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Suffolk restaurateur Zack Deakins explains why he isn’t going down the set menu route in the run-up to Christmas at his Bury St Edmunds restaurant 1921

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Six Saturdays until Christmas. . . at 1921 we tend to measure any amount of time by the number of Saturdays we have to push through, and I know it's cliché but where the hell has this year gone?

Just before writing this, I had a quick flick through the columns I wrote in November and December of last year. In them, I talk about the November lockdown and the tier 2 restrictions that then followed. It is mad how quickly all of that has faded into memory and is now well behind us. Day-to-day life in the restaurant has returned almost completely to the way it was and if it weren’t for the masks, you could easily forget any of it ever happened.

What a surreal two years we have all been through.

Christmas table (52976129)
Christmas table (52976129)

Last year, Christmas was almost a footnote. This year, it is shining brightly on the horizon as something we can all really look forward to.

Now I know talk of Christmas in November will always upset some people, but the reality is from a restaurant point of view Christmas actually starts in three weeks. Then we have the busiest period of the year, so we must be prepared.

December in restaurants is a month of full octane, caffeine and adrenaline-fuelled chaos. Everyday becomes a Saturday and we will be flat out all the way to the 23rd when we close for our Christmas break.

A lot of establishments offer a festive or Christmas party set menu and up until last year so did we. I had always felt this wasn’t very us, it just makes the month feel kind of sterile, but that’s just what you did in December. All the uncertainty of last year gave us the perfect opportunity to break away from that. We decided much earlier in the year that we couldn’t plan on what was going to be going on in December, so we just wouldn’t. We would carry on as if it was a normal month, of course a very busy month, but we would run our normal menus – our lunch and dinner menus as well as our five and seven course tasting menu.

Now I know it wasn’t exactly a normal month, but it went amazingly well, and it felt great to break away from pre orders and party menus. Instead, we were able to cook the dishes we wanted to cook in the present, rather than ones we had dreamed up in August. It meant that if a new ingredient came in, we could change the menu and do something new. I remember last year putting a new dish on when we only had two days until we closed. Equally, if the quality of an ingredient wasn’t there, we didn’t have to use it just because someone had pre-ordered it two months ago.

All this, in turn, means the guests that come and dine with us in December get the true 1921 experience. So, although it certainly doesn’t make our lives any easier, it does make them happier, and we can relax and just be ourselves.

It will be a frantic month, but as always we look forward to the challenge, and when we get to our Christmas break the feeling that we earned it will be well worth it.

Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds.

Call 01284 704870

Visit nineteen-twentyone.co.uk