The Strand's New 'Recipe for Success'.........
By BudePeeps | Saturday, October 08, 2011, 07:09
The new Head Chef at The Strand, Darren Nawrocki, hails from Bristol, trained in Bordeaux, among other places, has various hotel/gastro pub credentials and has come to The Strand fresh to the Bude area with no preconceptions about the kind of food which sells in a holiday resort. Which is great for Darren - and us - as he has the creative freedom to develop a menu which works for The Strand, for visitors and, most importantly of all, for the local people in Bude.
Darren Nawrocki, Head Chef at The Strand
The lovely Shortcake with Cream, Raspberries and Strawberries at The Strand
Darren was British Meat Chef of the Year in 2002, and British Fish Chef of the Year in 2008. He's a great fan of fish and introduced the extremely popular seafood platter to The Strand's Brasserie menu, which, he says, is 'flying out'. The fish is locally caught from Widemouth Bay. Apparently, a tuna was caught off Widemouth Bay on Sunday which Darren bagged for his menu as soon as he heard about it. His lamb shank and stuffed chicken also seem very popular. Therefore, Darren, not realising that I am vegetarian and my colleague can't eat fish (much to her chagrin) was a bit surprised that we didn't opt for any of his 'signature' dishes : "I was a bit disappointed and thought you might opt for something more exciting", he exclaimed........
That said, we were more than pleased with what we had. We both enjoyed a large field mushroom with goats cheese on a salad bed. My companion then had meatballs with pasta (though she was tempted by the lamb shank) while I checked out the vegetable tagine with pistachio cous cous. I was rather impressed by the after-kick from the spices (Darren buys in a special Moroccan spice mix) and the fact that while the courgette was firm, the aubergine wasn't chewy. It's not like this at home, folks! Darren let me into a secret which is that one no longer needs to salt aubergines, and if you cook things for different lengths of time rather than throwing everything into a pan, it makes a difference..........things really have moved on, but I bet he gets more washing up than me!
We emptied our plates which was pretty amazing given that lunch, to me, is normally an 'on the hoof' piece of cheese on toast or something equally simple. It must be said that the food was helped down by a very decent glass of dry white wine. I failed to ask what this was but, apparently, the wine list has also been revamped, and it shows.
We even managed to share a dessert which was a very pretty and beautifully light concoction of shortbread biscuits, cream, raspberries and strawberries, garnished with a sprig of mint. I suggested it wouldn't be too difficult to emulate at home and I could buy in some shortbread biscuits.......Darren gave me a look of mildly exasperated indulgence and explained that home made shortbread biscuits are much better. He's right! Darren mentioned that he is testing the water for vegetarian options at the moment, so hopes to introduce more, but is always happy to cook whatever people want, even if it isn't on the menu, providing he has the ingredients. What was especially good about the meal was that I felt pleasantly full but not 'childhood Sunday lunch full of stodge' full...........
I had to ask about the pizzas as my last experience of pizza at The Strand had been very average. Well, the great news is that the Chicago Town logo and produce has gone. Nothing against it in principle, but I don't want to go out and pay for it in a restaurant. I want something special. The pizzas are now home made and are great early evening sellers, 12 inch in size, and cooked in a proper pizza oven. Hallelujah! I shall try them again soon.......
The excellent news is that everything at The Strand is now home-cooked, sourced using local produce. Meat, for example, comes from Holsworthy, fish from Bude, local free range eggs are used, and it tells in the taste. I know this from my own hens' eggs at home - they are beautiful - so quality fresh food makes an amazing impact on flavour.
Darren calls his style of cooking 'rustic' with top quality, fuss free, largely traditional foods cooked with an individual twist. The idea of 'rustic' eating is that you know what's on the plate, can enjoy a decent portion, and can relax over your meal. The good news is that half-portions are available for children or those with smaller appetites - and this works out cheaper, too, of course.
It must be said that Darren seems almost too calm for a chef (we've all got used to TV dramatics in the kitchen) but his down to earth approach seems to work. And he was very honest about what inspired him towards cooking: girls! When he left school in Bristol, he went to an open day at the local college. The girls were all opting for hairdressing and beauty and catering was just next door, so ........well, for Darren, those days are over as he prepares to marry his partner, Clare, next year, with his reception being held, of course, at The Strand.
Calling himself a "good plate of food guy", Darren has no pretensions. He's not cooking for awards, and there isn't an ounce of pomposity in him. No Michelin star award - seeker there then! He is happy to develop his reputation and menu at The Strand and is shortly to move from Bideford to Bude, despite the bridge at Bideford reminding him of very happy times learning to cook in Bordeaux. He sees himself settling here: "Bude is nice and relaxed, very different to Bristol, and I hated London, which is 24/7, much too busy. My cooking is just totally rustic, nice, simple, with an added twist. Come and try us, don't be scared of past history, it's all new and fresh at The Strand now: come in, whether it is for coffee, cake, panini, baguette or a full on meal".
What Darren hopes for is to become more like the Browns restaurants, which offer simple, classic, freshly cooked food for people who like to know what they are eating, have it cooked to order and can enjoy it within a relaxing environment. However, it will have a special Bude feel to it. It seems that Darren is quietly succeeding, because people are returning.
Certainly, I've experienced some mind-numbingly bad hotel food in the past but The Strand's meal surpassed all expectations. It was fresh, tasty, simple but original, beautifully presented and the service was also excellent. The Strand's staff have now had much more training, Darren's kitchen is now how he wants it, the team work well together, and suppliers of fresh produce are now organised. His cooking is both delicious and aesthetically pleasing. They've now got it right at The Strand and, as Darren's menu continues to evolve, I'm sure there will be even more to enjoy in the near future.
It all adds up to a recipe for success.