Hotel bases new multi-site restaurant venture around British-built charcoal oven

An acclaimed townhouse hotel in Kent is planning the multi-site roll-out of a new restaurant and cafe concept that places a UK-built charcoal oven at the heart of its kitchen operation.

The Little Ships Restaurant and Cafe in Ramsgate is the brainchild of hotelier James Thomas and chef Craig Mather from the Royal Harbour Hotel, which operates the award-winning Empire Room restaurant.

They plan to refine the concept once it has launched and roll it out across other locations on the south coast, including Margate, Folkestone and Brighton.

The duo have opted to install a locally-made Harrison charcoal-fuelled free-standing oven in the new open kitchen, which can be employed for differing cooking techniques.

At high temperatures of 300+°C, they will be relying on the ‘Maillard reaction’ to help create distinctive flavours and dishes, while the oven’s ability to retain moisture will produce succulent cuts of meat, fish and vegetables.

Mr Mather, who trained at the Michelin-starred Mallory Court in Leamington Spa, said: “Costing over £6,000 these hand-built ovens aren’t cheap, but when you taste the food, you’ll know why we invested in one.”

The oven also allows for slow roasting and baking, as well as hot and cold smoking.

Harrison ovens are currently used by a number of high-end restaurants such as Temper, Corrigan’s Mayfair, Stark, Koji and Angela’s.

The ovens are produced by Daniel Thumwood, an engineer and welder whose love of food and fascination with cooking over charcoal led to him creating a unique oven for the market.

Originally based in south west London, the Harrison workshop is now established in Ramsgate, where each unit is built by hand.

The first Little Ships Restaurant and Cafe overlooks Ramsgate marina and will be able to serve 80 covers. It occupies the former Miles Bar site, which closed at the end of June, but has been fully rebranded and refurbished ahead of its launch.

The Little Ships’ name plays tribute to the flotilla of privately-owned boats used to help evacuate stranded British troops from the Dunkirk beaches in 1940.

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