Too bad about the restaurant on the moon. Great food but no atmosphere.
Here in Bury, however, in addition to serving good nosh, restaurants are charming with bags of atmosphere. Gastrono-me. The Masons Arms. Maison Bleue. Add to that consistently fair prices and friendly service, and it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out why hundreds of people enjoy dining out here.
One eatery combining good grub with affordable prices in a welcoming atmosphere is Ben’s Restaurant located in Churchgate Street. I’ll come back to Ben’s in half a mo.
Admittedly, I come from a culture where, like our California wine, food’s never great but it’s never bad. Service, portions, and congeniality? They reign supreme.
When I came to England in the ‘70s, folks avoided eating out if possible, certainly dodging train-station and city-centre cafés. Only, I didn’t know this.
I recall inviting hungry American friends for a traditional breakfast fry-up around 9:30 in a London restaurant. Nothing we ordered was available. The term in vogue then was “Off.” Eggs Benedict? “Off.” Pancakes? “Off.” Whole-Wheat toast? “Off.”
“Well what’s ‘On’ then?” I enquired.
The vole-faced waitress pointed to a list of porridge, white toast, and an assortment of cold cereals.
Taking control, I asked her to bring us coffee, and we’d let her know our order when she returned to our table.
Of course, she never returned. After half-an-hour, I finally complained to the management. I received a curt and incredulous reply. “Sorry. We stop serving breakfast at 10.” It was 9:55, and that bolshie front-of-house manager was anything but sorry. But that was then; this is now. Today in Bury, you’d be stunned if you were treated this way. Our eateries welcome you like family. And that brings me back to Ben’s.
Run by charming Ben Hutton and efficient Rebecca Cooke, it combines atmosphere with everything a hungry patron desires: choice, friendliness and prompt service. As a younger man, Ben thought deeply about food service. “I was motivated to go into the restaurant industry by the ‘farm-to- fork’ philosophy. I often ate out and wondered where my food came from, how it was prepared. I wanted to create a place that used local produce, and home-reared meats, thus minimising food-miles and providing traceability. And of course everything home made.”
It’s true if you want to provide an amenity people will return to again and again, you have to know the business top to tail. Ben understands this. “I started washing up in a kitchen when I was 14, and progressed into kitchen work, then right through until I finished university, I held both kitchen and front-of-house roles in various eating establishments. The variety in places and roles gave me a wide knowledge of the industry, and allowed me to carefully select the good bits and work out what people want.”
Ben changes the menu in line with the seasons using locally grown fruit and vegetables, again to minimise food-miles and showcase Suffolk produce. “The greatest reward in my line of work,” says Ben, “is positive feedback and regular customers.”
Recently I began to raise hens in our back garden, and while ordering lunch one day, not only was Ben my waiter, but he offered me invaluable tips on raising poultry in a town centre. Were it not a cliché, you might say Ben’s offer value for money.
So unlike the moon’s restaurant, Ben’s delivers great food and memorable atmosphere. As Ben says, “There’s no bigger compliment than someone coming to eat with us on a regular basis. It shows that we’ve got something good that keeps people returning.”
-- Popular speaker and lecturer Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his website at www.michaelapichella.com or follow him on Twitter, @MApichellaPhD