Travelling show: why Roth Bar & Grill is going mobile

Utilising local ingredients wherever it goes, the restaurant-turned-event business shows how the theatre of open-flame cooking and transparent provenance can be portable concepts.

4 July 2019
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Since founding Roth Bar & Grill five years ago, Steve and Jules Horrell have taken their wood-fired locavore cooking around the world, from Wiltshire to Hong Kong.

What initially began as a restaurant linked to art gallery Hauser and Wirth, located on Durslade Farm in Somerset, has been gradually expanding into event catering. Just this April, this aspect of the business was officially launched as Roth on the Road, offering a new option for those seeking open-flame cooking and food with clear provenance.

“It seems to be growing quicker than we anticipated,” Jules tells Food Spark. “It’s the theatre. People love something beautiful. They want an experience, rather than just food and drink. Something a bit different. And we offer that.”

Appearing at a mixture of ticketed and private events, Roth on the Road has provided the Horrells with a new revenue stream, while also giving their long-time culinary team a bit of diversity in their employment – staff alternate between the bricks-and-mortar restaurant and traveling to diverse locations around Britain. No gas or electricity is used; instead, the cooks rely on Steve’s custom-designed equipment, which maintains the theatre of the original site’s ‘bird cage’ but in a more portable format.

This travelling show of food has also allowed them to experiment more with local ingredients.

Pinpointing provenance

Roth on the Road’s locavore ethos runs through the entire experience, from the food to the floral table decoration.

While the lamb, beef and pork are usually brought from Durslade Farm, the kitchen team try to incorporate as much local meat and veg as possible. At a recent event on an estate, they used roe deer from the parkland and foraged for pine tips to smoke the meat; when they provided a pop-up for Art Basel in Hong Kong this March, they sourced seafood locally from the fishing town of Sai Kung.

“In terms of that word ‘local,’ it’s bringing together what’s our local with us, so we’ve got our bit of identity, but then looking at what’s local in the area where we’re going to be doing that event and utilising that as well,” points out Jules.

While this presents challenges in terms of coming up with fresh menus on a regular basis, it also fits with the desires of the modern eater. According to a study last year, 71% of Brits think it is important to know where their food comes from. Meanwhile, growing concern about climate change has prompted younger consumers to opt for greater seasonality and locality, in efforts to reduce their carbon ‘forkprint.’

But local produce doesn’t have to mean local flavours. As global travel becomes more commonplace, techniques and skills from around the world are making their way into Britain.

“We use lovely produce, but our food style doesn’t always have to be traditionally British,” explains Jules. “We can incorporate the Mediterranean and Moroccan type flavours and style of cooking but keep the produce local.”

One of the most requested dishes from Roth on the Road, for example, is Moroccan beef with flatbread and yoghurt. Showpieces like the planked fish (often hake or sea trout, stuffed with herbs, nailed to a plank and then cooked for 45 minutes with a bit of honey) and the whole lamb asado are also popular, as are the surf and turf (Dorset Blue lobster and Durslade Farm beef) and the salt-baked fish.

Veggies are also on the up: “We have a beautiful kitchen garden at Durslade where we grow a whole of things, all our herbs, all our fruits and salads, but also thing like celeriac and hispi cabbage, and they’re really delicious cooked whole on the fire or pit roasted,” says Jules.

British tradition

Roth Bar & Grill owes its foundations to Argentine chef Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires, a guide to different ways to cook with flame, but the restaurant has also dug around in British traditions for inspiration.

“Looking back to how our parents and our grandparents would have lived, they would have used every last scrap of that animal, there would have been no food waste, whereas 10 years ago people wouldn’t have even contemplated where the rest of the animal went,” says Jules.

At Roth Bar & Grill, the animal offcuts are used in the restaurant’s signature merguez sausages as well as turned into mince for burgers. Some of the meat is aged, while other parts are turned into charcuterie.

“We look at those artisan, more old-fashioned methods,” notes Jules. “We have a huge curing programme – so when we look at bringing a whole cow, every tiny last part of it is used in our kitchen in some way, shape or form.”

With a growing number of restaurants – and even a festival – dedicated to the art of cooking over wood and charcoal, it might seem we’ve reached peak fire. Not so, according to Jules.

“I think it’s literally just starting. There are a lot of people out there doing it that are just cooking on big flames, and that’s not what it’s about. It’s about working with the fire and treating that not only as a fuel but also as an ingredient. It can add flavour.

“There’s so much more to be explored in the heritage of cooking on fire. It’s where we started as humans.”

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