A genuine love for the North East, paired with a solid friendship formed through the foundations of working in food, is what brings Chris and Jack together for their new venture, Nest.
A collaborative concept born from a shared understanding that great food and indulgent dining doesn’t need to be a daunting experience.
Nest is the new neighbourhood restaurant you need to know about, setting up sticks (quite literally) on Chillingham Road in Heaton. It’s a small, 33-cover site set within a mid-40s terrace, with big plans to become a home from home for food-lovers across the North East and from afar.
Luxe settles in for a virtual cuppa with Chris and Jack as plans progress and Nest starts to take shape.
I quickly discover that the pair are as passionate about pointing out all that our region has to offer as we are. An ethos instilled in both of them, having worked at numerous venues across the North East over a decade or so in the hospitality trade here.
It’s been quite the journey, navigating through a global pandemic and ensuring all decisions are made mindfully and cautiously to get the very best results ahead of opening, but it was perfect timing for a pair destined to work together.
“It’s a real love story isn’t it Jack?,” Chris laughs as we start from the beginning.
“Put it this way, his WhatsApp profile picture is a photograph of me and him, not his better half,” he adds.
Jack smiles: “We met in 2011 at Eshott Hall in Morpeth. Chris was already working there and I came in around two years later. “Following that, we ended up going to the Apartment Group together and then we went on to open up the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle.
“So, unintentionally, we’ve kind of gone through these three stages of our career together with different companies. From our initial meeting at a luxury country house hotel in Northumberland, we went on to work at numerous Apartment Group venues, before setting up at the Crowne Plaza, which was a totally different beast. It was a big brand and a monster of a hotel.
“So I guess we’ve kind of been through it all together; and I don’t want to get too romantic about it, but it’s been quite the journey.”
“Fast forward to today and Jack has taken me down this route to Nest, so I’ve got him to thank for that,” Chris adds.
We joke as I try hard not to over-romanticize the story. A chef and a front of house manager riding the wave of the food world, then settling down to take to their nest.
Nest is a concept – or a ‘brotherhood’ of a business – that has been bubbling away for some time now. Both well established in their roles within the hospitality industry in the region, it was about waiting for the right moment to really get their heads together and bring their ideas to life.
“After Crowne Plaza, I was made redundant and we kind of went our separate ways,” Jack starts.
“I started doing a bit of consultancy work for an interior designer company in the region. I refitted a town centre bar in Durham for Ramside Estates. When I left that project, Marc – owner of interior design business Space ID – and now one of our business partners, approached me and said, ‘I’ve got some clients who have this dream of opening a venue, but never know where to go with it, do you fancy coming along and steering them in the right direction?’
“So we evolved this hospitality consultancy business and I needed someone who could do the kitchen side of things and I thought, ‘I know just the man for the job!’.
“Before we knew it, we were back working together, consulting for a few different venues, but it got to the point where we kind of just thought, ‘Why don’t we do this for ourselves and really get the opportunity to be creative?’
“I guess it’s an exhibition of our own talents,” Chris adds.
“We wanted our place to showcase our own talents and love of good food and wine.
“Between our associates and contacts, we’ve got everything covered to really make it work. Space to Operate is the consultancy business that owns Nest – we’re a one-stop-shop covering everything from marketing, brand design, interior design and planning, to health and safety, operational support, recruitment, menu development and legislation.”
Backed by their business partners, who have been working behind-the-scenes to help get things up and running ready for launch, Chris and Jack are confident that they’ve covered all bases with the birth of Nest.
“We have two partners, Marc and Nick; Marc is an interior designer and Nick is a builder – he’s a dentist by trade, but he has a building firm,” says Jack.
“They’ve helped us set the business up, but once it’s up and running, myself and Chris will take the reins and be fully operational. We’ve got the formula to make it work, and we’ve got a great support network around us too.”
Nest takes everything the duo know and love about the industry to create something really special. Something that steers away from the formalities of ‘fine dining’ and quite literally invites customers in as a friend. A place to relax and feel comfortable, but equally, a place to enjoy honest, humble dining with real creative flair.
“We want to offer a really special experience that isn’t one you can only afford once a year,” Chris explains.
“We want to give people an opportunity to eat a £200 meal, but because we’re in a small unit with small overheads, we’re able to offer that really indulgent experience for a very reasonable price.
“It’s approachable and it’s accessible. Maybe you’ll be able to come and see us once a month – or certainly three or four times a year. We want to create a community where people can come together to enjoy that luxury experience, but in a really casual way.”
“The reason we called the restaurant Nest is because it really hones in on everything that we want to be,” Jack adds.
“A nest is a form of home, a place where you gather yourself – and that’s what it’s all about. We want people to come in and know Chris and I, not necessarily when they walk through the door, but certainly will when they leave.
“We want to create a comfortable environment where you feel like you could be sitting in your own living room, or a friend’s kitchen. Quality food, wonderful wine and a laid-back, buzzy soundtrack to go with it. Our price point is £45 per head for a 7-9 course tasting menu. It’s very reasonable, but there’s no compromise on quality.”
I get a sneak peek of the menu as Chris talks us through each dish and the meaning behind it. There’s a real emphasis on nostalgia and familiarity, so you’re not only getting delicious, locally-sourced produce crafted in a really spectacular style, but you’ll be tucking into dishes that mean something to both the chef and the customer.
“The menu is built around pretty simple, nostalgic flavours that really take you back. You’ve got rhubarb and custard, you’ve got lamb and peas – we’re trying not to alienate people – it’s stuff we all know and love,” says Chris.
“It’s in no way intimidating. It’s real, but it’s great quality.”
“We really want people to come to us and have a wonderful experience, but not feel like it’s a once in a lifetime event,” Jack adds.
“I’m not going to be walking around with a big chef’s hat on meeting and greeting everyone,” Chris starts.
“But I do want people to feel like they can come to the pass and have a chat and ask questions. If I’m busy, do you know what, give me your number and I’ll text you the recipe – I’ve got no secrets. I just want people to feel like it’s very, very approachable in all aspects; not just the food and the comfort of the interior, but also with Jack and I.”
So, what can we expect to see on the menu? “You’ll find things like the ‘Nesting Egg’, which is a Jerusalem artichoke, truffle and butternut squash dish,” Chris explains.
“Or our favourite dish – the scallops with pork belly, curried carrot, carrot bhaji and coriander. Anything from roasted celeriac mousse to a rhubarb and custard dessert to finish,” he adds.
The Nest offering is not just a collection of the best seasonal produce, the menu tells a story – it’s an exhibition of the things that make Chris tick in the kitchen.
“Each dish has a meaning behind it,” Jack says.
An incredibly well-thought-out wine flight will accompany the menu, featuring some of the finest wines and wine suppliers the duo have come across in their vast career.
“We’ve got seven drinks on the wine flight, including a little, tongue-in-cheek shot at the end – it just goes perfectly with the last dessert. We’re pitching that at around £38, which is a fantastic offering.
“We’re not going for the standard wines you’d expect to see, we’re trying to steer people away from their comfort zones, but at a price where they feel like they can try something new. We want people to trust us, experiment a little and be wowed by it.”
Nest will feature a really striking yet incredibly welcoming interior to match the food and hospitality. Think natural stone and woodwork, dark decor with flickering candles to create a laid-back and cosy, yet buzzy vibe.
“Once we’ve smashed the place to pieces and we find out what’s behind the plasterboard and what’s underneath the floorboards, we can then make some firm decisions on the design, but currently, the theme is very much focused around polished concrete features and natural, earthy materials,” Jack explains.
“There will be a lot of wood, naturally, to tie in with the name. Manipulated willow chasing around the windows, hand-crafted furniture, it will all feel very natural, yet very well thought out, with a contemporary, homely feel to it,” adds Chris.
“We’ve got an open kitchen with a chef’s table at the top. We want it to feel like people are coming to dine at our house. We just want to spoil people. I’m obviously a bit of a feeder, and Jack more of a liquid feeder, but it’s all about familiarity and getting to know our customers. It’s not an ego thing, we just like to know people by name. It makes it enjoyable for us as much as it is for our diners.”
For Jack, Newcastle and Northumberland has always been home, so setting up a business in his personal and professional playground is a real bucket list moment.
Equally, for Chris, although he grew up and kick-started his career in Essex, the North East has very much become an adopted home where he has spent much of his professional adult life.
“I was born in Bristol but grew up in Essex,” Chris starts.
“My dad is still in the West Country, so I’ve got a big affiliation with the area and love any of the produce that comes from there. I was in Colchester up until the age of 22 and then I moved to the North East with my now wife, who’s mum moved from Doncaster to retire in Seahouses of all places. During our second or third visit to the North East we just fell in love with the area. We put our notices in at work, upped sticks and moved here. We got married up here, had another child up here and my career really took off, so the North East is very much where it’s at.
“I know the pantry of ingredients that the North East has to offer better than any other area. Yes, I was in Essex for 22 years, but for 16 of those years I was just messing around and not really thinking about my career. I’m much more at home with the produce up here.
“My retirement dream is to set up a cider farm in Devon, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Now is time to do some nesting here in the North East.”
Chris and Jack assure me that we’re not going to be waiting too much longer for the opening of Nest.
“The launch date definitely begins with a J,” says Chris.
Alongside its tasting menu, Nest will also offer an indulgent Sunday lunch and daytime deli boards starting from £10. We can’t wait to see you at this new neighbourhood restaurant.