While we can’t leave the house to enjoy a meal, Brian Stormont discovered the ethos behind the fine dining at home experience being offered by Carnoustie restaurant The Rookery.
An ambitious Angus restaurant that has seen its trade battered by the coronavirus pandemic has been fighting back by offering a fine dining “At Home” experience.
The Rookery in Carnoustie had been quietly building a great reputation for its offering when Covid-19 struck almost a year ago forcing them, like all hospitality venues, to close their doors overnight.
They opened again when it was possible in July, but then endured the “stop-start” feature of the tiers system before again being forced to close indefinitely on Boxing Day last year.
But the enthusiastic team at the restaurant which overlooks the Angus town’s famous Championship Course, venue for the Open Championship on eight occasions, hit on the idea of creating amazing three-course meals in a box which can be enjoyed at home with minimum fuss – and washing up!
Head chef at The Rookery Chris Hazelton said: “I’m not used to being at home at all, I’m used to long hours and days working as a chef, so I hated lockdown.
“It was brilliant to get back into things when we did back in July. Then Eat Out to Help Out came along and that was great as we saw a lot of new faces who really enjoyed the food.
“A lot of people don’t realise you can just pop in here it isn’t linked to the golf clubs at all, the public can use it.
“It was devastating to have to close on the 26th again, but we did more than 600 festive packs and that worked really well as a concept and it was really good to keep us engaged with the locals.
“There aren’t a lot of restaurants doing the fine dining at home boxes locally. You have Dean Banks at Haar and you have Home by Nico who is doing it nationally, and these are the people who we want to benchmark ourselves against.
“The feedback has been really good and we are proud of what we have achieved in these weird, weird times.
“What we are really keen to do is provide people with an amazing dining experience at home with as little fuss as possible, and as little washing up as possible,” added Chris, a member of the Master Chefs of Great Britain.
“We have done as much as we possibly can in the process and it really is just a case of finishing things off and plating up. It’s just a case of gently reheating it.
“We are striving to provide opulence and restaurant-quality food with convenience. That is the balance we are trying to strike.
“If there is lots of washing up, then it’s not really much of a treat!”
Online dinner parties
And people have been teaming up to hold virtual dinner parties, too, by ordering boxes from The Rookery along with their friends, then enjoying them together online.
Brand and marketing for Carnoustie Golf Links and The Rookery, Kim Speirs, explained: “We have heard of a number of people who have been getting boxes and then teaming up on Zoom by putting their laptops or iPads at the end of the table.
“It’s a great idea and the closest you can really get to dining with your friends at the moment and it makes us really happy that we are able to do our bit in a small way to bring people together during these difficult times.”
Chief executive of the Carnoustie Golf Links, Mike Wells, said the ambition and passion at The Rookery have remained undimmed, despite the dark times during the pandemic.
He said: “We opened just before the Open Championships in 2018 so we have almost been here for three years. It has been a bit of a stop-start venture for us but we are very enthusiastic about The Rookery and we have had some great support.”
And there cannot be many restaurants in the country that enjoy the vista The Rookery does.
“We are very spoiled where we are – looking out over the Championship Course and we know how magnificent that can be and also then views from our private dining room and from the top end across to St Andrews. We are very lucky to have this,” added Mike.
“It’s a big facility and we have a multi-functional use for it with the restaurant and the bar, but we work with a lot of community groups as well, including the Carnoustie Golf Memories Group who come along once a month when they can in normal times.
“We have a very diverse clientele as well with a very solid local customer base and a really good loyalty there from the locals. We also have the golf market as well with the international visitors that we need to cater for so there are really two different offers that we try and look after here at the Rookery.”
However, in common with hospitality businesses the length and breadth of the country, Covid-19 has been very damaging.
But the Rookery team has continued to embrace new ideas and plan for what they believe will be a positive future.
Mike continued: “We are not going to hide away from that everyone is in the same boat. It is an extremely challenging time for the hospitality industry and we are very much a part of that.
“We were lucky in a way that we do have that support locally and when we were allowed to open up with such a safe, spacious environment here, the local clientele were very happy to come along when they could.
“A lot of measures were put in place to safeguard against the impact of the pandemic and there was a certain section of our clientele that weren’t able to come up which was unfortunate.
“The team is very committed to being a local restaurant as well and being a hub, not just somewhere someone can come for a bite to eat but to catch up with friends, catch a cup of coffee or come for a pint on a Friday night, so we do try and cater for everyone’s needs.”
Experiencing an enforced closure, along with the entire industry on December 26 last year, taking the restaurant experience into people’s homes seems to be a natural way to continue the business.
If people couldn’t come to The Rookery – The Rookery would go to them!
“We wanted people to experience what we normally do at home. We know how things have impacted everyone’s lives, people just need a little bit of excitement, something to look forward to,” added Mike.
“We can’t offer the whole restaurant experience but we can offer the next best thing and that is the restaurant in your house. That is what we are trying to do and chef is very innovative in terms of his menus which will constantly evolve as we go through trying to keep things new and fresh.
“The very basic principles of our restaurant here at The Rookery is all about local sourcing and local provenance.
“Our tagline is the ‘Best of land and sea’ and we absolutely try and stick to that as much as possible.
“It is seasonal and we pick the best of what is available. We will put in the hard yards here so you can enjoy The Rookery at home – that experience.”
And customers, old and new, have responded to the “The Rookery@Home” very favourably.
Mike said: “The feedback has been really positive. We have a really loyal following anyway, not just locally but from some distance too, and we have really seen that come through with ‘The Rookery@Home’ too.
“But it’s just different. People want something to look forward too and there aren’t many opportunities for that in these current times, but we genuinely feel that there is going to be a shift in this industry and I believe this is something that can continue to run alongside our on-site offering as well.
“We have been talking a lot about strategies. Back in the good old days everyone had an annual business plan. What we have found, and not just with Covid and, with a modernisation of things, we have to be dynamic, nimble and flight of foot and that is how we see ourselves going forward now and into the future in terms of how we can create new products, new offerings, different experiences.
“We are never going to sit and hope that we have now is always going to work and I wouldn’t like to put in place a view or strategy for six months’ time that might not be relevant.
“We will deal with the here and now and respond appropriately but with always keeping that local community feel very much in the forefront of our minds. We want to give our customers something they can really get behind and support.”
The Rookery@Home review
I was fortunate enough to try the home experience and I can understand why the feedback has been so positive.
It really is incredibly simple, and the dishes have been created in such a way that you are reheating at an optimum temperature to ensure the quality and then plating up.
I had a little fun trying to be “cheffy” plating up which I enjoyed – but the most important thing, of course, is the taste and I have no complaints about that at all.
On the evening we tried it the first course was Arbroath Smokie rarebit which was flaked smokie and Barwhey’s smoked cheddar served on a toasted baguette, and accompanied by apple cider vinaigrette.
All I had to do was toast the baguettes and then split the rarebit mixture between them and serve. Truly simple and truly delightful!
The main was chicken, haggis and pancetta roulade accompanied by braised savoy cabbage and a wholegrain mustard sauce.
This was even simpler to prepare, needing only to be warmed through in the oven and plated up.
For me, this was the star of the show. The flavours worked perfectly together, and I could not believe that savoy cabbage could be made to taste so good, it was a sweet and savoury combo that just melted in your mouth.
Dessert required a couple of spins in the microwave and you had the most delightful vanilla sponge with golden syrup.
This was insanely good, but I reserve my only criticism of the night for this – it was too sweet and moreish.
After completing a fantastic dine at home experience, I had a few containers to put in the bin, and six plates, and six sets of cutlery to wash. The very least that was required.
The instruction cards are very easy to follow, and all allergens are outlined in bold, too, throughout the process.
Small pictures of how to present your dishes are also supplied which helps you bring that restaurant-style experience to your home.
A fun night in, and most definitely something you can look forward to when you can’t currently go out for a meal.
It is indeed the next best thing.
The Rookery@Home boxes are available every week with orders taken up to Wednesday for pick up on Friday or Saturday. Full details are available on their website.