Michelin-starred celebrity chef Daniel Clifford opens Dunmow restaurant – win a lunch for two!
PUBLISHED: 09:04 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 09:04 04 December 2015
When The Flitch of Bacon in Little Dunmow re-opened this week, it had already sold out for Christmas and New Year. 1,700 people have booked for December.
New owner, and Michelin-starred chef, Daniel Clifford and his head chef Danny Gill have rolled up their sleeves. Together they laid the tiles on the roof.
“We had 40 Michelin-starred chefs here for a Sunday roast this week,” said Daniel Clifford, from Flitch Green, who has two stars himself.
They were awarded in 2003 and 2005 for his Midsummer House restaurant in Cambridge.
Unforgettable as it is, Midsummer House is known for being expensive. But as Mr Clifford says: “At Midsummer, meals are 10 courses and diners are at their table for the whole evening. Also, the ratio of staff is 37 staff for 42 guests.
“We want everything to be perfect. Each plate (the crockery) has cost £120.”
The Flitch is different. Three courses and the average spend is expected to be £27 for lunch, £35 for dinner.
As you walk in, the atmosphere is engagingly friendly. Mr Clifford said: “I want people to feel as though they are eating in my house.”
Who knows whether it’s the sage green and muted mushroom shades on the walls, the stone flags on the floor, the light, country tables, the big pine ladder-backed chairs, the warm and gentle coloured lights or the vivid colours in the flowered wallpaper.
Whatever it is, the effect by designer Jo Frances is immediately to make people feel at home. Mr Clifford said: “The place has a lovely atmosphere. We knew it was an old pub that needed a lot of love.”
The initial budget has been over-spent by three times but since they didn’t get planning permission until September, they haven’t done too badly on time. The building has been completely refurbished inside and out.
There is room for 50 diners inside and another 40 in the garden. All the food will be locally sourced apart from fish from Cornwall.
It will be run by the two Daniels – Mr Clifford, 42, and head chef Mr Gill, 29, who has worked at Midsummer House for five years. Over their careers, both of them have worked with celebrity chefs including Marco Pierre White.
Yet, they both look so young.
“We started at 15,” said Mr Clifford.
Shouldn’t you have been at school?
“For me, it was a matter of being asked to leave,” said Mr Clifford. He went to school in Canterbury.
“I didn’t get on at school. The first time I got a glowing report was when I went for work experience in a kitchen. My dad went to the school and said he’s found what he wants to do. I knew I liked working in a kitchen because it’s a place where you can be part of a team. Every person makes a difference. It’s a full-on day’s work and you get inspired every day.”
Mr Gill said: “I started washing pots as a Saturday job when I was 13. (He still washes up.)
“I enjoyed the social side of school but I messed about a lot. I went back to do English and food tech. By then I had been taught how to cut food and how to sharpen knives.”
At 17, he was working with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir in Oxford.
“It’s all about attitude,” both the Daniels said. “You can teach talent but you can’t teach attitude.”
So how long will it be before The Flitch has a Michelin star?
That’s not the ambition, said Mr Clifford. “We want people to have an amazing time, to enjoy their food, to say, that was lovely, I’ll book again. If we get a Michelin star, we would love it but that’s not the main aim. I want it to be somewhere I can afford to bring my children.”
He has five daughters aged from five to 16. “I have a dog called Clifford because I wanted to carry on the name.”
They both enjoy eating out at other eateries. Other people aren’t afraid to cook for them, why should they be?
Mr Clifford said: “I love the Indian restaurant at the top of Dunmow. I like the ambience and the food and they don’t take themselves too seriously and that’s what we want here.
“You get ideas from everywhere. I went to the cinema with my partner. She had nachos and I had a hot-dog. I took a bite out of each and that worked. That became the ravioli at Midsummer. I liked the combination of the spices with the pork.”
So, what was the roast dinner on Sunday that wowed the other Michelin-starred chefs?
It included Mr Gill’s father’s recipe for Yorkshire pudding, which is not to be divulged. Alan Gill, who makes pies in Lincolnshire, keeps his secrets close.
Mr Gill said: “He has a pork pie recipe that he still won’t give me.”
Among the desserts were pistachio soufflé with dark chocolate sorbet and barbecued pineapple with coconut rice pudding, passionfruit and mango.
The Flitch is still open as a pub for drinks only and it serves breakfast. Daniel Clifford will be cooking there on Sundays and Wednesdays.
He said: “I have wanted to open a restaurant here for a few years. I had been looking for some time. All the good places round here are full and people are going to eat in London. We wanted to provide something closer to home.”