Chef Olly Jackson always had a plan, but never imagined tasting success with an inn
Chef Olly Jackson starts his mornings squeezing orange juice, but not for himself, his wife or his children. Instead, the OJ is for his guests having breakfast at the Langford Fivehead, a bed-and-breakfast in a 15th-century house bordered by cedars and hedges of box and yew, located in romantic Somerset, England.
However, the term “breakfast-and-bed” may be more appropriate for the Langdon Fivehead, as it is more often described as a “restaurant with rooms”. Chef Olly and his wife, Rebecca, are proprietors of the inn, and while lodgings are assuredly as comfortable as any five-star hotel, with each of the six bedrooms styled with quintessential English-living refinements, they are first and foremost restaurateurs with a leaning toward fine dining and French cuisine.
So how did a young chef like the 33-year-old Jackson end up running a B&B? “My wife and I got the opportunity to run the Langford while I was working as a head chef on a 1,000-acre game estate in Cornwall,” he explains. “We were about a year into a five-year plan to open and run our own business. We had a nine-month old son Harry, and Rebecca had just found out that she was carrying our second child, now 3-year-old Connie, so we were pretty hesitant to start with. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and despite everyone thinking we were insane we went to look around.”
“We were presented with a quintessentially English pre-Tudor manor house with six en-suite bedrooms. It had been operating as an upmarket B&B, but with no stand-alone restaurant, so it was beautifully done out and ‘ready to go’. We fell in love with the house and set to putting a business plan together. The Good Food Guide 2012 had just been published in which I was delighted to have received a cooking score of five for the restaurant in which I was working in at the time, so this gave us a clear idea of where we could place ourselves in the market and at that time, there were only a couple of clear competitors.”
“The glaringly obvious thing was that the rooms could generate a good revenue stream from the outset, enabling us to slowly and carefully build up the reputation of the restaurant,” he reminisces.
For Chef Olly and Rebecca, the emphasis was on developing the food, so it seemed fitting that they simplified the whole establishment to be a restaurant – with rooms. With the rooms, they hope to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere, but the food will always get top priority.
Trained at Northampton College, during which he also spent time working for the Marriott group, Chef Olly picked up valuable lessons in management, especially on portion control and stock rotation. However, working under award-winning food writer and restaurateur Ruth Watson gave him his most valuable lesson – the importance of the provenance of food.
The weekly-changing menu at the Langford is built around the finest seasonal produce found in Somerset – either from local farms and producers, or from the Langford’s garden itself.
“We could trace all our meat to the farms and animals they came from and fish to the boats they were fished from,” Chef Olly proudly proclaims. “Local farms provided hand-picked crops and there were oyster beds just up the road. It was a great experience and made me truly grateful for fresh produce.” Checking out what is currently growing in the Langford’s garden and speaking with one of their two dedicated gardeners, Steve and Jill, on what he can use for the day’s lunch and dinner menu is a daily affair.
Chef Olly is also hands-on with the dessert, often spending his afternoons refining and tweaking recipes. He reckons it is unusual for a head chef to be keen on pastry, yet it was his favourite discipline during college, and he considers himself lucky to be able to work on them daily.
He is also constantly innovating on the meals he serves, applying a modern twist to dishes whilst demonstrating different methods of cooking. An example of this is his beef duo of braised shin of beef and fillet cooked sous vide, with celeriac puree, baby vegetables and pomme Maxine.
It seems that guests and diners are very agreeable to Chef Olly’s methods and cooking. The establishment is rated “Excellent” by virtually all the reviewers on travel and lifestyle website TripAdvisor, with words like “foody heaven” and “best meal ever had” constantly used by different reviewers to describe the Langford’s food. Now, it seems that the big boys are taking note. Quite recently, the Langford received a cooking score of six from the Waitrose Good Food Guide.
Of course, Chef Olly is beyond thrilled. “This should really put us on the food map,” he enthuses. “But, to be honest, we want to just keep doing what we are doing because we love it, and fingers crossed, it’s working,” he says in view of future plans for the Langford Fivehead restaurant and inn. The Langford Fivehead is operated under the management of the BIG Group, owned by Malaysian Benjamin Yong, so it seems that the establishment is under good hands and most likely to stay consistent with excellence.