It has been a decade since Lockwoods, on North Street, Ripon, first opened its doors, and a lot has changed, from the décor to dishes.
When the restaurant opened in December 2005, owner Matthew Lockwood put his self-taught cooking skills to the test. They started simple with a bistro serving pizzas, burgers and gastronomic delights like Moules Marinere. But as Matthew has grown up (he is after all still only 36) so has the restaurant. And the food is now a very grown up affair offering such dishes as pan fried stone bass with coconut and kaffir lime leaf dahl, spinach and bhuna sauce to 45-day dry aged Farmison steak with dripping fried chips.
Matthew, a history graduate, started his career in 2000 with the Steel River Group at a restaurant in Osmotherley and then moved to run Leeds’ restaurants Babylon and Manrai. Matthew admits to being totally self-taught and “somewhat thrown in at the deep end” which has given him a very hands-on approach, which you still see at Lockwoods, from front of house, to waiter, to behind the bar and cooking in the kitchen.
At 22 Matthew was running a 90-cover restaurant with two bars. As he progressed Matthew spent more time on menu development and cooking. Most if his culinary skills were gained from his time with Alan Thompson at Chapters Hotel and Bistro, but he admits he has had many great mentors along the way.
Alan (Thompson) taught me much of what I know today. He had a love of all things Spanish and took me to Spain several times to sample the traditional Spanish food and to cook.
Along with the grown up menu, Lockwoods interior has grown up too. With thick fur throws, dark wood tables and little cubby holes to tuck yourself away in at the bar. Gentle lighting and trees growing out of the floor add to its charm, and a sleek, warm and welcoming interior with paintings by local artist Amy Carr make it all very grown up!
What has changed of course is the staff. Until recently Matthew had kept hold of some of his original opening staff, but as with many eating establishments, people move on and Matthew finds himself on the hunt for great chefs and people with a natural love of good customer service and food.
It takes time to train staff the way you would like them to be; from knowing and understanding the food to the wine that would best accompany it. But It’s more than knowledge, it’s the ability to make everyone feel welcome and looked after, even if they want to order food not on the menu, or their children are running up and down the restaurant! Great staff have an innate attention to detail, from customer service to dish presentation.
Matthew has strong ideals on the importance of looking after his staff and training them well.
They are your front of house, your link with the customer, so they need to be knowledgeable and helpful. It’s a demanding job, often quite hard and requires a commitment to long hours, so I’ts also making sure they enjoy it and feel part of the team.
This month, Lockwoods threw a private bash with its best customers and food lovers to celebrate 10 years, with entertainment and their popular Call My Bluff wine tasting.
In the last few months Lockwoods has also been awarded North East Restaurant of the Year by the Good Food Guide, and Best Use of Local Produce from Delicious Yorkshire for its partnership with the Workhouse Museum Garden, to allow the supply of unusual heritage fruit, vegetables and herbs during the summer months.
But never one to rest on his laurels, there are more changes afoot. Next year the restaurant will challenge one if its longest standing dishes – the Lockwood’s Chocolate Pot – which has not changed since the restaurant first put it on the menu a decade ago! However, early in 2016 Matthew and his team are going to ask the public to devise the best recipe for the next chocolate pot, with a final ‘cook off’ at the restaurant, and the winning recipe going on the new spring menu.
As further celebration, the youngest Michelin starred chef Tommy Banks, from The Black Swan in Oldstead, will cook for one night on the 25th February as a thank you to Matthew for hosting all of his Christmas parties over the years and to recognize a decade of working together to help each other evolve.
It has been a real journey, sometimes incredible and sometimes fraught with challenges; but it has been great to see the restaurant change and grow up, and to keep many of our customers. That has to be the best sign that we are doing something right!