Downsizing? Everybody’s doing it and the restaurant business is no different.
There are all those chefs looking at half-empty dining rooms and thinking wouldn’t it be simpler and easier if they ran a café?
Then there are customers who like their food but wonder if it is justifiable to fork out the equivalent of a disability living allowance on pork jowl caramelised in maltose and served with langoustines, grapefruit puree and crispy fried cheek.
So it is that at 1pm I’m queuing at Rileys at the Potting Shed, Silkstone, near Barnsley. Owners James Riley and his wife Nikki downsized here after Christmas after moving a mile from their successful dining pub, the Rose and Crown at Hoylandswaine.
After nine years they’d achieved all they could and were getting rushed off their feet in the evening.
Now they’re at the Potting Shed, the cafe for Pot House Hamlet, a former glassworks and mill turned into posh shops and a plant nursery, getting rushed off their feet during the day.
Something wrong with the master plan?
“The hamlet has always been popular and with our reputation things have met in the middle,” says Nikki during service.
The Potting Shed is two rooms. One with a shiny red tiles and picture windows overlooking Silkstone Beck. The other, with beams, a fire and a settee, is cosy or dark, however the mood takes you.
James is 30 so he was 21 when he took over the Rose and Crown. He learned his trade from that other former boy wonder Cary Brown and while he’s his own man he obviously paid close attention.
Our food showed an ease with balancing textures and flavours, offering enough sophistication to hint at what might be if he wasn’t cooking in a café.
My chicken and wild mushroom soup (£4.50) resembled a creamy, bosky flavoured porridge – you could almost get your teeth into it. Grilled goats cheese (£6) sat on a section of the intensely caramelised onion tart, the sweet flavours complementing the tangy cheese with a well-dressed salad for maximum effect. My main, roast chicken (£11), might not sound exciting but think what the French do with something so humble.
James constructs this dish around a central tower of sweet red cabbage, topped with breast and leg meat. The chicken is excellent with silky mashed potato, good gravy, with a Yorkshire pudding on top.
My wife’s tiger prawns (£9) in chilli, garlic and coriander worked because the prawns were good and the spicing was right.
Cakes are home made and £2.50 a slice. You wouldn’t call them dainty. It seems Barnsley folk like their cakes the same way they like their women, tasty and a good handful.
We have a rhubarb and ginger cheesecake, with both flavours coming through, as it did with a walnut and coffee cake. We have them with Americanos at £2 each.
Afterwards James said: “A lot of people, including young families, still like to eat out. Restaurant quality food in cafes seems to be the trend at the moment. For us, there is less pressure and we can do different things every day. It’s simpler and more informal but the flavours are there.”
He’s making his own ice cream – the Potting Shed has an ice cream parlour kiosk – and planning that old seaside favourite, Knickerbocker Glory.
Word of mouth means the place is busy from the moment the doors open at 10am (although James will have been baking since seven).
“We are working more hours than ever,” he says.
What was that about downsizing?