Grill thrill: Crowne Plaza Gerrards Cross
The sweeping, art-deco-style arches that create the facade of the new Crowne Plaza Gerrards Cross have been returned to their eye-catching best following a top-to-toe refurbishment of the Buckinghamshire hotel.
The former Bellhouse Hotel has been transformed in a £20m project to update and upgrade all areas of the venue. A totally new F&B concept has been created, as well as 6,500 sqm of modern conference and banqueting space.
Owned by the Newcastle-based Cairn Hotel Group, the hotel is under a franchise agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group to become part of the Crowne Plaza brand. But the hotel, which sits in the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty, has a task on its hands.
Just five minutes from wealthy Beaconsfield, the F&B team will be looking to draw the Range Rover-clad locals away from the celebrity hotspots and beautiful period buildings and into their new brasserie and bar.
“We are trying to find the angle, the way we go in,” says Dean Crews, executive chef. “It would be very easy for us to go lower on price, but there is a good amount of competition for lunch trade in the local area.
“I think we all agree that the dinner trade marketing angle will be based around the name, the meat, the quality and the identity of the restaurant.”
The branding and identity of the 1269 Restaurant is nothing short of perfect. “In 1269 there was a Royal Livestock Charter issued to Beaconsfield,” explains Crews. “This allowed them to have an annual market and sell livestock. And every year, on the same day the locals still celebrate it, so it’s a good connection for us to the local area.”
The 95-cover facility has been remodeled as a modern British brasserie specialising in steaks and grilled meats. Signature dishes created by Crews, who previously worked at the Charing Cross Hotel, includes ingredients such as their own cured salmon and Buccleuch Estate beef (aged for 28 days at their in-house aging room), Denham wood pigeon and speck ham.
The concise menu, offering just six main course options of an evening, is a refreshing nod to quality over quantity, with many branded hotels offering anything and everything à la carte.
“To begin with, it is about feedback and what customers want,” says Crews. “We will run with this menu until we move onto Christmas in December. That has given us a chance to evaluate what we are doing and what is working.”
There are also options to pair food with wines in flights of either three or five choices. But arguably the key ingredient of the menu is the affirmation of the much-heralded Josper – an enclosed charcoal fired grill – which is used to cook a number of the dishes. “What we wanted to do throughout the menu was show that we were buying different types of steak to give different options, but also cooking all of our meat in different ways,” says Crews.
“Some of it we do in the Josper, some in the kitchen, and some we marinate or brine. I think the Josper is also a far superior way of cooking red meat and chicken.”
There is another distinct reason the Josper has been brought into 1269 Restaurant. “I think the Josper creates a bit of theatre in the restaurant and that really helps in terms of the customer experience,” says Crews.
The open kitchen is an extra characteristic of the restaurant, offering guests seated banquette a culinary masterclass every evening.
“We are still working out what is possible with that space because I think there is so much we can do,” says Crews. “It has all been kitted out with under-counter fridges and all steaks are cooked fully out there as well as the appetiser plates and starters.”
The flexible area also boasts a permanent 10-seat chef’s table protruding from the pass, which also acts as a buffet surface during breakfast service.
“We get a lot less room service requests than we used to. We used to do 40% of our total covers a night as room service, now it’s more like 15%. I think the bar has been the key to that. Before it was a relatively cold space, but now we’ve made it a lot more flexible, a lot nicer to be in and eat in.”
All this extra work has led to expansion, with the number of chefs in the kitchen reaching 16, while a team of 21 look after the front of house.
“We have roughly 250% higher staff numbers than we had before,” says Crews. “There was only a handful of people who worked in the restaurant previously because it was relatively quiet.”
The phrase that keeps cropping up in hotels that are looking to compete with the high street is the need to create a destination. It has to be somewhere people are willing to travel to, even if it means ignoring closer alternatives – something that will be significant to the Buckinghamshire countryside venue.
As part of that, there has been a clear need to create a destination restaurant within the hotel, rather than just another hotel restaurant.
“It’s important for us as chefs to have an identity with our food, and a clear direct message to the guest,” says Crews. “I do think that hotel restaurants, which are all things to all men, serve a purpose, but that purpose will never be for outside guests, in my opinion.
“I think that we have to cater for people both staying in and travelling from outside of the hotel, but it all has to fit in with the same theme and original vision.”
Following a launch event in early autumn, Crowne Plaza Gerrards Cross has announced itself as a destination to travel to, but far from lining up a shot at the awards and accolades, Crews just wants to create the ideal menu to serve the types of customers that visit.
“I hope the restaurant is talked about in the local community, and they talk about it because it’s a good place to go for quality meat, exciting and different dishes. Something that is very current and modern,” he says.
“At the same time, it is important that we are a neighborhood restaurant; I don’t want to be elitist. We should always be in touching distance for everybody, because that way you get good atmosphere, which is vitally important.”