The Butchers Social began life in an old butchers shop in Harborne. A one-off event soon turned into a nine-month venture due to the popularity of the food and the relaxed atmosphere. We caught up with owner Mike Bullard to discuss the journey to date, his favourite dish and who he thinks is the Chef to watch in the Midlands in 2020.
Wow, what a journey The Butchers Social has been through, from an original one night pop up in a closed-down Butchers shop (complete with chipboard tables) to where you are now in Henley in Arden. We know the pace of this industry sometimes leaves little time for reflection, but how does it feel looking back to that first night, up to now?
It feels great, and I’m so, so proud… but we’re not finished growing yet, and we still have so much in the pipeline. We are going from strength to strength, and it’s really exciting to look at what we would like to be in five years. The industry is bloody hard at the moment with a lot of uncertainty, but at the moment, we’re growing nicely, so we’re focusing on that.
What were the biggest challenges when opening the restaurant?
The biggest challenge without a doubt has been staffing. Our industry is not seen widely as a career and more of a stop-gap for people that are looking for a different path. It’s been difficult to keep a consistent team as they are only doing it in between studies, jobs, and career changes, or often people that want a little bit of extra cash. It’s also been difficult to get staff to more of a rural area, particularly if they don’t drive. I’ve spoken to many chefs and restauranteurs, and this seems to be a common theme throughout.
Why Henley in Arden as a location?
Henley in Arden is a beautiful place. Stunning buildings, lots of diverse shops and businesses on the high street. I found that Henley is full of really encouraging people and has such a community spirit. There has been so much support from all the locals and businesses since we opened just over three years ago, and we’re always so grateful for that.
How would you best summarise your cooking style and ultimately that of The Butchers Social?
Our cooking is summed up as good food, cooked properly, in an environment that makes you feel comfortable. We focus on seasonal ingredients that we use in the best possible way. We like to play with ideas and develop them into some wonderful dishes, like our salted caramel chicken wings, for example. We make everything from scratch, which I think makes us different from the rest in our category. We like to think of ourselves as that middle-ground between gastropub and Michelin-starred fine dining.
You went from a pop-up to a full restaurant, which now includes an A la Carte Menu, Sunday Lunch Menu and Tasting Menu. How did you evolve those original dishes into the full menus we can try today?
The last three years have been a constant evolution, and it’s a credit to the team that I have around me how far we have come. Everyone works so hard to provide an offering that fits all. We took some of the original dishes and developed them into some great dishes today by just having a go – if something doesn’t work, then we change and try again. There’s no harm in trying, and it’s this drive to keep learning, growing, and experimenting that has helped develop us so far.
What is your favourite dish on the menu, and why?
Apart from the salted caramel chicken wings and our infamous Sunday lunch, I’d have to say the roast pork loin, crispy belly, black pudding ravioli, savoy cabbage, perry jus.
Throughout your career, you have held some high profile roles, including a Consultant Exec Chef at a Premier League Football Club. You also spent some time working in kitchens in New York including Le Bernadin (3*), Per Se (3*) and The Breslin (1*). What were those experiences like, especially being away from home?
I have been lucky enough to work in some fantastic kitchens: some for not very long and some for maybe too long! The aim was to gain as much experience as possible from as many different styles of kitchens. I worked at a football club organising 3,500 covers; BBQ for 5000; all the way through to private dining experiences, fine dining restaurants, contract catering, pubs, hotels, and private yachts.
This year I have been away working with a high profile golfer, looking after him and his dietary needs during a major competition. To me, there is so much emphasis on where people have worked or what their CV looks like. In the process, we forget the fundamentals of why we do this: to create and cook a delicious plate of food!
Working away is always difficult because I miss my family and home life, but I’ve had some fantastic experiences that I can say I have done and I’m proud of each and every one of them.
The food scene in the West Midlands is very much alive at the moment. When you get the chance to get out of the kitchen, where do you like to eat?
Not much chance of getting out when you have a restaurant to run, but some of my favourite places that I have been to recently are Adams, Cheals, Purnells, and The Boat Inn. The West Midlands is coming to life with some great restaurants and hopefully can continue to produce some great chefs.
Who do you think is the next Chef to watch in the local area?
Liam Dillion at The Boat Inn in Lichfield
What piece of advice would give to Chefs out there looking to grow their pop-ups into a permanent restaurant?
Just have a go. If it doesn’t work, then try again. Don’t be afraid and stick to your own identity. Be creative.
You have come so far, but where do see The Butchers Social in 5 years time? What else would you like to achieve?
I would like to see The Butchers Social still growing at the rate that we have done in the last three years and continue to re-invest back into the business, continually changing so that the guest experience stays alive. It would be great to be thinking about the next venue and where that location might be, but we are in no rush. We still have a lot to do here!
Ok, you are hosting a dinner party. Which three guests would you like to invite?
Sat Bains, Claude Bosi, Tom Kerridge
A Quick Chat
Your favourite restaurant?
The Clove Club, London
What will be the next food trend?
Your guess is as good as mine!
Worst food trend?
Guilty Food Pleasure?
About Mike Bullard
He started his apprenticeship at Metro Bar & Grill Birmingham, and moved through the ranks within the Lovely Pub Company, eventually leaving to gain a wide range of experience with contract catering, outside catering and working in a teaching environment (University College Birmingham).
Having gained his experience, Mike was approached to take a look at the food and service offering at West Bromwich Albion as Consultant Executive Chef. He took it by the scruff of the neck and improved it overnight. This led to him winning multi awards and gaining recognition within the industry very quickly.
With this he then took himself to complete Stages in New York at Le Bernadin (3 Michelin Star), Per Se (3 Michelin Star), and The Breslin (1 Michelin Star).
Back from New York he then became a private chef & Consultant to the rich and famous including super yachts and private chateaux’s using some of the worlds best produce.
Now, Mike has moved to the quaint town of Henley in Arden after a short pop up restaurant in Harborne to a new project called The Butchers Social.