A charming 16th century coaching inn located in the pretty village of Evershot, today The Acorn Inn is an award winning restaurant, pub and hotel. This year saw the venue win gold in the Taste of the West awards for the fourth consecutive year in a row, and as anyone who has dined at The Acorn Inn knows, it’s an accolade they definitely/certainly deserve. Here, we talk to Head Chef Robert Ndungu about the hotel’s recipe for success and creating a menu that’s seasonal, sustainable and utterly delicious.
You began your career in Kenya, and have worked in kitchens around the UK. What attracted you to Dorset?
“I have worked coast to coast from Norwich to Cornwall. I was attracted to Dorset as it has the best of both worlds, with wonderful ingredients from the land and the sea. I began my journey in Dorset at Mark Hix’s restaurant in Lyme Regis, where I fine tuned my skills working with fish.”
Can you tell us a bit about what inspires your approach to the menus at The Acorn Inn? How do you go about changing the dishes featured?
“My team and I always make sure that we are keeping in touch with each season and what is available from local farmers or from the sea. This extends to dairy products and vegetables too. I always want to ensure the menu is fresh from season to season. I also enjoy speaking to guests to see what their favourite dishes are and how we can incorporate those onto our menu.”
Sustainability is an important issue for Red Carnation Hotels. How do you work with local suppliers to ensure that produce is responsibly sourced?
“At The Acorn Inn, we have our own kitchen garden where we grow rhubarb, rainbow chard, mint, parsley, sage, chives, fennel and radish. I also work closely with our local suppliers to source reared in Dorset meats such as venison and lamb and to ensure they can provide us with line caught fish and adhere to good animal husbandry.”
Talk us through a typical day in your kitchen
“In the morning, we have a breakfast meeting with the kitchen team to talk through the day or week ahead. I then go through a prep list for lunch and dinner and we prepare the fresh meat and fish that arrives daily. I also work on any necessary menus for functions we have scheduled. I then make orders at the end of the day and plan for the next day.”
The Acorn Inn is an award-winning restaurant, pub and hotel and it’s popular with both visitors and locals. What do you think keeps people coming back?
“I think we have a combination of good quality food, which is consistent, and we’re also a happy team and visitors can sense that enthusiasm and pride in our work. We also have specials which we change daily to keep interest for returning guests.”
What are your favourite local ingredients to cook with?
“We are blessed with a stunning selection of local fish and shellfish so the dishes we can create are endless, but I particularly enjoy working with scallops. It is very exciting to come up with new ideas everyday, based on what’s in season and what arrives in the kitchen.”
Have you learnt any local recipes since moving here?
“Dorset apple cake has become one of my favourites for when apples are in abundance, which is perfect with some local clotted cream.”
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
“Achieving Bronze, Silver and Gold awards in Dorset tourism, and the fact that we’re now finalists for South West tourism. I’m also very proud that we’ve maintained Gold in Taste of the West for dining pub of the year.”
What are your top tips for anyone looking to work as a chef?
“Be honest with your food; less is more; and be passionate about everything you do.”
Celebrate in delicious style and enjoy a very special six course New Year’s Eve dinner at The Acorn Inn.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels.