No-one will ever know, when they are dining at Liberty’s café-bar, that the practice of adding huge quantities of parmesan to a perfectly turned out pasta dish, or grinding salt and pepper without even tasting the food, causes the chef a bit of angst. “Drives me mad!” he laughs. They will never know because chef Kevin Hendy is about as far removed from a prima donna chef as you can get.
“I’m like this all the time,” he says, leaning back on one of Liberty’s comfy leather sofas. “I never get cross, I find things get done quicker if you’re relaxed. The lads know when I’m not happy with things – they’re good lads, work really hard.”
Kevin, 27, is a local boy whose tattooed arms and easy manner belie his focus on detail as appropriate to his elegant surroundings. Liberty’s is aimed at business clientele, at ladies who lunch, and work-based party bookings. So the menu isn’t over-long – “you take more in when there’s less to look at,” says Kevin – and is brimming with imagination. It focuses on fresh ingredients, from local suppliers where possible, and good, clean cut flavours. “It’s restaurant-style food in a café-bar. People can actually have dinner over business meetings, so they don’t have to rush. Then other people do want to hurry – we have to cater for both!”
So while the rushing folk may choose a pancetta, mushroom and red onion omelette, finished with a Balsamic reduction, the lingering client could have stuffed Godshill free range pork loin, served on a sweet potato cake with cider gravy.
Consistency is key, in Kevin’s book. The food always has to be of the same high standard, and it must be presented well. “Yes, I’m fussy,” he grins. He enjoys the variety that daily specials offer: “I can have a bit of fun, make them a bit more tarty!”
It is obviously a winning combination: being particular about the quality of the food that leaves his kitchen, while remaining unphased by the pressures unleashed by a very busy service. Kevin and his manager have worked up a number of menus to cater for different groups.
They hit on the idea of promoting hen-nights, where ladies can eat well, early, before going on elsewhere. Courses of business lunches are individually priced, to enable each person to effectively design their own menu according to their appetite. “At our Ladies’ Night I did five mini courses and came out to chat with them about what they liked and didn’t. I’d like to do that more often.”
The success of Liberty’s precludes that. Because everything is freshly cooked he and his three colleagues must remain in the kitchen to be ready for anything. Besides, if he came out into the bar he might see someone adding parmesan and salt to a perfectly balanced pasta dish.
Liberty’s, 12 Union Street, Ryde, PO33 2DU. Tel: 811007