You're Going to Want to Try Northumberland's Latest Fine Dining Restaurant
Having honed his skills working in some of the North’s most respected kitchens, Cal Byerley recently returned to home turf
Tell me about your background.
I grew up on my family’s farm at Welton – it’s just one minute down the road from Pine, so the commute is very handy. I worked in a lot of hotels in and around the North East, including Wynyard Hall and Matfen Hall, when I was growing up, then went to the Lake District to work for Simon Rogan at Rogan and Co, in Cartmel, the sister restaurant to L’Enclume. From there, I went on and opened Forest Side with Kevin Tickle and worked there for nearly five years. I came back to the North East recently and helped out Danny Parker at Jesmond Dene House whilst working on the concept of Restaurant Pine on the side. During lockdown I set up an afternoon tea company, Aftertoon Tea, and that’s been keeping us very busy.
Tell me about Aftertoon Tea?
We didn’t want it to be a gimmick, but we wanted it to be fun and approachable. During lockdown it was just to bring a bit of a smile to people’s faces, nothing too serious, then when I started making them I thought, ‘this is actually quite an upmarket afternoon tea,’ maybe we should have called it something different!
Have you always been into food?
I’ve worked in kitchens since the age of 15, that’s 15 years now. My first ever job was actually opposite Restaurant Pine, at the Robin Hood Inn on the Military Road, with it being so close to home. Farming was my family background – the growing side of things is a big thing to me. Having the tie to the family farm has certainly been a big help, but I didn’t really know that would be the case when I started out on my career.
Who inspired your love for cooking?
My mother, Denise. With my dad and brother both being farmers, she had to do a lot of cooking for them and spent a lot of time in the kitchen as I was growing up. I’d always watch and learn from her.
Where did the idea for Restaurant Pine come from?
The idea started about two years ago, when I originally moved back from the Lakes. I knew I wanted to open up something special in the North East, I didn’t believe at the time that there was anything similar to the concept of a restaurant serving afternoon tea during the day, and tasting menus in the evening – you get it in higher end hotels, but not really in a restaurant setting. I wanted to create something that represented me too, so a farm setting with somewhere I could grow and forage locally. It was just amazing when we discovered this restaurant that had been empty for six years.
Tell us about the setting.
It’s at Vallum Farm on the Military Road, where David Kennedy had his restaurant. It’s a beautiful building with sloping landscape views across the Tyne Valley. There’s been very little to do aesthetically, we just needed to put our stamp on it. We’re putting the restaurant upstairs, with an open pass and chefs serving to the tables. It’ll be a very intimate experience. During the day, with such lovely lighting and big glass windows, we’re going to have diners sitting outwards facing out over the landscape. In the evening we’ll have seats facing inwards to watch the kitchen at work.
How would you describe the ethos?
It’s very much farm-to-fork. It’s cooking inspired by the landscape. For the afternoon tea we’ll go further afield for flavours, but we do want to keep menus as natural and local as possible.
What’s on the menu at Restaurant Pine?
We’re going to try to have a lot of vegetable and herb-based dishes. I’m trying to create a farm feel, and use a lot of the things that grow here like anise hyssop and foraged herbs and mushrooms – things that aren’t as easy to find.
Let’s talk wine.
We’ve got a fantastic sommelier, her name is Vanessa Stoltz, from Alsace, a region in France just on the German border. She’s worked in some great places – alongside me at Forest Side, and she also worked at L’Enclume. Myself, head chef Ian Waller, Vanessa and Sian are working together on wines, but we’re very much looking forward to see what she comes up with!
Tell me about your suppliers?
We’re getting eggs from Matfen, just a mile or two up the road; Gilchesters for flour, which is based outside of Stamfordham; we’re using fish suppliers all up and down the North East coast, we’ve got an abundance there and we’re looking forward to exploring that; meat, we’re going to try to keep as local as possible too – we’ve got some farmers we know nearby that we’re hopefully going to work with. We’re hoping to keep the whole thing as eco-friendly, sustainable and responsible as we can. We all have a responsibility to do our bit, and the distance food travels is part and parcel of that.
Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
Mostly working with seasons. If you think an apple is in season now, then start with that flavour and think about what marries with it. Again, it’s also about being responsible – you don’t expect to see raspberries in December, so I won’t put raspberries on the menu. It’s seeing what’s available within nature and taking inspiration from there.