Nick Galer of the Miller of Mansfield
After taking over the Miller in 2013, Nick and his wife Mary have put their restaurant firmly on the map with a combination of imaginative cooking and a lively, warm atmosphere, winning the Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year award this year.
Jack Rayner caught up with Nick to talk opportunity, hospitality and seasonality.
How did you first take hold of the Miller?
For a long time, Mary and I have thought that we'd like to try to do something for ourselves – we've worked for other people in various places, and we were waiting for the right opportunity, business-wise. We looked at a lot of properties, but we have some history in this area and we knew a bit about the Miller of Mansfield, and the opportunity came up at the end of 2013.
What was the Miller like before you took hold of it?
It had been run into the ground a little bit. The reputation wasn't great and they weren't doing a lot of covers. The potential for the business was there, but it was operating more on the hotel side of things rather than the restaurant. There was a lot of designer wallpaper and the floor was painted black. I think they were going for the boutique hotel, Crazy Bear sort of style.
What's your ethos now?
We want to try and personify what hospitality is, and hospitality to us is looking after people, in whatever way that might be. There's three facets to our business – the hotel, the bar and the food, and we put an equal amount of effort into all three.
When I came to the Miller, my favourite dish was the crab cannelloni, with dark crab meat in the pasta and the white meat separated with avocado and sorrel granita. How do you come up with dishes like that? Do you go on what's seasonal?
Yes, definitely. Seasonality is very important, for two reasons: one, when things are in season they taste their best, and two, it makes senses for us financially. You also have to consider food miles. That crab dish came from another pasta-based starter we were cooking before – we decided to carry on with another pasta dish, then looked at the protein element we were going to use and looked to our suppliers. It was mid-summer so we wanted a dish that was very light and fresh, but for me, food always has to be about celebrating the distinctive flavours of your ingredients as well. If you're cooking chicken, the dish should be centred around the taste of chicken.
What's your favourite dish on your menu at the moment?
Good question. I don't have a favourite. What tends to happen is when you develop a new dish and get it onto the menu, it tends to be your favourite at the time. It takes about two-three weeks for everyone to get completely practised at the dish, which I call the honeymoon period. You then settle into the dish for about eight weeks, everyone's happy with it, it looks good, then after that you have to concentrate to keep it going because by then something else new has probably come along. It'll then come off the menu because as I said, we keep the food seasonal.
Do you know what you're going to be cooking at Didcot Food Festival?
Well, it will probably be dishes that are of interest at that time of year – at the moment we're looking at a pheasant dish as we're in the middle of the hunting and shooting fraternity out here. We have excellent access to game and great butchers who handle it for us, so I'd imagine I might cook something with pheasant.
Do you have any advice for home chefs who perhaps don't have the time or the equipment to do what you do?
Difficult. Time is a big thing, and I think if you are trying to create good dishes you need to put time into them. That time could be staggered – if you're preparing something for a Saturday night, you could start some parts on the Thursday and others on the Friday. Also, if you have a good recipe, stick to it!
Nick Galer appears at Didcot Food Festival on Sunday 27th November at 2.30pm
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