Taking inspiration from the regenerating cells within a tree, the new restaurant at Careys Manor Hotel in the heart of the New Forest has followed this ethos since its launch almost 6 months ago. Bidding to become a top destination in the area, Cambium is already making waves among the non-resident community in Brockenhurst. We caught up with director of sales and marketing Mark Seamer to find out about the relaunch process from start to finish.
The recent restaurant relaunch at Careys Manor in Brockenhurst didn’t just unveil a fresh lick of paint and a name change. Instead, this beautiful country house hotel nestled in the New Forest underwent months of planning, new menu creation and idea generation before its complete transformation was officially revealed in February.
The idea was simple, to bring more diners from the outside to enjoy the food of the New Forest at Careys Manor and reposition the hotel’s restaurant as a real foodie destination. The hotel got the ball rolling when Paul Peters was appointed as the restaurant’s new executive chef, tasked with the mission to take a traditional hotel eatery and transform it into a showstopper.
Simply satisfying guests staying at the hotel, the restaurant, prelaunch, enjoyed a steady flow of diners celebrating special occasions or a weekend break away, but the non-resident trade just wasn’t there. The restaurant is one of three eateries on site at Careys Manor, and while the Thai restaurant at the hotel’s popular SenSpa and the Bistro enjoy custom from the off-the-street diner, the main hotel restaurant was missing out.
“Our other two restaurants were getting quite a lot of trade from non-residents,” says director of sales and marketing, Mark Seamer, “so there obviously was a demand for it and that set our course. We wanted somewhere that would satisfy both a celebratory experience and also for the foodies.”
Taking inspiration from its picturesque location, the idea to bring the New Forest straight to the plates of every diner formed the basis from which the concept then grew. The emphasis was very much placed on local, providing guests with the best produce the surrounding area had to offer.
“As a marketing team, we spent four months trying to come up with the concept,” says Seamer, “but couldn’t for the life of us come up with a name! Then one morning Paul came in and said, ‘I’ve got a great name for the restaurant, how about Cambium?’ We all looked at each with vacant expressions, but then he explained it and it made perfect sense.”
That was Peters’ first win. Cambium is the rings found inside a tree – the thin layers of cells from which new bark and wood cells grow and this name reflects the nature of the restaurant’s new offering. Having never visited the New Forest before, Peters upped sticks and moved his whole family down from Yorkshire for the role. Each day he is developing his own love affair with the Forest.
Seamer continues: “Our philosophy here has always stemmed from our owners – we are privately owned – and they expect us to source local where possible, organic is an absolute, so for us it was fairly straightforward that we wanted to create something that was totally inspired by the Forest – it’s such an enchanting place – taking the philosophy of local just that little bit further.”
Once the name and concept had been decided upon, it was then over to the designers to bring the idea to life. Mother and daughter team Sue and Bonnie Stowell from Hampshire were the team behind the new look, drawing on inspiration from the Forest with nature leading the way on the theme. They then called upon the skill of local artist Joy Porter, who hand-drew beautifully delicate English trees trailing across the restaurant walls, complete with forest birds.
The service offering then came into focus and staff members were trained on the new personal service ideals. “A lot of training went on during this time,” explains Seamer. “It was a very traditional style of service before, but now we like to call it relaxed formality. We still have all the philosophies of good service but in a very personable way, which I think captures the essence of the restaurant too.”
Work officially began at the beginning of January, so the first day back from Christmas marked the start of the project. The restaurant shut down completely for the best part of two months, but Careys Manor could still cater for guests in its other two dining establishments. There was even a pop-up restaurant that was run in the lounge during that time too, where the new style of food was served but at a reduced rate to customers, almost as a trial period to gauge guests reactions.
While the structure of the restaurant didn’t change a huge amount, the rest of the room and its elements were completely reworked, including the installation of a new sound system, lighting system and new flooring.
Seamer continues: “Over the winter time is the best time for us to do the refurbishment from a business perspective, when there is not so much disruption. We were very fortunate to have the two other restaurants on site so we could still function.”
New Forest prime
Despite being new to the area, Peters made it a priority to get to know the best local suppliers the New Forest had to offer. An arm injury meant he was out of action in the kitchen for two months, but resulted in him using the time to go out and about meeting suppliers and building up contacts across the industry. This combined with spending time with the hotel’s gardener to develop the kitchen garden and guiding his new brigade in the style of his own cooking, meant he was raring to go when the restaurant reopened.
Australian-born Peters’ natural flair for cooking and new-found love for the area is already making waves with a slightly different consumer for Careys Manor, especially as the hotel climbs the ranks with the non-resident foodies of the area.
Seamer says: “We are welcoming more of a foodie kind of crowd; those who eat out about once or twice a month and have more of a fine taste, they know what they like. Paul’s been changing the menu to reflect the seasons and that’s been encouraging repeat custom.
“The tasting menu has also gone down really well – on the weekend we can do about 30 covers a night. Initially we considered running the restaurant as tasting-menu only and having 4,6 or 8-course options, but because we still wanted to satisfy our hotel guests as well, we didn’t want to take it too far.
“We’re definitely aiming for three AA Rosettes now,” adds Seamer, “Paul had three at his last place (Black Swan in Yorkshire) so he has that pedigree.”
So after almost a year in the making, has Cambium, its concept, menu and new design worked? Seamer says that the non-resident business has increased to 15%, which is a steady rise from basically nothing at all before the redesign. The new restaurant has had a knock-on effect throughout the rest of the business too, with an increase in last-minute weddings and conference bookings as a result of guests seeing and experiencing the new space.
Seamer says: “It’s now such a lovely light space – before the colour scheme was dark red and in a fairly traditional manor house style, which was fine and worked initially but it was definitely due a facelift.”
The proof is in the pudding
Guests clearly agree with Seamer about the new restaurant as Cambium at Careys Manor is currently rated the number 1 restaurant out of around 80 in the New Forest. No mean feat for today’s review-conscious consumer.
“We’ve just had a fantastic three months and the restaurant is way outperforming last year’s results,” explains Seamer. “It’s probably its highest performance in years, this last quarter and it doesn’t seem to be letting up either.”
After the business spend almost £200,000 investing in the new restaurant, the project marked the start of a new phase of changes for the hotel, with the bar area, lounge and public areas next on the agenda for an update.
As the name suggests, Cambium will continue regenerating and developing to maintain this motion of success and help put Careys Manor firmly on the foodie map in the New Forest.