The Motorist, Sherburn in Elmet: Behind the scenes of car enthusiasts' showroom and restaurant The Arnage with owner Simon Spinks

The Motorist is far more than just a vanity project for car-lover Simon Spinks - it is a labour of love and a paradise for petrol heads. Catherine Scott meets him and the head chef of its new restaurant The Arnage. Main pictures by James Hardisty.

Simon Spinks was just four years old when he fell in love with cars. “My grandad had Alvis cars and I remember being about four years old and sitting on his knee and being allowed to steer one of them - I’ve still got that car.”

Since then cars have been a big influence in Spinks’s life.

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It was while making a kit car with his dad that he came up with the idea for the innovative mattress pocket spring that once sold would seal the future for the fifth generation family business, Harrison Spinks. He has also gone on to collect ‘two or three nice cars’ and loves nothing more than tinkering with them and then taking them for a drive.

Simon Spinks at The Motorist Sherburn in Elmet

But he struggled to find anywhere in the North of England to show off his cars to like-minded people. The Leeds businessman, who also owns Spinks Events, bought a disused unit on an airfield near Sherburn in Elmet four years ago.

“I bought it to make (bed) springs as the factory in Leeds was hitting capacity, “ explains Spinks, who tries to locally source as much as he can for his mattresses. from drawing the wire for the unique spring technology to growing natural fillings on their own 300-acre farm in Tadcaster.

But while planning how to renovate the old unit, Spinks hit on another idea.

“I had been thinking for some time that we needed somewhere in the North where people with nice cars could come together. I thought we’d put a bit of a workshop in as well.”

Simon Spinks and chef Ian Matfin in the cafe and showroom at the Motorist

He decided to organise a meeting of car enthusiasts on his site at Sherburn one Sunday and put on a wagon serving coffee and sausage sandwiches and advertised it on social media.

“Three hundred and fifty cars turned up. And the numbers have been growing ever since. On the last the last Bank Holiday they have more than 1,200 cars. I thought we’d get petrol heads like me.

“But what surprised me was the number of families coming for a day out to show off their pride and joy and to appreciate other people’s. We have everything from Ferraris to an old Fiesta. More people were gathered round the Fiesta than the Ferrari - even the Ferrari owner. It really doesn’t matter what your car is.”

He created a garage so that people could have their cars worked on and soon realised that he needed more than a small food van to cater for the hungry masses that attended the events every Sunday. And so he added a cafe.

Simon and Ian in the new Arnage motor racing themed restaurant at the Motirist

“Nothing was planned,” admits Spinks. “It all grew pretty organically from the demand as we perceived it.”

The cafe also was an ideal place to show off some of his cars. But also those that people wanted to sell.

“The cars in the showroom change, which in turn encourage people to visit more often. My aim is for people to come into the cafe for a burger and leave with an MG,” he jokes. The Motorist is now part of Harrison Spinks Events, which also includes the Grade II-listed Hornington Manor, The Oakwood at Ryther and more recently wedding venue Carlton Manor.

“There is a great team behind The Motorist,” says Spinks. “I like to view myself as more of a customer, which means I can give meaningful feedback.”

Simon's son Daniel helped design the restaurant and source the memorabilia and merchandising

Although you do get the feeling this talented entrepreneur still has a big say in how The Motorist is developed.

The latest addition is a massive extension to the existing cafe, full of oak beams and glass, and oozing with motoring memorabilia and merchandise much of it sourced by Spinks’s son Daniel. He has two children, Emily has autism and is a talented artist.

The extension houses conference rooms and events spaces that can be hired for private parties, as well as a restaurant with balcony, The Arnage, which was officially opened on Thursday by motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter Quentin Wilson.

“We wanted somewhere where people could come, book a table and have a nice Sunday lunch and a bottle of nice wine ­- obviously if they aren’t driving - and enjoy yourself whether you were into cars or not. We take safety very seriously here.”

And it is clear he does - on the long approach to The Motorist there are often repeated signs urging people to keep their speed down.

The Arnage, named after a famous bend on the Le Mans circuit, is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a menu with a distinct motoring theme - not a trick has been missed from the black and white photographs of racing drivers to an actual classic car in the dining room.

There is a also a workshop at the Motorist

Ian Matfin is The Arnage’s head chef having worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc and Michael Caines.

Having worked in numerous high-profile establishments including: Claridge’s, Gordon Ramsay restaurants, Abode in Manchester and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, self-confessed petrol head Matfin jumped at the chance to head up The Arnage.

“I was just 18 when I worked under Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine which was his first venture on his own,” recalls Matfin who now lives in Knaresborough.

“It was a difficult environment for any 18-year-old but I felt it was something I needed to do. I wanted to prove people, who said I couldn’t do it,wrong.”

After 18 months Matfin moved to the far more sedate Le Manoir Aux ‘Quat Saison.

“Raymond Blanc was unbelievable and it was a privilege working with him.”

After two years and aged just 23 Matfin moved to Devon to work for Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park. Caines had lost his arm in a car crash just a few years earlier.

“It was inspiring watching Michael work,” says Matfin. “His disability was never an issue. The strength of character needed to retrain after losing an arm was remarkable. The only thing he couldn’t do was tie his own apron and so every morning I’d do it for him. It takes a very special character to come back from something like that at such a young age.”

He also worked for Caines in Manchester before working in Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire and then moving to Yorkshire at the Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey before being made executive chef at Rockliffe Hall. Yorkshire chef Steph Moon was involved in the process to recruit Matfin to run The Arnage and he started in February creating a menu with the philosophy of serving contemporary British food and drinks that appeal to all, with a nod to the racing world.

The menu includes a selection of dishes on the ‘Starting Grid’, such as sea salt and rosemary focaccia and honey glazed pork chipolatas, with the ‘Formation Lap’ offering the likes of crispy ham hock fritter and whipped chicken liver parfait.

For the ‘Main Event’, The Arnage menu features British classics such as steak & ale pie, battered fresh east coast haddock and moules frites, which can be served alongside ‘Co Driver’ sides such as skin on fries and truffle baked mash.

The venue itself is designed by Daniel Spinks and in-house designer, Hayley Melling. The space includes 78 covers in the downstairs restaurant, 100 covers in its corporate upstairs lounge, Club Le Mans, as well as an additional 24 covers split across three different private dining rooms.

As well as Sunday car meetings, there are Wednesday evening events. But is Spinks worried that The Motorist might become a victim of its own success, and attract the wrong sort of crowd?

“We have never had any problems. Everyone who comes is like-minded and tends to police themselves, But of course we are aware that as word spreads we could attract a different element, but we will be able to handle it.”

The Motorist is a unique and unexpected place which is clearly born out of passion for cars and food as well as from a man who knows his business.

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One of Ian Matfin's dishes that are being service in the new Arnage restaurant