Steve Groves is very excited for 2022. Not only is he fronting the relaunch of Nether Wallop restaurant, he is also introducing a new way of dining at Glyndebourne.
The space is modern, fresh and incredibly welcoming – designed to share the enjoyment of food and spending time together, which we’ve all missed over the last two years.
This change has come about partly through necessity and partly by design as executive chef Steve Groves explains: ‘With the restrictions due to Covid over the past couple of years, it seemed like the ideal time to look closely at what we do and the environmental impact of that. The new Nether offering is based around sustainability and will lead the way from a culinary perspective for even more focus on reducing our carbon footprint across the restaurants at Glyndebourne. We also want to diversify what we offer across the three Glyndebourne restaurants so that they each have a clear identity. Mildmay has emerged as the place for traditional British fare, Middle and Over Wallop for fine dining (featuring Chris and Jeff Galvin) and we wanted something fresh and exciting for Nether.’
As the dining interval is 90 minutes long it is always an impressive organisational and culinary feat to serve hundreds of diners a three-course meal each night, while allowing time for everyone to be seated, pop to the loo and walk to the restaurants and back to the auditorium. So traditionally all diners have had to pre-order their food to help the smooth running of the interval, but Nether will now be breaking with this tradition. The reasons for this are fundamental to the concept of the restaurant as Steve notes: ‘The kitchen will be right at the heart of this restaurant and we want to create a sense of occasion when dining in Nether – having the chefs essentially in the dining hall will bring some culinary theatre to the experience. The menu has been designed so that there will be no need to pre-order your food in advance. On arrival we will take an order for the main element of your meal – the choice will be between meat, fish or vegetarian – and the rest of the menu will be the same for everyone. The meal will be served in a banquet style with a variety of breads, dips and small or sharing plates. This will be followed by the main course which will be served with various sauces and side dishes to be shared with your group, followed by a selection of desserts.
‘By having no pre-orders we will have the flexibility to change the menu based on what ingredients are of the best quality at that moment and offer the best opportunity to reduce waste. By being flexible with the meat and fish proteins that we use we can work with even more local producers that would otherwise struggle to keep up with the volumes of a certain product that we would require. For meat-eaters, we can also take a ‘whole beast’ approach to the way we buy meat as we will be able to vary the cuts day to day, which again reduces the pressure on our smaller, local suppliers.’
As a vegan, I am excited by the fact that most of the shared plates and side dishes will be plant-based as I can see it encouraging a more convivial way of sharing food, meeting the tastes of many, instead of a few. Steve, however, is keen to point out that ‘Nether, while catering for vegans, is not a vegan restaurant. Instead, I describe it as ‘plant forward’ because whilst there will be an emphasis on using more plant-based ingredients to help reduce our carbon footprint, we will still offer some sustainably sourced meat, fish and animal products. There will be plenty of focus on creating an abundance of delicious, vibrant plates of food that are packed with flavour and are guilt-free! With the banquet style of service we really want to create a fun, lively atmosphere that feels like a real occasion.’
As with all new initiatives at Glyndebourne, the impact on the environment has been considered in the revamp of Nether, and ‘we will minimise food waste by making sure that we utilise everything possible, says Steve. ‘That starts by working with our suppliers and looking at ways to reduce waste at source, for example we have been looking at ways to use the whey created in the cheese-making process. Working with Arthur Alsop, who provides us with some great cheese, we have found that we can turn this into a caramel for desserts, whilst it also works well as a poaching liquor for vegetables and some fish.
We are also working closely with a company called Waste Knot who work with farms to create a market for fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be rejected for retail or wholesale supply due to the size or shape, think wonky but otherwise perfect! We will still only buy fantastic ingredients but the determining factor will be flavour rather than appearance. This flexible approach will allow our menus to be directed by our producers and challenges us as chefs to create beautiful dishes from whatever ingredients are available at that moment. The idea is to avoid creating leftovers and instead offer a generous dinner without overproducing food.’
In addition to reducing food waste there will also be a focus on recycling, working with local craftspeople for example, to turn used wine bottles into drinking glasses and carafes and ‘on top of this we will also look to cook over local charcoal, working with a supplier that plants a new tree for every sack of coal sold,’ Steve adds.
In planning the newly revamped Nether Wallop, Restaurant Associates – who run all three on-site restaurants – have worked to ensure that they are future-proofing dining at Glyndebourne with this new venture. Behind the scenes they are addressing some major environmental issues, but front of house it will all be about enjoying good food. ‘First and foremost we want our guests to feel that they have had a wonderful, indulgent experience. The health benefits and the sustainability are very important to us but it should never feel like there has been a compromise on enjoyment. We want you all to enjoy the banquet!’
This article was written by Karen Anderson (Glyndebourne’s head of content). It first appeared in Recit – the Glyndebourne Member magazine.
Image credits: Nether Wallop, photos by James Bellorini.