Chef profile - Richard Johns of the Hovingham Inn

No one ever claimed running a small independent restaurant was easy, but few can have had quite such a bumpy ride as chef Richard Johns and his wife Lindsey who last July took on the Hovingham Inn, in Hovingham, North Yorkshire.

The Hovingham Inn is renowned for serving cutting-edge comfort food.
The Hovingham Inn is renowned for serving cutting-edge comfort food.

Roll back 15 years to Artisan, a jewel box of a restaurant in a tiny Georgian town house in Hessle, near Hull. Richard cooked refined, elegant dishes with Lindsey front of house. Despite good reviews and a mountain of awards, Richard began to obsess that if they were to take the business to the next level, they needed a Michelin star. “I got myself into a state,” he remembers, so after ten years when the lease was up and no star, the Johns threw in the towel and closed Artisan, saying they had taken it as far as it could go.

In 2014, after some time out, Richard remembers: “I finally came to my senses and stopped beating myself up.” Out cycling, Richard fell upon the Falcon Inn at Withernwick, 10 miles east of Hull, a village so remote that he had never heard of it. Over two years and in the face of local resistance, they succeeded in turning “a boys drinking club” into a pub with food and created a good local following but they didn’t have the confidence to put everything into the Falcon.

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Next came Rascills, a former cafe just outside the village of Raskelf, between York and Thirsk. Richard continued to send out his trade-mark dishes of modern British food to appreciative diners, but Raskelf was on no-one’s tourist trail.

The Hovingham Inn near York.

Last stop Hovingham where they landed in 2018, and after a total renovation opened in July last year. It seemed to be a turning point: a handsome inn in a pretty sandstone village on a through-route to the North York Moors and the coast.

Business took off, bookings were good, they were well supported and with every table booked for Mother’s Day they were on a roll, or so they thought. Then Covid-19 struck, tables were cancelled and business dribbled away. They never made it to Mother’s Day. Now they are preparing takeaways to reheat at home.

What’s the first dish you remember cooking? I was going to be a professional footballer. I trained with Scunthorpe United and played at county level. I was 21 before I started cooking, it was probably spaghetti Bolognese.

Who is your culinary inspiration? Gary Rhodes is to blame. I watched him on the telly and that sparked an interest, and also Brett Graham at the Ledbury – he’s a world class chef.

Is there a cookery book that has inspired you? I have a massive collection but the first one I ever bought was Rhodes Around Britain. I’ve still got it.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Quality food in general. I love food – it can be a bacon sandwich or a three-star Michelin dinner.

What ingredient could you not manage without? The basics: salt and pepper, unsalted butter, eggs and there’s always water on to boil. I want to cook food that makes people happy. “Cutting- edge comfort food” is how one customer described it and I’m happy with that.

What are you doing during this enforced break? We are taking stock and trying to work out how we can come out of this and make it work. I’m cycling again and enjoying upping my fitness level. We’ve just got two kittens who are keeping us entertained.

Dishes are available from the Hovingham Inn Your Home on Saturdays and Sundays; 01653 628428, [email protected],