Follas has become known for his liqueur range, Mûre Liqueurs, and runs regular gin- and liqueur-making classes. "This business has really started to grow in the last six months," he explains. The classes are currently his main income, with several hundred hosted every year, and the chef expects to still be running them in 20 years' time: "Long after my body has given up on cheffing!"
These liqueurs feature throughout the menu. A bitter lemon liqueur is combined with cream to create a simple set cream, which can be quenelled to go alongside a dessert, or brûléed as a dish in its own right. Other uses include a marmalade whiskey liqueur drizzled over bread pudding, a rum coffee liqueur in hot chocolate, and a venison wellington pithivier with a blackberry liqueur sauce.
!Venison wellington pithivier](https://media.graphcms.com/HF1LEEaRaqQXCoy8eKcW)
When it comes to a ‘signature' dish, Follas says: "Customers expect an element of wild ingredients from me. Wild garlic will feature when we reopen, as well as seaweeds and other foraged herbs.
"Fish with brown butter sauce or a beurre blanc is about as classic as you can get and is a regular dish on the menu. We add some rock samphire, purslane and finely chopped seaweeds to the sauce with a little dashi, to create a familiar but modern dish."
His favourite dishes are those that combine techniques such as pickling, smoking and curing. One such dish is a starter of smoked salmon with a wild herb salad, served in a Kilner jar with piped smoke to create a little drama at the table.
As for a best-selling dish, Follas says "anything with smoked mash. We've served smoked mash since we opened and customers return time after time for it. I often have to make some up for regulars if it's not on the menu!" Follas emphasises the importance of desserts on his menus: "Dessert is a dish that is often overlooked by chefs, yet a poor dessert leaves a lasting impression more than any other course." One such dish features prunes rehydrated with rum, pineapple juice, star anise and cinnamon and other secret spices. The idea is shamelessly "borrowed" from Richard Bertinet, who serves rum plums on his bread-making courses – which every chef should go on, insists Follas.
Bramble sources its produce from the veg shop next door, while meat comes from "one of the UK's best butchers", Brace of Butchers in Poundbury, with which Follas has nurtured a six-year relationship. For the rest, the chef relies on his own talents and those of his team: "I supply some of the foraged ingredients and we grow a surprising amount ourselves during summer months using a few planters."
Bramble features an open kitchen with a small oven and a couple of induction hobs, with Follas explaining the menu "relies on lots of mise en place to make the cooking simple". His wife Amanda assembles desserts back of house, while the third and final member of staff, Gemma Ward, balances the two roles of waiter and kitchen porter.
Follas sees the size of the operation as an advantage: "It gives us the opportunity to create a really homely restaurant where people feel welcomed – invited over for dinner, almost."
The restaurant is tucked away on a side street in the tourist town, but locals have been quick to welcome the venture: "We had great forward bookings at the start of lockdown. I'm hoping they will rebook."
From the menu
- Scallops, confit fennel, beurre blanc
- Chicken liver pâté, spiced orange chutney, toasts, house tarragon butter
- Cider-braised 24-hour pork belly, crackling, pickled apple, chicory, brown butter mash
- Moroccan-style cauliflower, jewelled couscous, spiced prunes
- Treacle tart, candied clementine, Chantilly
- Sea buckthorn blancmange, blackberry meringue shard, fresh berries
Two courses, £25; three courses, £29
Bramble, 1 Abbey Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3LE
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