Cromwell’s Kitchen, Cherry House Restaurant in Werrington village

Whether he’s viewed as a hero of liberty or a regicidal dictator, there can be no denying the influence that Oliver Cromwell has had on England’s history. As the man who killed a king and pursued Catholics with a near-genocidal ferocity, he continues to inspire fierce debate even today, some 353 years after his death.

In the kitchens of the Cherry House Restaurant in Werrington village, he is still the regular subject of conversation and frequently cursed, though for a slightly lesser crime than regicide. In using the 400-year-old building as a campaign headquarters in his plot to kill Charles I, Cromwell ensured that it eventually achieved Grade II listed building status, and that status hampers head chef and owner Andrew Corrick and influences the menu to this day. ‘We’ve got a very small kitchen and there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s a listed building so you can’t go knocking walls down or make any major structural changes’ Corrick explains in the confines of the kitchen in question. ‘It’s so small that we can only ever have one person working on the stoves at any one time. So basically, one person is cooking all the main courses and if there are any hot starters on the menu then he’s cooking them as well. On a Saturday night, that can mean one chef cooking 80 orders. Because of the space restraints, a great deal of thought is put into the planning and selection of dishes so that we can maximise the limited space that is available without compromising the end result. Ideally, we’d have a kitchen twice this size but it just isn’t possible in this building.’

It’s an unusual problem to have – Oliver Cromwell indirectly dictating what can and can’t go on the menu of a 21st century fine dining establishment – but it certainly doesn’t mean the food being served in the Cherry House is second rate. Andrew Corrick has worked in some of the grandest kitchens in the country, from the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge to the Park Lane Hotel in Mayfair, but decided to turn his back on the glamour of London and moved to Peterborough in 1989 bringing his considerable culinary skills with him. ‘My then-partner’s parents lived in Peterborough and we used to come up and visit at weekends’ he says. ‘At the time property was cheap up here so we ended up buying a house as a second home. Then one week the Swallow Hotel (now The Marriott) was advertising for an executive chef so I just applied for it out of curiosity and, lo and behold, a couple of months later I was working there.’

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave London and Corrick admits he still has strong feelings for the capital and its multifarious charms. ‘I try to avoid going there now because I still get a bit homesick for the place – I had a bit of a London bug’ he admits. ‘I had to go down to Gatwick airport recently and it was the early hours of the morning so rather than drive around London I decided to drive right through it and it still grips me every time I go down there. Even at 5am there was a buzz about the place.’

Having made the difficult decision to leave London, Corrick worked as head chef at The Swallow Hotel from 1989 to 1992 and gained an AA Rosette for his work there before striking out on his own with the Cherry House, a picture perfect thatched roof cottage in Werrington. The transition from capital city to Cambridgeshire village was not just a physical one for Corrick; his culinary creative side had to undergo something of a shift too. ‘When I first moved to Peterborough the tastes of the local people were not the same as in London. Thankfully I did my homework on local tastes and expectations when I was at The Swallow – if I’d started the Cherry House straight after leaving London I probably wouldn’t have lasted very long! When you’re turning over thousands and thousands of pounds worth of food every week you can afford to have a terrine of fois grois going off in the fridge and not being used but in a relatively small restaurant you can’t afford that. But times have changed and I think there’s a lot more wealth and people go out a lot more in general.In Peterborough there seem to be a lot of people who are looking for something a little different.’

If eating in Oliver Cromwell’s former campaign headquarters isn’t a different enough experience in its own right, Corrick assures prospective diners that they can expect a continually evolving and exciting menu at the Cherry House. ‘We change the menu every two weeks’ he says, ‘which means I’m constantly looking for inspiration for new dishes. A lot of that comes from the new fruit and veg products that are coming through and I have a library of cookery books which I read at night and bounce ideas off other ideas. I’ll look at something and think “Oh, that could be nice but maybe it needs such-and-such” so I’ll adapt it or mix it with something else.’

But creating a new menu every two weeks, while also striving to keep it inventive, interesting and varied is no easy task as Corrick himself admits. ‘It does get harder and we do sometimes repeat dishes but only because people like them and have requested them. Customers phone up and ask if we have a particular dish on the menu that week and often we don’t but if that’s what they want then we’ll do it.’

Corrick also upholds a policy of traditional fine dining standards that he believes are now missing from too many establishments. ‘I would say that we are a more complete package than most restaurants in that we’re about the service as well as the food. The ‘fine’ in fine dining is just as much related to the service as it is to the food. In a lot of places you get your food plonked on the table, you eat it, and the plates get taken away. And your wine is put on the table but you have to pour it yourself. When you come to the Cherry House it’s all done for you. You can have a drink in the bar area and choose from the menu then a waitress will take you through to the restaurant, taking your drinks on a tray, and will sit you at your table, putting your napkins on your knee. It’s simple little things like being served a freshly baked bread roll which make the difference. Your wine is poured for you too – it’s the whole experience. A customer commented just the other day how rare it is to see crisp white napkins neatly folded on tables these days but that’s what we’re all about – small touches that add up to a memorable experience.’

Having won an AA Rosette at The Swallow Hotel, Corrick says he would like to repeat the feat at the Cherry House (it’s the establishment which gets the credit for the award, not the chef) though he does admit to being a little sceptical of chasing culinary award for their own sake. ‘I wouldn’t go chasing a Michelin star for example. For one thing, I think there’s only a limited number of places which will ever be awarded them. And if you’re chasing a Michelin star it comes at a cost and it doesn’t necessarily put money in the till. I’d need to have a brigade of chefs in the kitchen – which I couldn’t afford – and I’d need more people front-of-house too. It’s not just about the complexity of the food you’re serving but about the amount of staff you have. Throw money at it and you can get a Michelin star but, like I say, it doesn’t mean it’s going to bring any more customers or any more money into your establishment.’

A passion for good food has been in Corrick’s family since his childhood days growing up in Devon. One of his brothers is currently executive chef at the RAC Club in Pall Mall and another works in an upmarket golf club in Birmingham. Corrick puts the siblings’ interest in cookery down to there being little else to do in the rural area of their youth. ‘I think a lot of it was down to the sleepy town of Sidmouth where we were brought up because before the computer age there wasn’t really much to do. My brothers got into cheffing so I started out doing the washing up in a local hotel but I was always looking over my shoulder to see what the chefs were doing and in that way I started learning and caught the bug.’

While he later went on to be officially trained as a chef at Exeter College (where he was top student for two years running), Corrick says it’s still perfectly possible to make it as a chef purely on talent and experience without the need for any formal qualifications. ‘I went to college full-time because, where I was brought up, there weren’t a lot of people offering apprenticeships so it seemed to be the best route for me, and probably the fastest route to get anywhere. But you don’t really need official qualifications if you’re good enough. People like Raymond Blanc are self-taught.’

The mention of a celebrity chef sparks a mild tirade in Corrick who says he has more admiration for chefs who stay true to their roots and work where they belong – in the kitchen. I’ve been to a few celebrity chefs’ restaurants and I can always sense when they are not on the pas’ he says. ‘In my opinion a lot of these chefs have their fingers in too many pies which makes it difficult for them to concentrate on just the food. A couple of months ago I went to Michel Roux’s place and, to be fair, he was there on the hot plate all night and I admire that. The food was good but, for what we paid, I couldn’t help thinking to myself I could have produced the same thing for a fraction of the price’. Ironically, being a chef can have its downsides, particularly when eating out oneself. ‘Although I enjoy eating out, I always find myself looking at the complexity of the dish. What techniques have been used and how much skill has been involved in creating the dish’. He chuckles to himself, ‘it frustrates my partner as all she wants to do is enjoy the experience – without the analysis!’

But while he’s sceptical of the branded money-making machines that some celebrity chefs have become, Corrick does acknowledge that they have collectively inspired a lot more people to pursue cooking as a career – though he hastens to warn that the reality can be quite different from the image portrayed on TV. ‘At the end of the day you have to love the job to do it because you’re always working while everyone else is out enjoying themselves. That’s the side of the job that you don’t see on the TV very often. A lot of youngsters come into the trade and then realise they’re missing out on their social lives so they pack it in. But it’s the pressure that I like – I seem to thrive on that. I much prefer a busy night to a quiet night, not because of the amount of money that’s going in the till, but because of the actual buzz of it all. Then I’ll stand at the bar at the end of the night and speak to people as they’re leaving and it’s another real buzz to get their feedback and see how appreciative they are of what we’ve done.’

Despite the long and often unsociable hours involved, there can be perks to the job if you’re good enough at it. Corrick has catered at more than 50 pre-premiere movie screenings and met some real Hollywood big hitters. ‘We used to get quite a few film stars attending but the nicest person I met was Richard Attenborough. He came out to the kitchen and had a chat with us. He was getting ready to head off down the M1 in his vintage Rolls Royce so I offered to make him some packed food to go. Over the years, I’ve met a few actors and stars who have not been very approachable or particularly friendly, but Richard was really nice and down to earth. Unfortunately the recession put an end to all that so we don’t get to do it any more.’

Many of the dishes Corrick cooked for the press and media at screenings were themed to reflect the movies being shown. One of the dates was with Madhur Jaffrey (famed Indian chef) so we had to do an Indian lunch’ he says. ‘She tasted it and liked it and at the following date a guy from GMTV came up to me and asked if Madhur Jaffrey had had anything to do with the Indian lunch. I told him no, it was me, and he commented that he had heard that she had been taking all the praise for it in the newspapers! So I suppose it was a compliment of sorts!’

With catering for the film industry on hold, at least for the time being, Corrick is free to concentrate on making the dining experience at the Cherry House as enjoyable – and reasonably priced – as possible. ‘We offer what I consider to be good, honest food and we charge a fair price for it so people get a good package when they come to the Cherry House. We operate a fixed price menu. If people want to go mad on wines and things they can, but they know they can come here and eat a three course meal and coffee for £26.95 or Sunday lunch for £20.50 and they get a good meal for that and that’s what we’re all about.’

Interview and photo shoot over, Corrick removes his chef’s whites and guides us out of the tiny kitchen that has for so long cramped his style. He shows us the secret passage that runs out of the back of the building, supposedly constructed for use by Cromwell to flee from Royalist troops. ‘Yeah, it was used by burglars once too’ Corrick says with a look of distaste.

Bloody Oliver Cromwell.

The Cherry House Restaurant
125 Church Street, Werrington, Peterborough, PE4 6QF
Tel: 01733-571721

Opening Times
Monday – Closed
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 12-2pm,
Sunday 12-2.30pm
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 6.30-10pm
* Booking strongly advised

Table d’hote Menu @ £26.95 per person (inc VAT)

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