A young Belper restaurateur put the icing on the cake of a successful start in business by clinching the newcomer of the year trophy at the Derbyshire Life Food & Drink Awards 2018.
Chef and owner Leo Hill, 21, opened Arthur’s, on Campbell Street, last April and his British small plates concept has proved a slow burning hit with local diners.
He said: “There have been ups and downs but winning the award is a big boost for us. It will help to spread the word about what we’re doing and it’s good for morale.
“The fact it’s voted for by customers means the most to us. It’s not someone on a committee doing a one-off inspection. People have come and enjoyed themselves so much they’ve taken the time to vote. It’s an amazing feeling.”
He added: “We’ve got a good set of regular customers now and they trust that they can come in with no expectations other than really good food.”
The menu is essentially a British spin on tapas, with diners able to pick and choose their own combinations from a selection of seasonal dishes which changes monthly.
The current range, offered at a January sale price of £12 for three dishes, includes mallard duck with rose bush and brioche, mackerel with rhubarb and tarragon, and carrot with curds and hazelnut.
Leo said: “The big challenge so far has been getting people through the door and getting them familiar with the kind of food we’re offering.
“Not everyone gets the concept straight away and of course they don’t want to spend their hard-earned money without knowing what they’re going to get.
“It’s also about convincing them that everything on the menu is there because it tastes good and we know you will enjoy it. We’re not doing things for shock value.”
He added: “I enjoy a good starter, main, dessert dinner as much as anyone but I figure that if you’re going to pay £25-£40 for a fillet of beef, why not spend your money on more than one dish and try things you’ve not had before.
“With small plates there is a lot more creativity and you don’t have to worry about loading a dish with starch and carbs to fill people up.
“A selection of our recommended dishes will do that for you, and it gives people the experience of a tasting menu but with even more choice.”
Recipes draw on the best of Derbyshire produce and suppliers and Leo’s experience in local kitchens, plus stints at the acclaimed Silo in Brighton and Michelin-starred Black Swan in Yorkshire.
He said: “I found lots of things I wanted to do but most of them would have meant uprooting from Belper. I was also frustrated at not being taken seriously in big kitchen teams because of my age.
“I don’t mind sacrificing my time and working a lot of hours but I realised all the other things I would have to give up by leaving. The best thing about the restaurant has been getting to know the community even better.
“Belper is thriving at the moment and all the businesses really support each other, and I want to be part of that.”
Having grown up in Holbrook, home ties are important to Leo and have played a big part in his chosen career with mum Suzy even helping run the business.
He said: “Arthur is my grandad, and he was a cook during his National Service. That love of food runs through our whole family. Mum raised me on her own and taught at Herbert Strutt, so dinners were always quick and easy but on Sundays we’d all get together and take our time cooking. It’s a really important part of spending time together.”
Leo is already taking bookings for Valentine’s Day and making plans to introduce a Sunday dinner service and set tasting menu next month.
For more information, visit fb.com/arthursbelper or call 07709 209260 to book.