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“I want the first Michelin Star in Suffolk”

PUBLISHED: 16:07 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:36 02 January 2018

Ross Bott, executive chef at The Swan Hotel, Southwold. Picture: Sarah Groves

Ross Bott, executive chef at The Swan Hotel, Southwold. Picture: Sarah Groves

Sarah Groves

Ross Bott, executive chef at The Swan in Southwold says he wants to bring another Michelin Star to East Anglia.

Chicken with black pudding puree, girolle mushrooms and black pudding crumb. Picture: Sarah GrovesChicken with black pudding puree, girolle mushrooms and black pudding crumb. Picture: Sarah Groves

“I want the first Michelin star in Suffolk”

It’s a bold claim from Ross Bott, lured late last year to The Swan in Southwold by Adnams, who’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the building’s overhaul.

Project Orange’s refurb drips with designer aesthetic, from its palette of rich navy blues and seagrass greens, to the Willy Wonka-esque copper bar of The Still Room restaurant.

This is something very different for Suffolk. And to complete the formula Adnams have invested heavily in the food offering at the hotel, with Ross (who cut his teeth at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire, and opened Hawkyns for Atul Kolchar) drawn in to create what the brand hopes will be one of the most outstanding food and drink experiences in East Anglia.

Sea trout with bone marrow and prune puree and kale powder. Picture: Sarah GrovesSea trout with bone marrow and prune puree and kale powder. Picture: Sarah Groves

Ross has every confidence in his abilities, and said what really appealed to him was the opportunity to join the exodus of chefs from London where Michelin Stars are ten-apenny (there are 70 currently) and make roots in the suburbs where he can really shine and show off his unique Nordic cooking style.

“I read a lot of Nordic books and I like their ethos on food. They go out, forage it and get it on the plate. There’s a place in Norway, it’s in the middle of nowhere and there’s no menu. Whatever they forage is what’s on the plate. You don’t know what you’re getting but it’s been picked, maybe hung for two months and is all very amazing. I like that style. I can’t do that here but their methods are what I’ve taken from them, and using old school and new ways of doing things I’ve created my own ethos around food. I give every bit of food in the kitchen the same love, whether it’s £100 a kilo or £2 a kilo.”

So, what does it really take to catch a star?

“Consistency is key,” smiles Ross. “Michelin have changed. Dining has changed. And for me consistently good food is what will help a restaurant get a Michelin Star. It’s the whole package.”

A selection of treats from The Swan Hotel Southwold's afternoon tea. Picture: Sarah GrovesA selection of treats from The Swan Hotel Southwold's afternoon tea. Picture: Sarah Groves

The menus in both The Still Room, and The Swan’s less formal restaurant The Tap Room (where you can catch a glimpse of the brewery behind) have been designed by Ross with sharing in mind.

“Gone is the stuffiness of having to be in a jacket in a restaurant. This is casual dining. Fine dining for me will still be around in those three star restaurants, but we’ve found a lot more people are eating in groups of fours and sixes and eating out is a social thing now. What you really want is good food, and paired with our really good beers and spirits, we’ve got it all here.”

Ross changes his menus regularly (at last count the express lunch menu had been through 32 changes) and says although he’ll use local produce, he won’t be bound by staying local, instead vowing to buy the best quality ingredients he can get his hands on, working in close harmony with the seasons.

His signature dish, and one already exciting diners, is fish and chips – but not as you know them. “It’s not like any ordinary fish and chips. It’s my version,” the chef explains. “I can’t produce what the fish and chip shops on the beach can do. That is an experience. You could probably have mediocre fish and chips and sit on the beach, and because of the atmosphere and where you are you’ll think it’s the best. My fish and chips have scraps and split pea puree. It’s salted cod cooked in the water bath and you get chips with that, and beurre blanc. Everything that goes into tartare sauce goes into the beurre blanc. Then I put salt and vinegar powder on my scraps so you get that fish and chip smell.”

Although the menu screams fine dining in style, both Adnams and Ross are keen to break down the barriers when it comes to great food. A seven course tasting menu that allows the chef to flex his culinary muscles and showcase new concepts, is priced at £65, and every single dish on The Still Room menu can be taken as a starter or main course.

“This is giving you freedom. I almost want to show off. I’d rather people have six, seven courses and share them. I want to show how we’re pushing the boundaries and doing new things.”

A favourite of Ross’ from the current menu is “Suffolk chicken done in the water bath. It’s so juicy and so different to pan-fried. And we’ve got black pudding we make ourselves, girolles and roasted squash. It’s sounds rich and heavy but the lightness of the chicken balances it out very very well. None of my dishes are heavy.”

With a vegetarian CEO, and Ross being a healthy eater himself, having great meat-free dishes was always on the agenda too. “There’s no mushroom risotto here. For me, I want to try and do new things with vegetables. My onion dish has shallot puree, pickled onions, burnt shallot powder, onion crisps and onion consommé. Getting the CEO to taste my veg dishes before anyone else is important.”

Ross sees less formal dining space The Tap Room as being perfect for meals enjoyed straight off the beach, and hopes to see lots of families filling the tables where they can share platters, or have a pint over a decent steak.

“The standard of food is just the same as The Still Room. We’ve got Jacob’s ladder, cooked for 24 hours with our own barbecue sauce, served with really good mash and grelot onions. And the hanger steak. It’s a really tasty bit of meat. Ribeye’s my favourite but the hanger tastes phenomenal. We just grill it and leave it to rest and it tastes that nice you don’t need to do much with it. Whereas the Loch Duart salmon we salt, leave skin side up in the fridge for half an hour then grill. It’s about adding the time and the love to the ingredients.”

According to Ross, The Swan’s afternoon teas will be another dimension that puts the business on the map. Served on copper stands, he says the teas are going to push the boundaries locally with the pre-Christmas offering including homemade Aero, toffee apples, marshmallows, gin curd, doughnuts, a variety of cakes, scones and savouries.

Let’s see if Ross and his team can work their magic and make the stars shine on Suffolk.

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