In the smart village of Norton, a crumb’s throw from its charming duck pond, Blackwells Butcher’s is a landmark destination for food lovers.
Three generations have nurtured the butchery, bringing it acclaim for sausages, steak and satisfying roasts. Now Anna Hand (nee Blackwell), has set up shop herself marrying the best of the butcher’s offering with an on-trend approach to dining.
She and husband Chris are doing this within sniffing distance of Blackwell’s Butcher’s in a gorgeous cellar restaurant they’ve called The Violet Green.
The place is housed in a former bank vault on the village green which makes up part of its name. Violet was Anna’s great grandmother.
Anna and Chris have gathered together a small team to bring the concept of sharing plates to the dining scene, making the most of Blackwells suppliers, expertise and local provenance.
Anna and Chris love eating out and the sociability of dining with friends, sharing dishes and trying new flavours. They are huge fans of chef Tommy Banks of the acclaimed Black Swan at Oldstead who has just opened Roots in York.
“The sharing plates concept is building momentum – it is more than just eating out. It is about enjoying each plate, its flavours and celebrating the seasonality of produce”, says Anna.
“The emphasis here is not only on the food but the experience which gives people more time to chat and enjoy each others’ company.”
In the kitchen is young twentysomething chef Jack Butler whose food Anna was familiar with.
“It was a leap of faith but I knew his food was good and that I could work with him”, she says.
“The team of butchers at Blackwells are really supportive. Nothing goes to waste in the shop but now it’s a case of them being able to say, ‘can we try this or that’, on our menu”, adds Anna.
You can get excited about the prospect of some whipped beef dripping with crispy onions alongside foccacia made fresh daily.
Cauliflower cheese croquettes and the Violet Green hash brown are already menu winners, as are plate-pleasers such as a 6oz fillet Durham beef with roasted onion, onion puree and beer sauce.
You might be tempted by roast venison loin with wild mushroom and butternut squash or gin-cured chalk stream trout with grapefruit and nasturtium. Or how about beef fillet taco with mustard relish, picked onions and Worcester sauce reduction?
It’s a move away from course-based dining – but still recognises that some diners will want to opt for their traditional main course eating. Above all, it is about making eating out a relaxed and lingering affair.
“The Violet Green is all about delivering high quality, seasonal plates which those eating together can share. No more food envy when you dine here. Order the plates you want, and dive in and share. Plates are served throughout your evening making for a relaxed food experience”, says Anna.
She and Chris are also championing the ‘Feed Me’ approach where if you can’t decide, the front of house team will be happy to make recommendations and surprise you.
Dishes you choose are delivered with perfect timing to create a grazing-style experience. The restaurant’s ‘Feed Me’ option is £40 and you’ll be brought 8-9 dishes – a selection of plates especially chosen by head chef Jack to add an element of curiosity to the evening.
“You’ll be eating the best of what we do – 80pc of diners try it first off and they get to eat things which they might not normally order. We will have that as an option for everyone”, adds Anna.
Meat is supplied by Blackwells Butchers, of course, and fish is from Hodgson’s of Hartlepool. Fruit and vegetables come from local growers and foragers, The Gourmet Garden of Sedgefield.
Anna, who studied event management at university in Leeds, had experience in organising food events and pop-ups and was supported by her dad, Martin Blackwell, as she developed the catering side of the business and took the reins of the business when her dad died last year.
The Violet Green and Blackwells continue to be a close family business says Anna.
“This is a learning curve – a new business and different customer but at its heart are tasty plates of food, prepared for today to eat today.
“The shop is a family business and we try and make staff here feel appreciated – we see them more than family!”, admits Anna.
The restaurant itself is literally a hidden gem – a unique space with industrial stairs lit by a mixture of candles and inspired uplighting. Anna has been inspired by local interior stores including Saltburn’s Lillian Daph emporium, to create a clever, inviting and atmospheric space.
The former bank vault has bags of character and features exposed brick walls and floors.
“We wanted to create something different here in Norton, and we like to think we have achieved this.”