Belle & Joe's Kitchen at Timmermans Garden Centre in Nottingham was conceived as a "restaurant within a garden centre" to deliver restaurant-quality food at garden centre prices and to complement and reflect the high-quality plant offer of the centre. Now in its fourth year, licensed and with full waitress service, Belle & Joe's Kitchen continues to grow and excel.
Belle & Joe's Bus, a converted 1961 Routemaster, takes its catering on the road and has proved to be a brilliant marketing tool. Turnover has risen by 16 per cent in the past year and average gross margin is at a healthy level.
The emphasis is on great home cooking prepared from scratch and superb home baking "worthy of Bake Off". The core values are locally sourced fresh ingredients; excelling in homemade food and home baked cakes; creating an affordable luxury experience; giving chefs freedom to demonstrate their talents; and building trust with the customer through transparency and food provenance to innovate, inspire and excite.
At the heart of the catering is an ethos of freshly prepared food using quality seasonal ingredients from local producers and suppliers. Eggs come from hens in the village, milk from the local dairy, bread from the local baker, meat from the local butcher and seasonal vegetables from local farms.
This includes Starkey's famous Nottinghamshire strawberries and Hardstaff's carrots. The centre also grows some of Belle & Joe's own produce, such as rocket, salads and herbs in the greenhouse. Coffee is from an artisan roasting house in Derbyshire.
Main meals are generally priced at or below £10, making the accompanying vegetable element more interesting and seasonal. Food is made from scratch by five full-time chefs, two more experienced chefs having been added last year.
Chef Matt is known for his delicious hearty soups, cakes, sticky fruit-laden flapjacks, bara briths and scones. Ian is known for his artisan breads, pizzas and calzones made in the pizza oven with fresh homemade dough bases as well as risottos, and has a superb talent in making the glossiest sauces imaginable.
Highlights from the spring menu include slow-roasted lamb shanks and homemade seasonal cream of asparagus soup. The summer menu features salads with home-baked artisan breads, while winter sees hearty stews, pies and crumbles.
All cakes are home-made and, after coffee, are the biggest-selling item by volume. Typically, there are around 15 different varieties including chocolate and beetroot, courgette, elderflower and lemon and lavender cupcakes. Home-made cakes and desserts are the largest group of higher-margin foods.
The centre has introduced an improved ambient cake display and replaced the refrigerated patisserie display with a larger and better model that has improved lighting for the expanded cake range. The "Home-made cakes of the day" blackboard helped achieve large growth in this food category.
Chefs have excelled in making the daily specials selection exciting and enticing. The kitchen is "open" and food is prepared to order. With nearly 4,000 Facebook "likes", Timmermans has added 2,000 this year.
Belle & Joe's Kitchen Bus pioneered the street food trend in a 1961 London Routemaster bus fitted out with a kitchen on the bottom deck and customer seating on the top, serving favourites such as bacon butties, cakes and a signature burger that comes with rocket, mature cheddar and tomato chutney.
The restaurant interior features ambient low pendant lighting and possesses quirky details such as empty Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup pots on the tables for cutlery.
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