The last time we wrote about Zest they had just partnered with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage as part of a pilot programme to introduce a local, seasonal menu.

We were pleased to be invited back recently and given the opportunity to discuss the experience with Executive Chef, Anthony Barnes.

Corpulent Capers: Cardiff Marriott Executive Chef Anthony Barnes

Cardiff Marriott Executive Chef Anthony Barnes

For those who are not familiar, first a little background information into the world of hotel catering. In a large proportion of hotel chains the restaurant menus are set at corporate level. Often the hotels will simply be told what to put on the menu, with little input from the actual hotel chefs themselves.  Some chains operate a recipe bank system where chefs are allowed to choose from an agreed list of dishes.  Very rarely are hotel chefs allowed to do their own thing.

The advantages of systems like this for the chains are obvious, dishes can be rigorously cost controlled and central purchasing can obtain the best deal from the hotels suppliers. There are far less advantages for the diner however.

The partnership with River Cottage was bold move on Marriott’s part and a definite departure from the norm. So what was the outcome?

Corpulent Capers: Inside Zest Restaurant

Inside Zest Restaurant

We asked Chef Barnes if Zest was still working with River Cottage and he told us that now that the pilot programme was over they were no longer working together. This was due to a number of factors. One of the primary reasons for the link up was, of course, to increase the numbers of covers served in the restaurant and this hadn’t materialised to an extent that outweighed the cost of working with River Cottage.

There had also been some issues with suppliers.  The original plan was that 80% of the ingredients should be sourced within a 60 mile radius of the restaurant. For some items this had proved impractical. Although River Cottage had originally helped to identify suppliers, some had difficulty in providing continuity of product, whilst others found it hard to work under the purchasing constraints of a large organisation.

So was the partnership a failure?

Not at all says Chef Barnes. There were many lessons learnt whilst working with River Cottage Chef’s School that are still applicable now.

“Such as?” we asked.

The biggest lesson that my team and myself learnt was the value of provenance for the ingredients we use.  Before we attended the Chef’s School there was a tendency to think of it as just a carrot. Now the team realise that someone has put an awful lot of time and effort into producing that carrot. Everyone has a lot more respect for the ingredients we use.

Marriott

“What about the local aspect of your sourcing?”

There were definite issues with the imposed 60 mile limit on sourcing, but we are still trying to source the majority of our ingredients from the local area.  It’s important to remember that we still need to serve top quality food and that it is more important to serve a good product from a little further away than an inferior one just because we can get it closer to home.

“So what happens now, does it just go back to the way it was?”

Certainly not! Zest will continue to be in charge of its own destiny as far as the menus are concerned. Of course, there are some areas where we have guidelines that we have to adhere to but for the most part we can act independently.

“So how has this experience impacted on you personally?”

I certainly feel like my enthusiasm for food has been reawakened. I’ve made some changes to the restaurant which I hope have enhanced the ambiance. (The clip clop floor has gone.)

Corpulent Capers: Zest Garden

Executive Chef Anthony Barnes in his herb garden

I’ve also started a small urban garden at the rear of the property and would like to expand it to roof area this year.  I’m just growing a few herbs, some strawberries and the like to start.

Corpulent Capers: Zest Herb Garden

Corpulent Capers: Chef's Handmade Planter Dividers

Chef’s Handmade Planter Dividers

We take a tour of the restaurant and the transformation is surprising. Gone are the white tiled floors, to be replaced with dark wood flooring.  In come some dividers in the form of planters, created by Antony himself.  These break up the space and help remove the hotel restaurant feel.  The chalk board menus remain, listing plenty of local ingredients as well as some classics.

Corpulent Capers: Seasonal & Local Menus

Seasonal & Local Menus

The wall plaque entitled ‘FOOD’ seems to sum up the current ethos perfectly.

Corpulent Capers: Food Rules

Food Rules

We take a quick behind the scenes tour of the impressive kitchen and get to watch the creation of a simple, yet delicious fish dish. Proving yet again that with good ingredients food does not have to be complicated to be tasty.

Corpulent Capers: Frying Tonight

Frying Tonight!

Corpulent Capers: The Finished Fish Dish

The Finished Fish Dish

After our tour Chef invites us to try a few items from the lunch menu at in house Chat’s Cafe Bar (Zest is evening only) and appetites piqued by our tour, we happily agree. It’s the same kitchen after all.

Corpulent Capers: Smoked Mackerel Salad at Zest

Smoked Mackerel Salad

Corpulent Capers: Free Range Chicken Tagliatelle, pine nuts, basil, parmesan cheese

Free Range Chicken Tagliatelle, pine nuts, basil, parmesan cheese

In my last review I said “I think if I was staying at the Marriott then Zest would certainly stop me from exiting the building to try to find a local eatery”. After spending some time with the team, talking to Chef Barnes and sampling some of the menu not only would the new Zest stop me exiting the building but it gives good reason to enter it in the first place.

So do yourselves a favour and walk past a few of those big name places you’ll find nearby and go and give Zest a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Zest Restaurant
Cardiff Marriott Hotel
Mill Lane
Cardiff
CF10 1EZ

Tel: 02920 399 944

We were invited to Zest by DigitasLBi and all food and drink was complimentary