If you can stand the heat . . . come into Kitchen@Thorpeness
PUBLISHED: 12:04 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:04 02 September 2014
Tessa Allingham meets Claire and Cameron Marshall, owners of Dedham Boathouse, at their latest venture
There’s something very, very English about Thorpeness. It’s a place where tow-haired children mess around in boats on the Peter Pan-inspired Meare, where swans paddle sedately, where ice creams are licked at leisure, bicycles have wicker baskets and croquet balls thump.
It was here that the wealthy Ogilvie family created a fantasy holiday retreat for friends and family back in the early 20th century, building clusters of mock-Tudor houses and converting a water tower into the now-iconic House in the Clouds.
And it’s here that Essex restaurateurs Claire and Cameron Marshall have opened their bang up to date new venture, the Kitchen@Thorpeness.
“We instantly liked this village with its traditional feel,” says Claire who has run the Boathouse in Dedham with her husband for the past 12 years.
“We were looking for a new challenge, somewhere close to water. We like change – well, Cameron does especially! – but
we are careful. We’d been looking for
about three years, but when we saw this place we didn’t hesitate.”
What the couple saw in December 2013 was essentially a new-build, a replacement for Barn Hall which had been the Ogilvie’s estate office and had had various foodie and retail incarnations over the years.
Overlooking the Meare at the heart of the village, it still shares the space with the vintage curiosities of Thorpeness Emporium. It clearly spoke to the Marshalls. Less than a month after the first viewing the lease was signed and the couple embarked on a mad few weeks decorating and furnishing (cool greys and shades of latte, natural wood, a giant mirror from TK Maxx, funky industrial-style lighting from Ikea, splashes of zingy lime green in the chairs, soft furnishings and the logo), buying equipment, finding staff, refining the look and feel of their relaxed seaside eatery.
By early April the doors were open. “I don’t like to hang around!” says Cameron, a determined dynamo. “We wanted to get going before the big Easter weekend.”
The first weekend was mad by all accounts. Cameron puts his head in his hands recalling the coffee machine crisis. “Nine seconds to make a cup of coffee doesn’t sound long, but it’s an eternity when you have 200-plus people through the doors. It’s sorted now, thank goodness, and service on the May bank holiday was seamless even though we were chocker! I thrive on that sort of adrenalin, but that first day was crazy. Food checks were going round the corner in the kitchen!”
Now, some eight weeks after opening, the Marshalls are enjoying their first day off. Both are still on site, clearly not really taking a day off, though the couple’s Labradors, Poppy and Matilda, are waiting on the patio as the sniff of a walk is in the air. Claire sits in the squashy sofa in the light, airy dining room, and reflects on this new venture with the calm of someone confident in what she’s doing.
“Our vision was to create a laid-back, all-day, seven days a week, seaside café-restaurant. We want people (and their dogs!) to pop in for coffee and cake, have a light lunch, an ice cream. We’ve overtaken our targets over the first two months, so something must be right!”
At the time of our meeting the Kitchen was about to start serving evening meals at weekends. Cameron, a trained chef and manager, has drawn up a menu that nods to the 1970s where you might choose a baked camembert or devilled whitebait to start, followed by a classic chicken Caesar salad or a chilli bowl with crusty bread. A couple of scoops of Swiss Movenpick ice cream could make a fitting end to the meal.
The lunch menu is divided into ‘fishy things’ (smoked mackerel salad, or little gem and king prawn cocktail) and ‘meaty things’ (the Kitchen burger and fries, or a cured meat salad with Parmesan, rocket and Cameron’s own honey and balsamic vinegar-marinated olives), with a range of breakfast dishes and sandwiches to fill the gaps.
He’s still looking for the right chef to back him up in the kitchen – at the moment it’s him, a commis and a kitchen porter – but is delighted to have experienced hotelier Helen Lavis on board as manager.
Hels brims with ideas, eager to encourage trade in the off-season (80% of the houses in Thorpeness are second homes) with the likes of a camera club and art classes. “I love it here,” she says. “I’m new to Thorpeness so it’s a great way for me to feel part of the community too. Trade comes naturally at this time of the year, but we need to think forward into winter.”
So have the Marshalls simply created a Boathouse by the sea? “There are a lot of similarities, the waterside location, the customer base. We don’t rent out the boats like we do in Dedham, but we’d like to replicate the reputation we’ve earned at the Boathouse and provide the same standard of service, even if the Kitchen is less formal.”
We part company. Poppy and Matilda hear their leads jangle and stand to attention on the patio. Claire and Cameron’s well-deserved first day off together in weeks is about to begin.