After achieving two AA rosettes while head chef at the Golfa Hall Hotel in Welshpool, Powys, David Ostle really wanted to open his own restaurant. In November 1995, in the village of Six Ashes, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire, Ostle finally realised his dream - by leasing a tearoom.
The twin-roomed property with a 25- and 30-cover capacity was renamed Six Ashes Restaurant and Country Tea Rooms. With his partner Sarah Pinson, Ostle set about changing the image from a tearoom to a "finer" dining venue. "We put out fresh flowers instead of dried, took out the decorative teapots and plates, and removed the lace and glass table-tops," says Ostle.
With £10,000 of combined savings - "we have no debts except the rent" - the couple bought some new kitchen equipment, an improved wine stock, and a new set of china.
Ostle soon realised teas and light lunches made up 90 covers on weekdays and 150 at weekends, and often brought repeat business. "Lots of ladies who lunch on a glass of wine and a bowl of soup often return a week later with a dinner party of four," explains Ostle.
Although morning coffee and afternoon teas (£4.50) are still served, breakfasts have been removed from Ostle's new menu.
With the help of an assistant chef, kitchen porter, and a front of house team of three, Ostle is using his experience from the Golfa Hall Hotel to increase the lunch and dinner spend at Six Ashes.
Immediately on opening the restaurant, revised menus were introduced and the lunch spend increased by 50% to about £8, and dinner rose by 20% to about £22 per head.
Average spend on wines has also been boosted. "When we arrived, every bottle cost about £6.50, but we have gradually increased the average spend to nearly £9," Ostle says. House white and red - Australian Rowlands Brook - sells for £7.50 a bottle, and £1.40 by the glass.
Ostle says he offers British food produced in a modern style, although he is "not a fan of labelling food". At lunch, a blackboard in both rooms displays a daily changing à la carte menu of five starters and main courses, and three desserts.
For main courses, Ostle says fish supplied from Cornwall is "selling very well". His favourite is haddock grilled with fresh basil, tarragon and dill (£6.50). This is served in a white wine and fish-stock sauce.
For dinner, Six Ashes' 25-cover room undergoes a transformation from tearoom to "rustic country restaurant" with dimmed lighting, crisp linen and hand-written menus on the tables.
A fixed-price (£15.95), daily changing, three-course menu is offered. At each course, six options tempt diners. For starters, smoked duck breast with orange salad, pine nuts and honey vinaigrette is proving popular. "A local butcher smokes the duck before it is cooked and preserved in its own fat for two days," explains Ostle.
As with lunch, fish is proving a favourite option at dinner. One of the most popular dishes to date is monkfish tails served with buttered pasta. After poaching the fish in white wine, Ostle reduces the sauce with saffron and adds chervil at the last minute.
Desserts are generally "light" as Ostle says his predominantly older clientele "doesn't want heavy desserts. They prefer poached pears, rather than sherry trifle".
Individual "tangy" lemon tart is made with a "bit more lemon than other chefs' versions" and served with raspberry coulis.
The restaurant opens from Wednesday to Sunday and has so far attracted an average 12 covers for dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with a full-house of 25 at weekends.
Six Ashes Restaurant, Six Ashes, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Tel: 01384 221216