When two local entrepreneurs took over the Ring of Bells pub in Barnsley with a view to transforming it, Fox Catering Equipment’s owner, Ben Senior, had more reason to be interested than most — and not just because he wondered if his company could offer any assistance.
The venue is a stone’s throw from the distributor’s offices, so he drives past it most mornings, but also his grandfather used to get changed in the same building some 70 years ago when he played football nearby.
Senior learned that the two entrepreneurs, Phil England and Kieran Hickey, had challenged themselves to open what they believe will be the finest steak house in the north of England.
Working with the pair, whose research involved visiting some of the most reputed steakhouses in the UK to speak with the management behind them, Fox helped develop a kitchen and adjacent butchery designed to appeal as much to diners’ visual senses as their tastes.
Catering Insight caught up with him to talk more about the project.
Did you design the kitchen from scratch, and was it based on the previous pub kitchen that was there before?
The kitchen was sited in a purpose-built extension. This was a challenge in itself as the allocated area is quite small and narrow. We used lots of undercounter storage and wall shelving in order to take maximum advantage of the space available. The butchery is set apart from the kitchen and indeed is a ‘feature’ of the main dining area.
What were the main priorities as far as the kitchen and butchery were concerned?
The main priority of the kitchen was to serve high quality steaks, while the main priority of the butchery was for customers to see the meats on display.
The butchery front is mocked up as a ‘shambles’ — an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Streets of that name were so called from having been the sites on which butchers killed and dressed animals for consumption — the idea is customers see the meats dry ageing and being prepared traditionally on site.
The front of the display has a Lincat Seal chilled food display sat on the stone countertop. Within the area itself is a Celltherm chilled dry ageing room with glass viewing panel and hanging rails. For preparing the meats, there is a butcher’s block imported from Italy supplied by Butchers Equipment Warehouse and a vacuum sealing unit from Chefquip.
Did the owners have any specific requirements when it came to the kitchen or the catering equipment used?
Yes — they specifically wanted to know how best to cook a perfect steak. We visited the Lincat head offices to try steaks cooked on solid tops and chargrills alike, both of which were natural gas. The owners visited Hawksmoor London to investigate further. Eventually it was decided that the key was heat. It became clear that by cooking with charcoal as the fuel, a higher degree of heat could be achieved. An Inka charcoal oven was therefore specified to take centre stage of the cookline.
What were the biggest challenges involved with this project?
Designing the actual layout of the kitchen. The space was quite limited so it was very tough to tick all the required boxes and maintain a workable flow to the kitchen. There were various initial design proposals before we reached the final finish.
Did any of the equipment change during the course of the project?
Yes, the Inka oven started life as a gas chargrill, then became an electric griddle, then became a Josper charcoal oven before finally settling. Also, because the restaurant is cooking the chips in beef fat they have two very different fryers. One is a high powered electric Frifri fryer with fat melt cycle and quick recovery times. The other is a more basic Opus gas fryer for standard frying.
Looking at the installation, what satisfies you most about how the scheme turned out?
The visual aspect of the ‘shambles’. It is not often that part of the catering installation takes the limelight in a project such as this. Yes, we have worked on theatre kitchens in the past but it is usually just a bespoke ‘heated pass’ that forms the window to the kitchen. In this case the butchery has been presented on a grand scale.
You’ve carried out a lot of kitchen schemes. What stood out for you with this particular project?
The thing that stood out most was the enthusiasm of the two owners, Phil England and Kieran Hickey. Their energy was quite infectious. From the very first meeting, when I called into site unannounced, they explained that their ambition was to open one of, if not the, finest steak houses in northern England.
Kieran and Phil visited Hawksmoor and Goodman in London where they spoke to the staff and owners for advice on how to serve the perfect steak. I also have to add that we were impressed with the friendliness and professionalism of the entire Bells Steakhouse team. The manager, Kaye Pigott, has had a key role throughout and, indeed, the entire staff mirror her own standards.
View images of the kitchen in our exclusive online picture gallery here.
Equipment from a variety of manufacturers was used during the fit-out, including:
Chefquip: Food prep equipment
DC Products: Warewashing
Foster: Undercounter refrigeration
FriFri: High performance fyer
Inka: Charcoal oven
Lincat: Solid top fryer
Rational: Combi oven