Hotel & Restaurant Kitchens and Bars
Theobalds Estate, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.

One of the UK’s newest and coolest country retreats

Birch (Handle.Silk.Comet) named using the What3Words location system in anticipation of further Birch sites, is a newly launched hotel set in the 55 acre Georgian-style Theobalds Estate in Hertfordshire.

A total refurbishment during 2019/20 saw the hotel, now under the leadership of Chris Penn and Chris King, become one of the UK’s coolest country retreats offering guests a place to truly relax and to experience a huge range of activities ranging from baking to beekeeing! Beyond this there are 20 event spaces and, of course, fabulous food.

With Robin Gill (Darby’s, The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture) at the helm, the focus is on quality, provenance and sustainability. Several acres of the estate’s land are now devoted to creating an in-house farm for raising home-reared livestock and growing vegetables and herbs.

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There are multiple eating options at Birch – from cook your own barbecues to private dining rooms to fully catered events. However, the main restaurants are Valeries, a casual all-day grab-and-go eatery offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks to take out, and The Zebra Riding Club, an indoor/outdoor restaurant offering lunch and dinner, focusing almost completely on ingredients sourced from the estate.

Robin brought in Nelson Commercial Kitchens to design the new kitchen scheme. Having worked with Nelson on all his other restaurants, he knew we would interpret his ideas into an effective and efficient scheme that worked perfectly within this exciting environment.

We retained the position of the original kitchen but modified the function of some of the surrounding areas to create dedicated zones for meat and fish preparation, pastry, warewashing and, most importantly, a large bakery and coldroom for the bread that Robin is renowned for.

A bespoke, 4 metre Athanor island suite takes central position in the kitchen. Set flush within the top is a gas solid top, a plancha, both single and twin zone induction hobs, a multi-cooker, a twin well fryer and an authentic robata grill. Beneath the top is a cast iron lined roasting oven, 2 sets of 3x 1/1GN hot holding drawers and refrigerated drawers. Heavy duty pan racks span the top of the suite with a salamander mounted on top.

The suite is flanked by a general preparation area to one side and a marble-topped pizza preparation area to the other. This includes ample undercounter refrigeration, thermowells and a single deck gas-fired pizza oven. In front of the cooking suite is the ceiling-mounted pass and a further area with a vacuum packing machine and a blast chiller.

A large pastry zone is situated within a separate room which allows cool temperatures to be constantly maintained. It’s kitted with undercounter freezers and a nine-drawer fridge, a countertop induction hob and a 6-grid combi oven. Next door to this is the meat and fish preparation room which, like Darby’s, will also be used for meat aging.

Over his career, Robin has built a reputation for making delicious bread – Darby’s even has a wholesale facility! Therefore, it was no surprise that a well-equipped bakery would be on his wish list for Birch and, to create sufficient space for the bakery, its dedicated coldroom and space for guests to learn the basics, we were able to re-purpose a staffroom.

The bakery comprises a run that includes both a floor-standing mixer and a bench-mounted spiral mixer adjacent to which is a prover, a 20 grid combi oven, a four-hob induction cooker and a large, 3-deck baking oven. The final areas are a warewash room with a bespoke system to ensure maximum efficiency and a separate pot wash room.

Theobalds Estate dates back to the 15th Century and has a very colourful history. Queen Elizabeth 1st was a frequent visitor to the original palace on the land, King James used it as a country seat and subsequently died there and King Charles 1 also favoured it. The palace was largely demolished by the mid-17th century and in 1763, the mansion house, with Grade2* status, that now stands on the land, was built.

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