ALISTAIR Myers was mixing negroni cocktails at Rafters when he got a call from a free-spending customer. It wasn’t to book a table but a new chapter in his career.
How would he like to upsticks and run another restaurant? asked care home boss John Hill of Hassop Hall.
“I said there was no way we could do it,” recalls Alistair, who runs the high class guidebook-listed Sheffield restaurant with chef Tom Lawson.
Flash foward some time later and he and Tom are being shown around the Grade II listed Riverside hotel and restaurant on the banks of the River Wye at picturesque Ashford-in-the-Water.
“By then it was no way we could NOT do it,” enthuses Alistair, aged 36.
And so on from November, Covid-permitting, the pait will reopen the building as Rafters at the Riverside, a restaurant with rooms. There are 14 bedrooms, a restaurant seating around 30-36, a smaller Range Room for 14 (featuring an old cooking range) and a private dining room for a dozen guests.
The old Riverside, owned by Penelope Thornton and once a feature of the food guides, had closed in March and was on the market for £1.6 million.
Ironically neither John Hill nor his wife Alex had visted Riverside before deciding to buy it, unlike Hassop Hall, which they have converted back from a hotel to a swanky private residence. “We celebrated our wedding anniversary there,” says Alex.
She will be heading up the renovation and I caught her knee deep in paint charts. With a background in design, she’s already done a similar job at Hassop. The paint was Farrow and Ball, of course.
With her youngest child now at school, she was looking around for a project. “I like to keep myself busy,” she says.
The couple are regular diners at Rafters in Oakbrook Road. “We have been a few times and it is a little gem. We absolutely love the food,” adds Alex, who recommends the place to their friends.
Now she and John will have another recommendation up their sleeves, Rafters at Riverside. But expect the menu to be a little different. Rafters has long run a set tasting menu. Alistair and Tom, aged 29, think their North Derbyshire customers will prefer a three course menu.
“Tom’s putting together the new menu and there will be a bloody good Sunday lunch,” says Alistair. Fingers are being crossed about Covid-19 but bookings are already being taken.
Oernight guests can expect to pay £350-£390 for dinner, bed and breakfast.
The biggest pitfall in catering is when a successful restaurant expands: how to keep those elements which have made it a hit in the first place. So will Alistair and Tom be stretching themselves too far?
They think they’ve left a strong team in charge in Sheffield. “Ben Ward will be front of house at Rafters. He’s spent five years with us, rising from pot washer to manager. And sous chef Dan Conlon, who came from Sheffield College, has been promoted to head chef,” adds Alistair.
For the Hills this is another big venture. And just as when they bought Hassop, there were also rumours locally that Riverside was to be another care home. The gossips were wrong again.
Meanwhile, back at Hassop, the family are not shy of showing the world how they are getting on, as can be seen on the Instagram site Hassop Interiors. “Our kitchen is now finished” (the couple had been using the Butler’s Pantry, as you do)” but everything else has come to a standstill, says Alex.
However they do wish people would stop driving through the gates to have a gawp as their children play on the driveway. There’s a plea to this effect on Instagram.
Meanwhile Tom and Alistair have a big task on their hands. And Alistair may well be reflecting what might have happened if he had taken the advice of that teacher who, hearing of his interest in hospitality, advised him to get a proper job!
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Oops – “long ruin a set tasting menu” 😉