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Raising the bar

The Chapel Restaurant and Bar is a refined yet contemporary dining destination housed within the historic confines of The Bodmin Jail Hotel in the heart of Cornwall. Words by Hannah Tapping.

It has had many different aliases throughout its timeline, from being the chapel for an 18th-century prison to a 1930s nightclub and casino known as the 99 Club. Now, The Chapel Restaurant and Bar is a destination for food lovers to congregate and appreciate its refined yet contemporary dishes, surrounded by the dramatic original stonework, Victorian features and an impressive light show.

Upon entering guests are taken on a journey back in time with modern comforts along the way. The atmosphere is relaxed to allow diners to focus on their palette and fully experience the culinary timeline whilst ‘breaking bread’.

Executive Head Chef Dane Watkins takes inspiration from The Chapel’s history and the origins of fine dining techniques from across the globe. Dane puts his stamp on each dish by adding a contemporary and modern twist while embracing his hugely talented kitchen brigade’s forward-thinking ideas and imparting his experience and knowledge to them. Each dish features locally grown and sourced ingredients. The menu is frequently adapted to the season to ensure low food miles and to showcase the finest Cornish produce.

In conversation with Dane, we discover the inspiration and nuances behind the chef and his food.

What inspires your dishes and what it’s like to head up the kitchen at The Chapel Restaurant and Bar?

I create dishes that come mostly from nostalgia; dishes my nan or mum used to create, but created using new techniques and the skillset I have honed from being a chef for over 20 years.


Please can you tell us a little about the ethos of the menu and why it was created? 

The menu changes based on its availability  or as soon as an ingredient goes out of season – last year’s cherry harvest was only available for two weeks! We create an experience menu which changes on a monthly basis, allowing myself and my team a chance to be creative with produce and keeping us on our toes in terms of bringing new dishes to the table.


Can you talk me through some of the key ingredients in one of your signature dishes?

Our new-season lamb dish uses wild garlic which I forage from my sister’s land, and lamb from the hillsides near Fowey. We confit the belly, then pan fry it to give a delicious crispy finish. We then roast the noisette (the meat taken from a rack of lamb, but without the bones) to give a deliciously tender and moist piece of meat. This combination means that diners can experience two different textures of lamb on the same plate. 

What does sourcing locally mean to you?

We source locally wherever possible, which assures quality and provenance. Local butcher James Kittow, rears the Ruby Red cows we use here at Bodmin Jail and he also supplies us with the lamb that comes from nearby fields. We have always used Celtic Fish and Game, who recently won a Taste of the West award for their exquisite smoked salmon.

Are there any particularly special methods that are needed to create these dishes?

I am very lucky to have ‘foodie’ employers. They gave me free rein on how I kitted out the kitchen, so many of the new methods of cooking in professional kitchens are all very much in practise here.  

How would you describe the restaurant offering and experience? 

We have two menus to choose from; our Chapel Experience menu, which is a tasting menu showcasing the local produce of the month; or our market menu, which changes, sometimes daily, in regards to what is available from our greengrocer – some of these dishes are tweaked and then showcased on the Experience menu. Product knowledge is extremely important to me and needs to be able to be explained at the table if asked. We often have tastings for the waiting staff so they can explain the ingredients and techniques used. 

Can you set the scene for diners by describing the restaurant space?

We have a 60-cover restaurant, and I love seeing it busy. The buzz from a fully-booked night is elating, but somehow never feels crowded. I put that down to the beautifully designed high ceilings in the dining room, they truly are impressive.  We cater for all diners, if you want a quiet booth to people-watch, we have many. Or take one of the centre tables and benefit from the amazing images beamed onto the ceiling from our six state-of-the-art projectors.

And your wine list, are there any particular favourites you can recommend? 

We have a wonderful bottle called The Guv’Nor, a Tempranillo and Syrah blend, which was bought in reference to the governors of the Jail, but has won our palates and is one of the only wines that myself and the team never disagree on!

The Chapel Restaurant and Bar’s new tasting menu is available at £75pp, advance booking is advised.


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