This morning I met up with Arbennig husband and wife team, Ceri and John Cook for a catch-up over a cup of coffee and an exclusive interview. They had some very exciting news to share. Namely, that they have decided to step aside from running their very successful and highly acclaimed Arbennig restaurant and its sister cafe the Arbennig Emporium. Sadly they will shortly be closing their doors on their wonderful restaurant.
As Ceri outlined, they have had the most amazing time at Arbennig. But the time now feels right for a change. Their difficult decision has been largely based on John wanting to be able to spend more time with his family. The life as a chef has meant long days and nights at the restaurant and inevitably missing out on quality family time. When you see his gorgeous children you can see why he is so keen to readdress the balance.
The Story of Arbennig…
Ceri and John opened Arbennig about 4 1/2 years ago in the lovely neighbourhood of Pontcanna, Cardiff. With John being a trained chef they had always dreamt of opening their own restaurant. A restaurant which would showcase local produce with a seasonally changing menu. They weren’t in it for the accolades or awards, they just wanted to make delicious food that would guarantee, as they put it “bums on seats”. A restaurant where their customers would return time and time again to sample their menu.
But it wasn’t long before the awards did come. Arbennig was awarded Fine Dining Restaurant of the year in 2015 and was again listed in 2016. It has also achieved the highest score in Cardiff in the Waitrose Good Food Guide in 2015, 2016 and 2017 along with its listing in the coveted Michelin Guide. As Ceri said “we were never in it for the awards, but we do of course hold the awards in high acclaim and are so honoured to have been recognised in this way”.
Saying goodbye to Arbennig…
With such acclaim and support from their customers, their decision to move on was not an easy one. They both nodded to the market conditions of late and said that it is a tough market to be in. Many other successful restaurants have faltered and have not weathered the storm. You may have seen in the news recently the affect of no shows on restaurants, the consequences of Brexit on supplier prices and the general economic environment which makes the restaurant market a tough one to be in.
Despite that, Arbennig has stayed strong. “We are so proud of what we have achieved. We set up Arbennig on our own. No backers, no banks, nothing. But that has meant we have had to make compromises. We want to move on now, on our terms, while we’re on top and take the opportunity to focus on other things ”. A key thing of course to be in a position to spend more time as a family.
So what will become of Arbennig…
Rest assured, Arbennig is in safe hands. A local chef is taking over the business and Ceri and John wish them every success in taking it forward. I couldn’t get it out of them who, as they both felt it was the incoming owners news to tell. But they were very keen to stress that they wish them well and would hope to visit themselves as customers in the future.
What’s next for Ceri and John…
Last year they took over the Lamb and Flag, a quaint and charming pub in the village of Wick. Saying goodbye to Arbennig will mean that they have more time to focus on taking this business forward. “The first year has been spent learning about the business and getting to know our locals. We have some exciting plans in place which we hope will be well received with both our current and new customers” said Ceri.
In addition John has started some consultancy work, working with local restaurants on their menus. He has been working with Oscars in Cowbridge, where he worked previously for a number of years, and is very excited to be a part of their new summer menu which launches this week. He also has a couple of ideas in the pipeline but was keeping these close to his chest. With the twinkle in his eye, I would bet on some exciting things ahead.
He did divulge however that he would be at the Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival later in the month and would be joined by his friend Imran Nathoo, who made it through to knockout week on Masterchef 2017.
Finally a message of thanks to their customers and staff …
Throughout our chat, both Ceri and John were keen to ensure that their gratitude was passed on to their customers and their staff. “We want to thank all the staff, past and present, for helping us achieve what we set out to do, we couldn’t have done it without them, they are like family to us”.
“We’re eternally grateful to each and every customer for their support. We appreciate it more than they could ever imagine. We’re hoping our customers find the time to come and say goodbye to us for one last meal.”
Ceri and John will no doubt be hugely missed in Pontcanna, but at least they are not leaving the restaurant industry. As ‘Arbennig’ translates from Welsh into ‘Special’, the true meaning of the word lives on in Ceri and John and I for one can not wait to see what else these two will be bringing to the foodie scene in the coming months ahead.
To keep up to date on what’s next for Ceri and John, you can follow them below via facebook and twitter:
To read more about the Lamb and Flag, Wick, why not take a look at our previous review here.