Deanna Thomas talks to the young couple that have taken over this popular independent Cheshire bistro
Some suburban restaurants have done well since they were allowed to re-open in July. Many diners prefer to stay closer to home rather than travel into the city centre, not having to take their chances with public transport and taxis.
This got us thinking about some great, independently owned, out-of-town restaurants and little bistros like La Bohemme in Lymm, standalone destination restaurants such as Nutter's in Norden and La Popote in Marton.
In summer you can sit in the garden and in winter you can cosy up by the fireplace
Marton? Where’s that? I hear you ask. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but also really easy to get to if you fancy a drive out; only seven miles from Alderley Edge, ten minutes from Macclesfield, 15 minutes from Wilmslow, or 20 minutes from Stockport.
Victor and Lynne Janssen first opened the restaurant in 2009 in a renovated farmstead off the A34 and it soon gained a following for its classic French cooking, top quality local ingredients, warm hospitality and fine wines. Lynne also spent hours cultivating the restaurant’s walled garden, creating a beautiful place to sit for an aperitif in sunny weather.
Last year Lynn and Victor retired, put the restaurant up for sale and embarked on a severe vetting programme to search for someone they could trust to carry on their passion project.
A mutual acquaintance put them in touch with Joseph Rawlins and his partner Gaelle Radigon, a young couple who were looking to set up their own restaurant. It was a perfect match and Joe and Gaelle took over the reigns in October 2019.
Chef Joe, still in his twenties, had already gathered a wealth of kitchen experience. Originally from Wilmslow, he earned a Cordon Blue Diploma from Gordon Ramsay’s renowned Tante Marie cooking school aged just 16.
He has worked at many award-winning restaurants both in the UK and in France since then, including The Artichoke in Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire, which was awarded a Michelin star last year.
When Joe moved to France over seven years ago, the formidable chef, Guillaume Delage (who opened Jadis in 2008 to rave reviews) took him under his wing. Joseph’s most recent position was as Head Chef at Le Sauvage in Paris.
Joe’s partner, Gaelle, 32, is from Paris and has a background in fashion marketing but has worked in restaurants (both in England and France) since she was 18. She believes that her cumulative experience helps to create the perfect ambience. It had been Joe’s dream to come back to Cheshire and show off the cooking skills he had accumulated over the last few years, so this opportunity to create a second chapter in the restaurant’s life seemed perfect.
So, coming up to their first year, operating their first restaurant under pretty exceptional circumstance, we asked them how things are going.
“Obviously it’s been a bit of a funny year,” says Joe. “It was hard when we took over because the only thing that had changed at first was the menu. The décor was the same, as was the name, even the team was the same – this was pre-lockdown.
“People saw us as a young couple and wondered if we knew what we were doing, but we’ve managed to really put our on stamp on things since lockdown. Everything has changed and now this is our restaurant – we’ve even changed the logo outside. It’s changed hands but it is still La Popote. We say ‘La Popote II’, a new chapter. We come from another generation and we are doing our best to make sure people enjoy themselves.”
La Popote translates as small cooking pot or colloquially ‘what’s cooking’. Why did they keep the name? “The restaurant had a good reputation,” says Gaelle. “Everybody knows its name so we wanted to keep it and just modernise things step by step.”
They only re-opened on August 6th and while closed took the opportunity to refresh and modernise, adding a new seating area and bar and redecorating the interior to make it look clean and modern and much lighter. “It’s like we’ve got two restaurants,” says Joe, “because in summer you can sit in the garden and in winter you can cosy up by the fireplace where people come and have a drink before or after.
What else has changed?
“The menu is completely different to what the previous owners were offering,” says Joe. “There is something for everybody but some people eat out to try something different.” Best-sellers are the steaks and the entrecote (a well-known Parisian sharing dish served in a copper dish with spinach, potatoes and mushrooms) and the rib eye for two, which is something that they offer all year round.
So would they say their food is classic French? “Not really, maybe there are more French influences than any other but it’s a lot more modern because we might bring, say, a Japanese influence into a dish for example,” says Joe.
“I’m bringing together everything I have learned from working with different chefs but at the end of the day, you know what flavours work well together. We play about. We might offer a dish you think you know, but when it arrives, we haven't messed about or deconstructed it into separate elements, but it’s a little bit different.”
As in any good independent restaurant, as long as the kitchen team know in advance, they are happy to prepare dishes for people with certain allergies or sensitivities as well as creating interesting vegetarian or vegan dishes that might not be on the menu.
We asked Joe to tell us more about his particular style of cooking.
“It’s all seasonal,” he says. “We have a short menu which changes every four to six weeks to make sure we get the best out of the products we can get and keep them as fresh as possible.
“The lunch menu changes every week. I work with a certain limited number of elements on the plate; five six, seven, because mixing too many things doesn’t always work. We have three different meat suppliers (including a local butcher in Bollington), two different veg suppliers (including Cheshire Wholesale and Field 28 based in Warrington who pick their organic produce to order) and two fish suppliers. I like to import some dried products from France because they’re good and I’m used to working with them. We try not to buy in and make 98% in house, except where we can get a better product. We get our sourdough bread from Flour, Water, Salt in Macclesfield and our cheese from Grantham’s in Alderley Edge.”
Gaelle and Joe also know a fair bit about wine, which they consider to be as important as the food. “When you go to a restaurant you often look at the wine list before the menu,” says Gaelle.
They utilise their Parisian contacts for advice, although they now have around a dozen different wine suppliers and the list from 95 references is over 70% French. “We really try to have some different, high-end wines you can’t really find anywhere else,” says Joe. “Wine is a personal taste so we try to update the list but we try to have something at a price point for everybody.” They also took over La Popote’s famous gin collection, which stands at 43 different types.
Although it’s relaxed and welcoming, La Popote feels like a special occasion restaurant, or somewhere you might go to turn a rainy midweek evening into a special occasion. “We’re giving people what they want but also giving them a little surprise when it turns up,” says Joe.
La Popote is open Thursday-Saturday lunch and dinner and for Sunday lunch. £18.95 two courses/£23.50 three courses lunch and on Thursday evening, as well as the a la carte menu.
La Popote, Church Farm, Manchester Road (A34), Marton, Cheshire, SK11 9HF