Well known on the game fair circuit, William Alldis, aka the Shotgun Chef has also opened The Cart Shed restaurant. It’s like popping round a friend’s for dinner
Review by Rupert Watkins
Having been handling shotguns since about the time he could walk and having had a flair for cooking since a young age it is hardly surprising William Alldis’ twin passions eventually came together. A well-known presence on the country fair scene for a number of years now, he specialises in game and fish. With his shooting pedigree – his father runs the Essex Shooting School – William has also been involved in organising various shooting expeditions abroad, one to the Iberian Peninsula this September is in the works and Africa is tentatively on the horizon. Recently, adding a further culinary string to his bow, William has opened The Cart Shed restaurant on the family’s farm at Thornwood near Epping in Essex.
William had always had an urge to write a cookbook focusing on his beloved game. His Twitter moniker came out of this; created when he was working in Scotland, the shotgun chef is a food, shooting and lifestyle blog. Covering his experiences catering at the game fairs, running Soval House hunting lodge in the Hebrides, recipes and his numerous restaurant pop ups, William’s literary ambitions came to fruition in 2015 when, co-authored with his ex-partner, How to Run a Pop Up Restaurant or Supper Club was published.
Much of William’s outside catering revolves around the game fair season – he does several each year. This includes the Field and Country fair in mid-June and the Ragley Hall fair at the end of July. The demise of the main CLA Game fair caused much consternation in the countryside world and whilst Ragley Hall has positioned itself as its successor, William supports the smaller and more boutique Field and Country fair being run by Fiona Eastman. Other catering work is beginning to take up an increasing amount of his time, he has recently catered for Holt’s auctioneers charity shoot at Sandringham and Grant & Laing’s member’s day. Given William is also a bee keeper – he has run between 150 and 200 hives for the last seven years – he has developed an impressive and diverse business portfolio across the shooting and cooking arenas.
Away from the fair circuit and external catering, William opened The Cart Shed four months ago. Small, informal and intimate it seats no more than 20 covers with an open plan kitchen overseen by William and his very small team. The décor is simple and pleasantly rustic with stripped back tables, the tweed curtains made by family farm tenants the London Cloth Company. Much of the aim of The Cart Shed is to breathe life into and diversify the usage of his family’s farm. The focus here is on the food, being able to watch William at work in the kitchen and chatting with him as he wanders between the tables. As much of the food served here is produced on the farm as possible, William raises his own quail, geese, turkey, guinea fowl, bantams and chicken and well as growing most of the vegetables. Pigeon is served as a starter as and when the chef is able to shoot a few prior to service starting inside….
Fish such as trout are caught in the trout lakes on the family farm. When William is unable to provide the meat himself, he deals with local firm Ben Rigby game in Maldon, Essex. As a licensed, commercial deer stalker, William sells the bulk of his venison anyway through this small family firm. Having had several tiny slices of various starters pushed at us whilst enjoying a gin and tonic – the gin and earl grey cured salmon and (the last of) the honey and apple balsamic pigeon breast were both delicious – my guest and I sat down in a quandary as to what to choose.
Served freshly made and moreish cherry tomato focaccia – literally – we’d seen William make the dough and throw the loaf in the oven 30 minutes earlier, this eased hunger pangs and enabled us to consider our choices more carefully. My guest opted for seared diver caught scallops with spring onions, lime and chilli. Perfectly judged and very fresh these were wolfed down, the zingy nature of the lime and chilli complimenting the flesh of the scallop. I went for quail ravioli with baby courgette and fried quails eggs. Having also seen the pasta being whipped up an hour earlier, the thought of fresh game bird and pasta was too much to resist. The quail was delicious, falling apart when cut with a fork. Having seen the baby courgette picked earlier, this really was starting to look like a restaurant you could track food from earth to plate in utter confidence. The fried quail’s eggs were a lovely rich touch.
Accompanying our meal, we decided on a 2014 Paul Thomas Sancerre. Crisp and zingy on the palette, it matched our meals very well – even though I went for game for both courses. William sources his small but well-judged (though more old world than new focused) selection of wine from Black Dog wines though given the informal nature of the Cart Shed, guests are welcome to bring their own bottle. Moving onto the main course, my guest plumped for the salt baked East Coast sea bass with steamed samphire, baby courgettes and cherry tomatoes. Bursting with flavour, the seas bass was fresh, the fish beautifully falling apart on the plate with the salt crust adding a tasty bite to the dish. Being a game enthusiast, I homed straight in on the roast venison served with a red wine reduction. Anxious to taste the shotgun chef’s signature area of cooking it lived up to its promise; the meat rich and flavoursome with a piquant reduction. Served along equally fresh and delicious baby vegetables as my guest this was a very satisfying treat.
William happily confesses his cooking expertise sits with meat and the savoury courses. The deserts at The Cart Shed are handled by his Mother but provide a decadent and very satisfying end to a meal. Profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce can be a 50:50 sort of dish – easy to tell if they are not fresh and thus substandard. Not so at the Cart Shed. Once again made in small batches fresh barely an hour before these were blissfully light and fluffy, the pastry melting in the mouth. My summer fruits with cream meringue and raspberry coulis was a refreshing option, the meringue base well-judged and light.
Despite only being open for four months, William has his eye firmly on the future with plans to expand the restaurant by adding a greenhouse next to the barn. Fig trees will grow in here in between the tables adding a unique and relaxed touch to dining. He hopes to upgrade some of the rooms in the farm house to offer bed and breakfast accommodation for dinners thus enabling Londoners to escape to this very pleasant part of Essex. It already appears to be a very firm local favourite and especially once the game season is in full swing, those seeking the shotgun chef are definitely encouraged to patronise this fabulously relaxed eatery.