André Woodward is the new Executive Head Chef at Bewl Water. Eileen Leahy spoke to him about his culinary vision for the park’s two fantastic new restaurants, The Waterfront and The Boat House Bistro, and why the balcony at the latter will be the place to be spotted this summer…
Setting up two new restaurants from scratch, creating unique menus for each, employing chefs, waiting staff and sommeliers are all things that Bewl Water’s Executive Head Chef André Woodward has taken in his stride.
It helps that he has had experience of this type of venture before – albeit on a much smaller scale – having created and run his own restaurant The House on The Hill in Sevenoaks for ten years. But this particular project, despite being a challenge due to the volume of work that needed completing in a very short space of time, is something the chef has clearly really thrived on.
“Despite only having nine weeks or so I have organised everything from selecting the wines to employing people and ensuring all the relevant health and safety paperwork is in place,” he declares.
Then, of course, there are the menus for each eaterie. Did André, who cites Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc as his gastronomic heroes, have carte blanche on those?
“Yes. My vision for The Boat House is freshly cooked, seasonal, local food. And what could be more local than the rainbow trout we serve on the menu which is caught in the lake below,” he laughs.
Panfried and served with a zingy citrus butter, smoked bacon praline and layered potato gratin, it is fast becoming a classic – even though the restaurant has only been open a matter of weeks.
“Our twice-baked parmesan soufflé, which we serve as a starter, is another big hit already,” continues André.
It sounds like there is quite a variety of classic dishes and a few contemporary culinary twists:
“Oh yes, I like things to be eclectic!” explains André.
He also uses quality local ingredients. “I go to Southborough Butchers and Chart Farm in Seal for our meat and also source our vegetables and fruit from a supplier in Pembury.”
How would André define his cooking? “I am inspired by different flavours from all over the world – Asia, Italy and the Americas. I like to mix it up and not be pigeonholed.”
Would André describe the super chic Boat House, which boasts a sophisticated colour palette of muted greys, exposed brick walls and truly stunning panoramic lakeside views, as an experience in fine dining?
“It’s a little bit more relaxed than that. The standard of the food is definitely fine dining but the atmosphere is more laid back. We have all age groups and types of people – families, fishermen, kayakers and walkers – coming here.”
The local residents have also been very supportive.
“The reaction we get when people walk through the door is ‘Wow!’ They are over the moon to have something like this on their doorstep.”
Will the menu change regularly?
“Oh yes definitely. I always like to keep things evolving,” says André.
As well as serving light bites for lunch which include taste bud-tempting treats such as BBQ pulled pork brioche sandwiches and crab and crayfish risotto, there are also heartier dishes such as the aforementioned panfried Bewl trout and slow cooked steak and chorizo pie. Every Sunday there will also be traditional roasts of pork belly and roast sirloin of beef on offer too.
André adds that when the finer weather comes along The Boat House will really come into its own thanks to the restaurant’s balcony which has a good sized seating area.
“When the sun is shining and you are next to the water with a nice plate of food and a cool beer there’s something about it that is just so relaxing. I think when the summer comes the balcony will definitely be the place to be seen.”
André is equally enthused about Bewl’s other new restaurant The Waterfront which has just reopened to the public after extensive refurbishment.
“It seats 150 now and has got a real family feel. We serve really good quality food quickly. The menu is geared towards British classics so you’ll find sausages and mash, fish pie and lots of children’s food. You can walk in wearing your muddy boots and sit down to a delicious lunch or simply enjoy a coffee and slice of cake.”
So despite the huge challenge that faced André and the team at Bewl they have certainly pulled off a fantastic feat with their two fabulous new restaurants, which look as good as the food they serve tastes.