British restaurant The Ethicurean is getting ready to re-open its door. The past six months have been difficult for all hospitality venues, with the future still very unknown. For brothers and owners of The Ethicurean, Matthew and Iain Pennington, the forced pause gave them time to reflect, to consider and to imagine. After ten years of existence, they have decided to design the kind of experience that they have always wanted to give their customers. At the same time, they have decided to reinvent their approach to the business of running a restaurant. Matthew and Iain have always endeavoured to create a place of opportunity, security and enjoyment for everyone who chooses to work with them. For this reason, they have implemented an innovative new reservations system and a new business structure that they think will benefit both guests and their team.
The Ethicurean is situated in a bountiful Victorian Walled Garden set against the backdrop of the Mendip Hills. Guests are invited to slow down, to take time to be guided around the garden, to be curious and reconnect to the land. The fully immersive experience takes guests on a truly unique culinary journey. Following a walk through the walled garden, guests are welcomed by the team, then led into the cosy restaurant. Bunches of dried herbs cover the walls and dried flower arrangements sit along the windowsills and tables. The recently refurbished space drew inspiration from the local surroundings. Matthew and Iain worked with local craftsmen and kitchen fitters to create an environment that highlights the sustainable principles of the business.
With ingredients sourced from the garden, nourishing and homely food is served alongside wild libations. Naturally curious and guided by the seasons, The Ethicurean offers an ever-changing menu that draws on the freshest ingredients, with most of the vegetables and salads coming from the walled garden. Techniques such as curing, pickling, lacto-fermentation and smoking feature heavily across both the food and drinks menus. Pairing flights of natural and biodynamic wines, and an alternative no or low flight which includes non-alcoholic cocktails, cider vinegar shrubs and kombuchas are offered to compliment the meal. Bottles and jars of their inventive creations adorn the shelves of the restaurant, they become a talking point for guests and allow for curiosity to take hold. To round off the evening, guests are invited to have a warm fireside sweet treat out on the lawn nestle into the Mendip hillside.
Pairing flights of natural and biodynamic wines, and an alternative no or low flight which includes non-alcoholic cocktails, cider vinegar shrubs and kombuchas are offered to compliment the meal. Bottles and jars of their inventive creations adorn the shelves of the restaurant. They become a talking point for guests and allow for curiosity to take hold.
The Autumn menu draws on the bounty of summer where insect pollinators, for a few months of lockdown, had the run of the place. The uniquely warm spring—blossom in abundance, busy bees, moths and wasps doing their uninterrupted work. This culminated in the most remarkable year for wild fruits, berries, cobnuts and garden growth that the restaurant has ever known. Much of the joy for Matthew and Iain has been capturing and preserving this harvest to serve a menu that reflects a sense of what is possible when nature and the natural cycles are given space and time. After a slow meal full of wonder and enjoyment, guests are invited to have a warm fireside sweet treat out on the lawn nestled into the Mendip hillside. This is field to table dining at its best. A unique culinary adventure that provides nourishment for the mind, body and soul.
The past twenty years have seen a race to the bottom for the majority of UK restaurants. Operating margins were historically around 15% annually near the turn of the millennium. Now, an industry-wide survey shows it closer to 3-4% for those that manage to break into profit. Most independent restaurants are competing with international corporate giants that use complicated accountancy to offset costs and lessen their tax burden. Those same outfits use low welfare ingredients to increase margin, meaning that customer expectation on price or value of food has shifted. It’s not working in favour of independent restaurants; even those that get past the most challenging first three years (during which most will go out of business). Six years into the project, The Ethicurean almost went the same route and faced near financial collapse. Determination, personal financial sacrifice and choosing not to dilute their principles ensured they made it through.
As an employer, The Ethicurean strives to offer inspirational, secure and long-term employment opportunities to everyone that commits themselves to business. In practice, this means that they invest in training, operate as a meritocracy, and offer a caring, supportive and open culture. It also means that they are committed to paying their staff the living wage, something rarely seen in the hospitality industry. Matthew and Iain recognise that there is a lack of clarity around service charging and tipping, which can impact on the straightforward enjoyment of a meal out. As part of the reinvention of The Ethicurean format, they are introducing two new elements to their booking policy. Payment will be required upon booking to give the business confidence that income can be generated to pay their staff and related costs. Secondly, service charge will be included on food in the overall cost.
The Ethicurean are looking to the future for positive change. They plan to re-open in October as a restaurant with a smaller capacity and just Friday – Sunday services. Long hours and short breaks are common in the industry, and the mental health of workers can be directly impacted by this. The reduced number of covers and services at The Ethicurean means that work life balance will be much more even for their team. By including service charge into the bill and making changes to their service structure and booking system, they hope to run a business that serves and nourishes both guests and staff in equal measure. It will take years of undoing the flaws in the industry to get to a point where the energy put in by the workers is reflected in their financial gain. The Ethicurean team are paving the way for change, the hope is that others are able to follow suit.
Booking for ‘The Ethicurean Experience’ and ‘The Ethicurean Lunch’ are open and full details can be found at www.theethicurean.com.
The Ethicurean Experience:
Friday Dinner 17:00 – 19:00
Saturday Dinner 17:00 – 19:00
The restaurant closes at 10pm.
The Ethicurean Lunch:
Saturday Lunch 12:00 – 13:30
Sunday Lunch 12:00 – 15:30
Barley Wood Walled Garden