Euan Watkins on creating a Michelin restaurant

Gary Hall | Date posted - 02 Oct 2018
The Hearth Of The Ram has been representing the best of North West cuisine for several years in the Michelin Guide and is the only venue holding the red Bib in the Manchester area. We sat down with owner and restaurateur, Euan Watkins. We talked with him about all the elements that come together to enable him and his team to deliver a consistently award winning dining experience in Ramsbottom.
Hi Euan, tell us what made you want to become a restaurateur? EW: I was never in any doubt really. From a young age I loved cooking, trips to restaurants for family occasions and staying in hotels. The aspect of entertaining people and working with food and drink is so much more appealing than sitting at a desk. When I go on holiday with my family now, it’s always about the food and drink, every time. We have definitely the same passion here at ResDiary. Is the Hearth Of The Ram your first project or have you created others? I have worked all over the world in hotels and restaurants. Hearth of the Ram is the result of a life-long ambition. My wife and I put everything we had into opening our business, financially and emotionally.

Having worked all over the world, why did you decide to set up in a 200 year old barn in Ramsbottom and not a swanky city location? We have so much character here in the property. HOTR has made a huge impact on the local community, bringing what would normally be regarded as city centre quality food, drink and service to the suburbs. We have so many more regular customers than a high street business. For us, hearth is a word we would associate with warmth, home and heart – do you think this comes across in your restaurant and is what your regulars appreciate? Hearth is the essence of who we are; warm welcome, passionate about our business, staff and customers. ‘Hearth of the Ram, Heart of Ramsbottom’. That truly sounds inspirational. Tell us how this passion and your service standards are put into practice and how they deliver a Michelin experience. Everything on our menus is prepared fresh in-house every day. We use local suppliers, receiving deliveries seven days a week. We cook ‘modern British’; so great local dishes cooked with some modern techniques and international influences, served with more contemporary presentation. It’s not too pretentious or stuffy. The service is well informed but friendly.

Is it difficult to maintain this quality? It is hard work, but the people who work for us and supply our business are all passionate about what they do. All our staff are local and we have supported many through local college apprenticeship training. Suppliers visit to train the staff on produce and provenance. You really seem to be doing everything possible, to get the best service! How would you describe your chef style: Keith Floyd or Marco Pierre White? Ha ha, definitely more Keith Floyd. Our kitchen is usually very calm. We have a great team who have worked together for a long time. They do enjoy a glass of wine ‘Floyd style’ at the end of a busy day. Speaking of Keith Floyd, tell us about your wine list, and how you select it. I work really hard on the wine list. We have five different suppliers and the list changes frequently, reflecting the seasonality of the food we serve. I choose wines specifically to match and enhance the food and sometimes vice-versa. Our list offers a huge range of wine by the glass, some served from our enomatic wine machine. This allows us to serve great quality wines such as Amarone and Ornellaia or Premier Cru Montrachet and Gavi di Gavi in the best possible condition. We recommend a different glass of wine with all the dishes on our a la carte and dessert menus. I have visited many of the producers personally and would love to have my own vineyard one day.

We’d love to try one of those glasses of Ornellaia! Bibendum (full name of Bib) – the widely recognised red symbol – stands for good food at moderate prices, more precisely a full meal under £28 (Guide criteria 2015). How do you manage to keep the price at a moderate level whilst having a consistent high quality? We work very closely with the suppliers. Our menu changes daily allowing us the freedom to buy the best local produce in the markets daily at the keenest prices. This works particularly well with the fish and shellfish suppliers. It is very challenging, especially as the cost of produce has risen so much in recent years. You are doing a great job so far. Hearth of the Ram has won several other awards (The Good Food Guide, Eat Drink Sleep Awards) as well, are there anymore you are wanting to win? When we opened in 2012, one of our ambitions was to gain the Michelin Bib Gourmand in a few years. We were awarded this after five months and have retained it ever since. HOTR is the only restaurant in Greater Manchester to hold the Bib Award. We never seek awards and our philosophy is we would never pay to appear or participate in any awards publication. There are so many guides and awards these days, but the Michelin and The Good Food Guide’s are totally independent and anonymous. This is why these awards are respected so much by the industry and therefore the public.

Being the only restaurant holding the Bib Gourmand and representing the best of northwest cuisine in the Michelin guide since 2013 – how would you define the cuisine and why do you think it’s so popular with the Michelin inspectors? The produce is fresh and local, cooked, prepared and served with passion and pride – simple. So that’s your recipe of success! Some quick fire questions to finish: Do you have a favourite dish to cook? Hand caught scallops, on a BBQ grill, right on the beach, awesome. What is your favourite ingredient/produce to work with (if not on the beach)? Dry aged, on the bone beef. Do you have a favourite season? Game season (Autumn) Well we can’t speak for the readers, but Euan Watkins’ The Ram has certainly stolen our heart . We can’t wait to come back for dinner.
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