Chef Steve Drake tells Ting Dalton why moving to Dorking felt like a homecoming
When Steve Drake had to leave his eponymous restaurant in Ripley and his one Michelin star behind – which he held for 11 years – many wondered where he would settle next. After months of searching, Dorking was to be the location of his new restaurant and, after a rapturous opening last year, Sorrel has continued to go from strength to strength. Critics and diners alike are all in agreement that the chef, who has not only worked in some of the finest restaurants in Europe and won the prestigious Roux scholarship – cannot be far off gaining his second award.
Steve chats to us about the inspiration behind the destination restaurant in Surrey and why he fell in love with the area…
What drew you to choosing Dorking as the location for Sorrel?
The moment I stepped through the door I knew 77 South Street was perfect. I’d been looking for a site for about 18 months but nothing had been quite right. The moment I saw ‘Little Dudley House’ (as it was then known), I knew it was the one: as well as being a beautiful 300-year old building, it’s given us the flexibility to create a bespoke open kitchen as well as a new type of space and style for my cooking.
Moving to this area also felt like coming home – I won my first Michelin star when I was down the road in Abinger Hammer at Drake’s on the Pond. It’s lovely that so many of our guests have followed me from there to Ripley and now to Dorking. Dorking has great access with guests coming from nearby towns such as Guildford and Reigate but it’s also easy for our London regulars.
Why is the restaurant called Sorrel?
Sorrel is not only a herb that I love, it describes the food we serve: it’s light, fresh and full of aromatic flavours.
Are you finding customers coming from far and wide?
We’ve been lucky enough to attract people from all over the country as well as new and returning locals. The opening has been warmly received and we’re very grateful for all the positive response and reviews.
“The moment I saw ‘Little Dudley House’, I knew it was the one: as well as being a beautiful 300-year old building, it’s given us the flexibility to create a bespoke open kitchen.”
Sorrel has been open less than a year, and yet there is already a two-month waiting list…
I’m delighted with the progress. Having spent a long time refining and simplifying my cooking, I wanted to create a fine dining experience with people enjoying the food and the whole Sorrel experience.
Are you working with local suppliers and businesses?
We always want to work with the very best British suppliers. It’s been great to seek out new partners for Sorrel and one of our favourites is Etherley Farm, a small supplier based just down the road at Leith Hill. Their duck has been a mainstay on the menu since we opened. We also work closely with Kingfisher Farm Shop in Abinger Hammer – they provide changing weekly arrangements, combining flowers, foliage and vegetables for the restaurant and tables. I’m also working with many long-standing suppliers such as Peter from Haslemere; he and his wife have been delivering eggs to me for over 15 years.
What inspires your food and menus?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, but often when I’m travelling. Most recently I’ve been heavily influenced by Morocco where I was married earlier in the year. I always try and spend time in kitchens whilst I’m away and the teams at both Dar Ahlam and El Fenn were really welcoming, allowing me to chat to them about ingredients and traditional methods.
You’re known for your progressive outlook when it comes to work – do you think more restaurants could adopt this approach and give more time to staff to rest?
This is an industry where people are prone to burning out. The pace, the pressure, and the long hours can be detrimental to the development and creativity of young chefs. It’s a real shame to see talent wasted in this way, and ultimately damaging for the growth of our industry. Many restaurants are having to rethink how they operate. It can only be a positive step forward.
Do you have another chef/mentor that inspires your work?
Nico Ladenis is a fantastic mentor and very supportive. Winning the Roux Scholarship gave me access to some top chefs and Michel Roux Senior is a huge inspiration, too.
Any exciting future plans?
As always, there’s a lot going on at the restaurant. To cope with demand, we’ve expanded the team and added an extra service on a Tuesday evening. We want to continue to be the best we can and ensure people enjoy their experience with us, because fundamentally that’s what it’s all about.
Any exciting future plans?
As always, there’s a lot going on at the restaurant. To cope with demand, we’ve expanded the team and added an extra service on a Tuesday evening. We want to continue to be the best we can and ensure people enjoy their experience with us, because fundamentally that’s what it’s
Are there any local hotspots or restaurants you like to go to?
I love a Sunday roast with family and friends at The Anchor in Ripley, although I should admit it’s my pub! Café Mila in Godalming is a lovely spot for healthy, fresh food and smoothies with a vibrant atmosphere. In the afternoon, you can find me in Two Many Cooks down the street enjoying tea and cake on my break.
Where are you currently living?
Where are you currently living? I live with my wife and two children in a cottage on the edge of the Surrey Hills.
And how do you like to relax when you’re not in the kitchen?
I’m a keen runner and try to get out as much as possible when I’m not working. I also enjoy walking and exploring the countryside with my family.