Restaurant Pine is the debut restaurant of Cal Byerley and partner Siân Buchan. Sitting in a picture-postcard spot with the rolling Northumberland countryside as its backdrop and championing homegrown ingredients from the very land he spent much of his childhood, life has come somewhat full circle for Cal. We check in to get the lowdown…
First of all, what can you tell us about Restaurant Pine?
It’s been a lifelong dream of both of ours to open up our own place.
We’ve both got the exact same vision, it’s all just coming into fruition now, and it’s incredibly exciting to share it with our friends, family and foodies of the North East and beyond.
It’s a lovely, open-plan restaurant with big windows giving beautiful views of the Northumberland countryside. We’ll be offering afternoon tea and a really generous 16-19 course tasting menu.
Our whole ethos is to make the most of what we have available in the countryside, and what we can grow ourselves in our kitchen farm. It’s all about being a little bit more responsible and sustainable.
Pine is all about incorporating plant-based dishes and foraged ingredients.
The location is perfect for us because we wanted somewhere accessible, but also somewhere that screams countryside (there’s a tractor literally going past us right now, excuse the noise!).
We’re based on a farm, which is lovely because I grew up on a farm just down the road. It just felt right. It’s an old cow barn that’s been beautifully converted, making the most of the stunning scenery – the view is literally to-die-for.
This is your debut restaurant, what made you take the plunge?
We’ve been looking around and waiting for the right moment for some time now. It’s been bubbling for the last two years or so, but it was just about finding the right spot.
At first we looked at city centre locations, and straight away it just didn’t fit the brief – it didn’t feel ‘us’. Then we looked at lovely towns and villages in Northumberland like Corbridge, which is very local to us.
The trouble is, we wanted something modern – we wanted to put our kitchen inside the restaurant, so guests can see what happens behind the scenes – and in Corbridge most buildings are Listed, so we were struggling to find something that would suit.
All we wanted was a big square room – and this had that. It also had a previously existing kitchen downstairs which was kitted out.
We’ve got a kitchen we can work out of during the day for the production side of things, then we’ve got our open-plan kitchen as our focal point.
We viewed it a year ago. We saw an old listing online. We didn’t make an appointment, we just popped to see it.
We absolutely loved it – but soon discovered that it wasn’t on the market.
We were pretty narked for the rest of the day because it was such a perfect place.
When we did eventually find out it was available and came across the kitchen and kitchen garden, we were blown away. Ken Holland, who is one of the most renowned growers in the UK, his own set up is literally on the farm, just a short stroll from the restaurant.
It was around May and we were really busy doing our afternoon tea deliveries. We met the landlord and that was it. They were sold on us and we were invested from the very minute.
We just thought, gosh, we’re never going to find another opportunity to have the perfect restaurant space and the perfect kitchen space, on a farm.
Then lockdown hit and it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a bit of time bringing our vision to life.
How are you finding working together?
Oh, we’ve done this before, so we’re used to it. I used to be restaurant manager at Jesmond Dene House where Cal was head pastry chef, so we already knew we could work together really well.
We are spending a lot of time together, so it’s a good job we enjoy each other’s company!
Where did you find your inspiration for the restaurant?
It’s all based on my cooking style really. Working for Kevin Tickle at Forest Side for so many years, and before that working for Simon Rogan at Rogan & Co, your style just sort of develops and takes on a life of its own.
This style of cooking just feels right to me. Foraging, plant-based dishes, interesting things that you wouldn’t necessarily see on your average menu.
I always say, ‘If you can do it at home, there’s no point in going to a restaurant for it, it needs to be special.’ It’s all about making it interesting for the diner, as well as for me and the staff.
One of the best ways to keep your team happy is to make it interesting and enjoyable.
And where did the name come from?
We decided on the name before we actually got the premises.
Pine has so many meanings for us both.
In the dictionary, pine is ‘to want something’ or ‘to yearn for something’ and the restaurant is something that we’ve been yearning for together – something that we’ve always wanted.
Pine is also one of my favourite plants. It grows around the restaurant and on our farm, and it’s something I like to cook with. It’s featured on the menu, it’s a really lovely flavour.
So all of those combinations just came together and it worked.
Our farm is now actually a timber yard. My family have been on the farm since 1805, it goes back so many generations. In the past five or six years, we’ve reverted to a lumber yard. My brother has a timber company, so we’re surrounded by trees, as you can imagine.
It’s also a really nice word. It’s short and sweet, and it just works.
Cal, it’s lovely to see your career come full circle, bringing you back home to set up your own business. What can you tell us about your journey?
I started working at the pub across the road from where we are now at the age of 15.
My dad dropped me off one day and told me I had a job washing pots. At 15-years-old, I didn’t really want to do that, I would’ve been happier just hanging out with my mates.
But it was great getting stuck in at an early age and I quickly progressed into the kitchen.
From there, I went on to work as head pastry chef at Wynyard Hall, Jesmond Dene House, Rogan & Co in the Lakes, and then my fondest food memories were made at Andrew Wildsmith’s hotel, Forest Side, under Kevin Tickle.
I worked there for nearly five years, right from the outset, so there was a six month planning period where we got the kitchen gardens up and running.
It was a very special project to be involved in. It was one of the fastest Michelin stars outside of London. It was amazing.
More recently, I was working with Danny Parker at Jesmond Dene House – that was my route back to the North East I guess.
I’d lived away for years – I was in the Lakes for seven years and I was in France for almost a year, so it was nice to get home.
When I started cooking, I knew that I needed to get away to get as much experience as possible, so I made the plunge, moved to the Lakes and loved every minute of it – but it’s always nice to be home.
It’s incredibly rewarding to come back and do something really exciting right on the doorstep – and to be able to share it with close friends and family. It’s a total dream.
Siân, what can you tell us about your route into the food world and how you crossed paths with Cal?
I have been in the industry all of my life. I started as a waitress at the Malmaison. I never intended on staying in the industry.
My dream was to be a hotel manager and travel the world, but I ended up discovering a real love for hospitality.
As soon as I turned 21, I went to work on the Seabourn fleet, which is a seven star cruise line – high attention to detail and very high quality. You had to be a millionaire to be a passenger, so you had to be very good at your job.
I quickly moved up the ranks there, I saw a lot of the world – everywhere from the Caribbean, to Hawaii, Bora Bora, the Mediterranean.
I was very, very fortunate. I absolutely loved it. But just like Cal, I wanted to come home and spend time with my family.
I came home and got a job working at House of Tides for Kenny Atkinson. I worked there for about two years. I started as a chef de rang (or to anyone else, a waitress!), then I was promoted to head waitress, then to supervisor, then to assistant manager.
I wanted to dip my toes into daytime hours, so I got a job teaching hospitality at Newcastle College, which is where I got my degree in hospitality.
Along with about a thousand other people, I was sadly made redundant, so at that point I wanted to just go straight back into working in restaurants as I really missed it.
That’s where I met Cal, we worked together at Jesmond Dene House. We very quickly discovered that we had the same dreams of opening up a restaurant.
More recently, I went to work as restaurant manager at Träkol, a place that is very special to me – my favourite restaurant
I was furloughed during the first lockdown and that’s when we started putting our heads together and moving forward with our plans.
What curveballs has the pandemic thrown in?
It’s been bitter-sweet I would say. We’ve used the time to help us get to where we need to be.
We’ve had a chance to work on all of the dishes, develop new ideas and make sure everything flows nicely. There’s so much to think about when opening a restaurant, so we’re enjoying ticking everything off before we officially get underway sharing it with customers.
What can you tell us about the food offering?
The afternoon tea, which we run Thursday to Sunday, is a classic three-tier afternoon tea, with a few little tweaks to make it really special.
Our sommelier, Vanessa, is on hand to pair a selection of English wines. If you’re a wine-lover, it’s really going to boost the experience.
In terms of the cakes, you’ll find traditional treats like eclairs and tarts, all made to the highest standards.
We have a real focus on quality when it comes to our cakes and wines.
For example, our wines are natural and sustainable. We’re trying to support local businesses as much as we can too.
Cal has a real appreciation for the finer details – everything has to be pristine, which is important when it comes to afternoon tea.
For me, it’s also about using the best of the best seasonal ingredients. Even little things like eggs. We get our eggs from a business in Matfen that offer lovely free-range eggs, and the difference in quality is unbelievable.
Something so humble as an egg can make such a huge difference in cooking.
It’s all about reducing the food miles. Nothing will be sat in a warehouse for months before it has made its way to the kitchen, we know exactly where everything is coming from.
It’s just being a bit more responsible, and you can really taste the difference.
That goes for the evening tasting menu as well.
A lot of plant-based dishes, foraged ingredients, all seasonal and homegrown.
There will be things that are picked 30 minutes before your dinner. That is, for me, the most important thing. Everything should taste what it should taste like.
And what about the wines?
In addition to the wine pairings with the tasting menu, diners will also be offered a special drinks pairing, steering away from the alcoholic options.
Because we are based in a rural area of Northumberland, we do expect that some people will be driving, so thought it was really important that we had some really creative, non-alcoholic drinks on offer too.
So you can literally have a flight of non-alcoholic beverages. We’ve got elderberry kombucha – using fresh elderberries picked on the farm, we’ve got a sea buckthorn drink, a sorrel drink – foraged on the farm and made into a syrup.
It’s all about using different flavours prepared in creative new ways.
How is the space looking?
We don’t really need too much in terms of decoration because when you walk into the restaurant you’re greeted with gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling windows, with a breathtaking view of the countryside.
Inside, we’ve got a bar area which we hope to open in the spring. The colour palette is based on eucalyptus, grey and white – it’s very natural, light and fresh.
Everything is handmade and bespoke. The tables have been made by a local joiner, the kitchen has been custom built, so it’s exactly what we need it to be.
It’s a real focal point in the restaurant, so that was important to us.
Like Siân says, everything is very bespoke.
We’ve had the pottery made by Victoria Brook, who has My Giant Hands Made These pottery studio in Ouseburn. She is fantastic. We sat down with her for hours to get things right.
Our dried-flower wall is a real focal point too. It’s the first thing you are greeted with when you step inside at ground level, then you walk up the beautiful industrial-style staircase and hanging dried flowers fill up the roof space.
A fresh scent hits you as you walk in the room. It’s breathtaking. That has all been created by the lovely Jules Fleur.
We really appreciate nature, so we wanted to bring it inside. Pair that with the views and glorious homegrown dishes, and we hope we’ll make you feel right at home in the Northumberland countryside.
So, the location is key?
I just love the countryside. It’s nice to be close enough to Newcastle, but also be able to have this amazing scenery on our doorstep.
After spending so many years away, it’s nice to be close to family, especially during this time of such uncertainty.
We actually live on the same farm as my mam and dad, where I spent much of my childhood. I did a little bit of farming growing up, but that was more my brother’s thing.
I drifted away from the farm and decided to do something a little different – but taking that love of growing and foraging with me. My mam was always an amazing cook, so I think that’s probably where I got the bug.
After living in the Lake District – such a beautiful part of the world – and seeing what Kev did in his local area, I just thought, ‘How amazing would it be to do something as special as Forest Side in Northumberland?’
What’s in the pipeline for 2021?
We do hope to expand our brand eventually.
We’ll be adding a bar in the coming months, where there will be a lovely lounge area with a huge log burner. The only reason why we’re not opening that right now is because we want to focus on the restaurant to begin with.
The bar/lounge will be a relaxing space where you don’t necessarily have to have a reservation. You can pop in and have a cocktail, or a beautiful coffee.
It’s going to be such a lovely, warm and inviting space. Personally, I’d be getting a magazine (Luxe Magazine of course!), sitting in front of that fire with a coffee and whiling away the hours. Bliss.
We’ve also got plans to expand another area where we could host larger parties up to 12. Many years down the line, we’d love to open up a brunch spot with a patisserie and tearoom, and also a wine shop – all of our favourite things in one.
Hopefully this will all come into play soon, but with current restrictions and uncertainty, it just doesn’t make sense right now and we want to be able to do it properly, so keep an eye out for that. Exciting stuff.
How do you switch off and enjoy a bit of downtime?
Cal has always been into growing his own ingredients; we have our own veg patch at home, and because I had more time on my hands during the first lockdown, I’ve taken on a new hobby of planting flowers. Seeing them grow from tiny seeds to big, amazing flowers just gives me so much joy. It’s something I’m actually going to be bringing to the restaurant.
I’m going to be growing my own flowers to use as table centrepieces. I love learning about what we can grow and what we can do to show off the best of what Northumberland can offer.
We love eating out when time allows.
But a lot of the time, because we work so many hours, you can’t beat just curling up on the sofa, watching a film and just drifting off.
We love a Netflix binge. Have you seen The Queen’s Gambit? Watch it – it’s so good!
And finally, your three luxe things in life?
Animals. I think I’m the world’s biggest animal-lover. I go to Crufts every year. I’m obsessed with dogs – I’m such a dog botherer! My dream is to have tons of dogs running around the farm, sorry Cal!
The garden – I couldn’t live without the outdoors. Growing stuff is such an amazing thing.
We both love Nkuku – a lot of our restaurant furniture is from here. They do a lot of natural stuff, all made from elements.