Q&A with Head Chef Andy Hilton

Head chef of Arbor restaurant at The Green House Hotel, Bournemouth, Andy Hilton, talks to us about his highs and lows of the restaurant industry.  Andy has previously worked under Gordon Jones, of Menu Gordon Jones, at the Royal Crescent hotel in Bath and has been head chef at Arbor since 2011.

Where do you see the hotel restaurant working in the industry today?

The “restaurant with rooms” concept is certainly taking off and people are starting to return to the small independent hotels that operate like this to get a better local dining experience.  It also helps that you can indulge without worrying about driving home afterwards.  Creating a destination restaurant in these times isn’t easy as there is so much competition around and people want to stick with the brands they know.  As education of our customers increases, their expectations do as well.  Successful hotel restaurants need to push the boundaries to exceed these expectations both in food delivery and hospitality.  Gaining a customer’s trust is not as easy as it was 10 years ago!

What do you see as the biggest change in the restaurant industry during the past 10 years?

The biggest change has been that people are very conscious of what they are eating and where it has come from.  From the gluten free, vegan guest to the guest that wants to know where each of the items on the plate has come from.  Luckily, we have a policy to source locally as we are an eco-restaurant so this plays to our strengths.

Has the much talked about skills shortage affected you?

I am aware of other kitchens that are struggling with finding skilled chefs at mid-range.  I am fortunate enough to have a good team around me that are keen to learn and progress.  We always try to hire chefs with basic skills and train them up, so they can progress up the ranks, which allows me to hang onto them a little longer before they are biting at my ankles to move on.  Locally, so many new restaurants opened in Bournemouth over the last year or two that it is less of a skills shortage and more to do with a sudden growth in restaurants and demand for chefs.

If you couldn’t eat at Arbor, where would be your second choice?

Top of my list is Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, the food is incredible, the ingredients second to none. Sat Bains is always at the forefront of innovation within the industry too which adds that bit of interest to your dining experience.

What can we look forward to at Arbor this year?

We are just completing our new terrace at the front of the hotel which is part of our new eco-garden.  We are currently doing tastings of our terrace cocktail menu which will include exciting drinks using our homemade raspberry sorbet.  We also added our outdoor wood fired pizza oven last year with adjoining hut which is already booking up for the summer months for private parties for up to 20 and it makes a great upgrade to the typical wedding evening buffet!

What is the bestselling dish on your new Spring Menu?

The Tandoori Lamb Shank, Lamb Biryani and Apricot Chutney is proving a firm favourite amongst our customers already at Arbor, lamb being very popular at this time of year combined with an Indian twist is a winner. Customers are reacting well to our retro classic, Jelly and Ice Cream. The jelly is set with elderflower, Conker gin and fresh berries teamed with an indulgent scoop of honeycomb ice cream made by our pastry chef Beth’s fair hands.

How do you ensure the kitchen works as sustainably as possible to fit with the hotel’s ethos?

All dishes are freshly prepared – the only freezer space is used for ice cream!  The means we need to ensure accurate regular deliveries from local suppliers.

Do you have a kitchen garden, and if so, how much is grown here?

We have a fairly limited space, but we have our own herbs and occasional berries. We do have established links with numerous local suppliers through Bournemouth sustainable city.

How do you choose the right equipment for the kitchen?

The kitchen was completely renovated during the hotel refurbishment.  This allowed us to maximise the overall efficiency of the kitchen. Items included highest efficiency rated hydrocarbon refrigeration units, induction hobs and a hot fill dishwasher. To more simple items based on logistics like sensor taps and sensor grill that only come on when in use. We are very much aware that technology continually improves, so when it is time to replace an item we have to study the market again for the most suitable products.

How much waste comes from the kitchen and what are you doing to combat this?

We are extremely conscious of portion controls and avoid the mistake of focussing on quantity rather than quality.  Guests are more than welcome to take any leftovers home in our compostable takeaway containers.  As all dishes are prepared to order each day, we can ensure minimum wastage.  We are great believers of ‘nose to tail’ eating to get the most from the produce brought in to the kitchen.  Any food waste is segregated and taken to an Anaerobic Digestion plant in Piddlehinton.

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