Meet The Chef: 34 Windsor St, Burbage

There was a bit of a crisis before Christmas at 34 Windsor St. Burbage’s fine-dining venue had a full reservations book, but no chef. Sam Owen, whose complex, sometimes challenging food had made it one of the most interesting restaurants in the county, had very publicly crashed and burned in the first round of Masterchef the Professionals amid rumours of a spectacular bust up with Marcus Wareing. There was a parting of the ways.

Owner Zeffy Thompson brought in freelance chef Arran Shaw to see them through December, but it turns out this was more than a festive fling. After a sit down in January, Arran took the job on a permanent basis and is now launching his first menu. He has finally found, he told Great Food Club, his perfect job.

Raised in Long Whatton in Leicestershire, he attended catering college in Loughborough and became a serious chef at the Thistle Hotel at East Midlands Airport. His passion and ability was spotted by the head chef who got him to enter – and win – a range of Salon Culinaire competitions. After a few years he took a career break to be a walking guide in the Dolomites, a formative experience that exposed him to a passionate, family-based food culture that exalted the seasonal and the simple.

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“It was the focus on simplicity and high quality, individual ingredients that hit home,” he explains. “Home-made pasta and some tomatoes out of the garden doesn’t need anything more – sometimes chefs overlook that.”

Back in England he experienced the extravagance of Stapleford Park and gained a solid grounding in the business of running a restaurant business – from heading up busy kitchens such as Sinatra’s in Nottingham to setting up his own juice bar and, more glamorously, running a catering unit in the demanding film industry. But then life took another turn when he had the chance to move with his Italian girl friend to Bologna, very much Italy’s food capital. They ended up buying a run-down, off-the-grid farm which they built up over several years of back-breaking work into a self-sufficient enterprise with 100 free-range pigs and substantial flocks of ducks, chickens and capons, along with two truffle dogs. It was his proud boast eventually to create a full English breakfast that was 100 per cent derived from his own farm.

“It was a phenomenal amount of work,” he says. “And when you’ve done that it teaches you absolute respect for the ingredients and to make the very most you can out of them – there was a 90-year-old man in the village who even showed me how to use the hairs on the back of pigs to make paint brushes.”

Eventually he returned to England to spend six years as freelance chef in gastropubs and hotels all over the country, often firefighting where cover was needed for a departed head chef.

And thus eventually the call came from an agency to come to the aid of 34 Windsor St.

“I was immediately attracted to the mentality of the place. Zeffy is the most open-minded owner I’ve ever come across and there’s a great team in the kitchen here, but they had lost their leader, so morale was a bit low and they needed picking up.”

So from late February the new style has been in place, with a greater focus on seasonality and simplicity. “It’s all about understanding our customers and giving choice but providing what they want. I think in the past the menus were sometimes a bit more about what the chef wanted rather than what the team could do and what the customers wanted.”

So dishes on the new menu include a duck liver parfait with red onions, a pine nut granola and pomegranate – “you have a balance of texture and of sweet/sour and acidity ,” explains Arran.

“Then there’s home-cured salmon, with beer mustard, beetroot and home-made black Russian bread – a great late winter dish that’s a bit different, but not really out there. It’s about quality – you don’t always need 12 ingredients on the plate when five really good ones will do.”

Mains include turbot with seasonal purple spouting broccoli and rump of lamb with rosemary potatoes and a touch of February rhubarb to cut through.

In summary then? “Respect for ingredients,” repeats Arran. “There’s some great modern techniques but they are useless if not used in the appropriate way. It’s about focusing on the ingredients and the taste and finding the best way to present them.”

Tim Burke
The author:

Leicestershire editor Tim lives in Leicester has been a journalist for 30 years, and over the last 12 years he has been restaurant critic for Metro, Great Food Club and the Leicester Mercury. He is also author of 2016 publication The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook.