Clavelshay Barn Restaurant – Living The Dream

We are so delighted to welcome Sue Milverton to the blog today. Sue owns Clavelshay Barn Restaurant in Somerset and is tells us all about living her dream and running her fabulous award-winning restaurant. Here’s a brief intro from Caro to set the scene.
When I lived in Somerset, I went to this fabulous restaurant, which has a great reputation, and rightly so. Being in a wheelchair can be a problem in old buildings, but no, there is a gentle sweeping ramp which takes you into the heart of the building and a very warm welcome. This was long before I met Anita-Clare, so I was delighted to discover that she was friends with Sue on Twitter and that it was an easy method to get in touch and to persuade her to write for the blog and share her wonderful restaurant story with us.
 
The setting for this award-winning restaurant is, like my former home used to be, nestled on the edge of the Quantock Hills, the first place in England to be granted the status of AONB, or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a beautiful old stone barn, lovingly restored and converted into a gorgeous, restful space, a great place to just be, but particularly when you are spending a long luxurious evening eating a scrumptious meal!
 
We asked Sue to give us an insight into why she chose to open a restaurant in such a difficult economic climate, about her day, about what drives her and gives her endless pleasures and heartaches in equal measure and she has very eloquently done so. Sit back and relish a virtual trip to Clavelshay Barn, and just why it is so special…..
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“You know that you are living many people’s dream “ said my husband one day  – and I agreed  .

People who are passionate about good food, often fantasise about one day owning and running their own restaurant.   It is, however, not always quite what they imagine it will be…

We started our restaurant , Clavelshay Barn, 8 years ago, converting a redundant stone barn beside our house into a country-style restaurant.  I had run a farmhouse Bed & Breakfast while our 3 children were growing up and used to provide evening meals for the guests.  Demand for the meals grew and this started a seed of thought.  I used to love cooking  and then chatting to the guests after their meal and when the children couldn’t find me, I was usually having a glass of wine with the guests .

The foot and mouth crisis made us think about the future and we looked at what other business we could run from the farm. I have always been passionate about good local food and thought that the barn would make an ideal restaurant.  We found an enthusiastic bank manager who supported us despite the fact that we had no experience and no money. We applied for a grant from DEFRA under the Rural Enterprise Scheme and were fortunate to receive a grant to help with the conversion costs.

Building work took 6 months and we were ready to open. Slight hitch when the chef we appointed changed his mind a week before the opening so we had to look again and delay the opening. How naïve was I when we started !   I really had no idea that the business would take over my life completely.   I think about food all day and in the middle of the night. If I am not thinking about food, it is customers, staff, table numbers, orders, menus, the next function, wedding ..

Our ethos has always been to provide good food, sourced locally wherever possible, supporting other small business in the community. We wanted to use produce from the farm too and have pork, veal, rabbits, eggs, salads, herbs on the menu. We have been awarded a Silver Taste of the West Award for the past 5 years in recognition of our commitment to local food.  We belong to the Sustainable Restaurant Association and have been awarded 3 stars – the maximum award, which we are a very proud of. It gives me great satisfaction to make a dish , where I know the provenance of every ingredient.  The rhubarb  brulee is made from local free range eggs and fresh rhubarb from my local farm shop.

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Recipe

Rhubarb brûlée

Ingredients

  • 500g fresh rhubarb – diced
  • Brown sugar
  • Grated orange zest  or diced stem ginger
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1 vanilla pod (seeds  )
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 0.25 cup caster sugar

Method

Poach the rhubarb with sugar & orange zest until soft. Whisk eggs and sugar until thick and creamy.  Put cream  and vanilla seeds in saucepan and bring to the boil.  Off the heat, add whisked mixture to cream and stir until it coats the back of the spoon. Do not overcook or you will have scrambled eggs ! Put rhubarb in base of ramekins  . Pour custard mix on top and put in fridge to set. To serve – sprinkle caster sugar on top and place until hot grill or use blow torch to caramelise the sugar. Makes 5-6 ramekins

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Wild garlic pesto

Nothing gives me more pleasure than picking fresh ingredients  and making them into a dish full of flavour. Wild garlic picked from the woods makes amazing pesto with a punch !

  •  100 g wild garlic
  • 50 g shelled walnuts
  • 200 ml olive oil (or rapeseed,sunflower)
  • 50 g grated hard cheese   ( I use Parmesan but can use cheddar)
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Method

Easy as this – put all dry ingredients into food processor and whizz together, add oil slowly. Enjoy !

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The highs and lows of running your own restaurant

 The highs 

  • Hearing people enjoying themselves in the restaurant
  • Customer feedback when they tell me they love the food.
  •  Customers who have become friends
  • Having a great team to work with who are my second family
  • Working with fabulous local producers with top quality produce
  • Using produce from the farm and garden
  • Receiving thank you cards from happy brides and customers
  • Winning awards –  a great morale boost
  • Indulging my love of art by having work by local artists in the restaurant
  • Live music nights which I enjoy more than anyone else

 The lows

  • Long hours on your feet
  • The 18 hour shifts at weddings – (me – I would not expect anyone else to do that !)
  • Working every weekend
  • Not spending enough time with my family
  • The paperwork
  • Small return on investment  – minimal profit

However the highs more than outweigh the lows and I still love it and cannot imagine doing anything else !

 What have I learnt in the past 8 years?

I have finally learnt to let go a little and to delegate .  I now let the accountant do my VAT instead of struggling with it and always being late with the returns.  I have a cleaner one day a week to take care of the house,  instead of  trying to do it all on my day off.  I also make sure I get away from the house and restaurant on my day off – to get away from the phone and computer. I can now organise a wedding and help prepare food for 100 without blinking. Wedding in 9 weeks  time – no problem !    6 weddings in 7 weeks – bring it on !  Or preparing and cooking  for the  function for 50 when the relief chef does not turn up . We live in a beautiful ,idyllic valley on the edge of the Quantock Hills in Somerset which we love and enjoy sharing  with lots of people. I have a job which I love and would not change for anything.

Living the dream – yes, I am.

 

You can follow Clavelshay Barn on Twitter Like them on Facebook and visit their beautiful website here

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