Flash-grilled: Richard Sim

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

The Potted Lobster and Whittling House chef Richard Sim on his trouble with TripAdvisor

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The group head chef of The Potted Lobster and Whittling House in Northumbria on his trouble with TripAdvisor, and why sausage rolls are the perfect accompaniment to sloe gin.

What was your first industry job?
My first job was washing dishes at Foxton Hall golf club in Alnmouth. After taking the job I was inspired by Betty Keenan an older lady working in the kitchen to progress in the culinary side.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I’d be doing something in agriculture, a lot of family are in the industry and I’ve lived rurally all my life.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Marco Pierre White, he changed the face of the catering industry in the 80’s, before that the chef was always in the background but he brought the chefs presence to the fore.

What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
I think it’s the same as in most professions, the ‘it’s not my job’ response. To ensure success everyone has to chip in and work as a team.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
Customers have requested to be served dinner in bed.

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Simple fresh dishes using the very best regional produce.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
The non-descript reviews referring to dishes as mediocre or 'sameish' on TripAdvisor really get to me. I’d rather guests had a strong reaction whether they loved or hated it. 

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Come in with open mind and say yes to everything. The more you see and experience the more you gain. Knowing how everyone elses roles work help you to be better at your own job. Before becoming a restauranter all I wanted to do was be a chef, I didn’t want to understand the workings of the front of house team. I’ve now learnt understanding this helps improve the kitchen side resulting in a better restaurant. 

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
The fish slice from the brand Dick. We refer to it as the dick lifter.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
A fresh august grouse - simply roasted. Every year it surprises me how delicious it is, the smell is incredible with a wonderful flavour that’s difficult to explain. This only lasts for around three weeks before the grouse get older and the flavour profile changes.

À la carte or tasting menu?
À la carte.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
My most memorable meal was at age 12 in a hut on the side of mountain in the South of France. It was only open on a Saturday and Sunday with a set offering at a fixed price. The ladies from the local village prepared hors d'oeuvres and the meat was roasted over fire and served with fresh salads. This was truly the other side of the Côte d'Azur not the posh lot from the coast but humble mountain people. The experience ignited my love for food.

What’s your favourite fast food joint?
Probably most peoples favourite - McDonald’s.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
The profiterole, its been around forever. Whenever, wherever it’s on a menu it always sells. Its really versatile and works great with many different flavours.  

MasterChef ​or Great British Menu​?
Great British Menu

What’s the most overrated food?
Sea urchin, I just don’t get the taste, its metallic and reminds me of tin foil.  They are difficult to prepare and you end up with the smallest amount, not worth the effort in my opinion.

You’re restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
TripAdvisor can be pretty flawed sometimes, people manipulate the system and some criticise everything. Reviewers crucify restaurants without the need for proof or evidence of ever eating there.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Ernest Hemingway, Dolly Parton and King Charles, what a group!

X or Instagram?

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I was body boarding in very choppy waters of the coast of Kenya and couldn’t get back to shore. The waves where really strong and I couldn’t fight the current, it just kept pulling me back out to sea. When I finally got back on land I was a mile further down the coast than when I went out.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Fishing with pals on the banks of the River Tay in Perthshire. We go on three or four trips a year sometimes with our families. Whilst I love the fishing itself, being together is what makes it great.

What’s your tipple of choice?
A dry white wine, either Chablis or Albarino. I also have a soft spot for a California Riesling we serve at The Potted Lobster - the flavour profile is very different, it tastes like nothing else.

What’s your favourite food and drink pairing (the more obscure, the better)?#
Sloe gin and sausage rolls are served as elevenses when out shooting. It reminds me of being in countryside, wind blowing through my hair.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?
Grilled halibut on the bone with lobster and truffle mayo. Its a guest favourite and special that’s always on in the restaurant. The halibut has to be a certain size to ensure the meat stays on the bone and the texture is amazing when barbequed. Perfect served with skinny fries and a salad.

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