The days of school dinner food and first and second sittings at Butlins are long gone. John Radford went to visit Brian Turner's new restaurant
What springs to mind when you think of food at Butlins? School-dinner quality, first and second sittings, fish and chips? Well, a great deal has changed, and one of the most prominent developments at Butlins' Bognor Regis resort is Turner's restaurant, headed up by celebrity chef Brian Turner. So how did Turner come to be at Butlins?
"They asked me to do some 'inspirational' masterclasses for the chefs here, and they were so popular that they asked me to open a restaurant," he explains. The big challenge was to create a menu that was different from other offerings on the resort: a bit more adventurous without being exclusive, affordable but special.
The space is light and airy, with high ceilings, tiled floors in high-traffic areas and parquet elsewhere, with individual booths as well as free-standing tables. It's smart without being intimidating - squarely aimed at families with children, although there is a different clientele at special events such as 1970s weekends and "oldies" weekends so the menu has to be accessible for all age-groups. The kitchen has a brigade of 11 to service 150 covers, under head chef Nigel Davies.
Fish is a major feature, and Turner has two local suppliers. The high season is summer, and the menu tends to reflect that: lemon sole, salmon and salads are prominent.
The best sellers are, in Turner's words "simple things, but done very well". That means creamed mushrooms on toast, lamb's liver, beef stew, trifle. His personal favourite is pan-fried lamb's liver with capers and parsley sauce (£10.50). "My mum used to cook this when I was a lad, and I still love it," he says. Some of the "simple things" have an original twist: the twice-cooked chips are blanched in a steamer rather than a fryer, and he puts "loads of tomatoes" into the beef stew so that when the liquids evaporate the tomato pulp is left behind. Local suppliers include Jordan's in Pagham for meat and fish and Turners Fine Foods in Sevenoaks for dry goods.
The wine list is short but comprehensive, with 16 wines from £12.45, and five by the glass. A couple of excellent matches are the Mâcon-Villages, Louis Jadot (£23.95) and smoked salmon cushion with a lemon vegetable salad (£6.50); and a sublime Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, La Réserve du Grouzau (£21.95) with braised beef stew with tomatoes and spring onions (£12.50).
Average spend is £18 per person, and there's a separate set-lunch menu for £11.50 to £13.50 so, in Turner's own words: "Two people can have lunch and get change out of £40."
He tries to keep the menu more or less the same (apart from specials) over the whole season, as the clientele tends to change on a weekly basis.
Sample dishes from the menu
Roasted tomato and sweet pepper soup with rarebit toast £4.50
Pressed smoked chicken with piccalilli £6
Soused mackerel and beetroot salad with gooseberry chutney £4.50
Shepherd's pie with Wensleydale topping £10.50
Grilled pork bangers with fried potatoes and onions £9.50
Roasted loin of pork with bubble and squeak £8.50
Strawberry Eton mess £3.50
Coconut rice pudding with Nigel's jam £5
Marmalade bread and butter pudding £5