DN1 Delicatessen and Dining Room: How a traditional deli named Yorkshire's best is aiming to win Doncaster's first ever Michelin star
DN1 is, by Sarah Wilson’s own admission, well off the beaten track trod by food inspectors and critics. It’s beneath a Premier Inn in Doncaster city centre, surrounded by a large car park. Yet inside a gastronomic revolution is brewing.
Doncaster has never before had an establishment that has been awarded a star, and it was only three years ago when the city was first mentioned in the Michelin Guide after the inclusion of seafood bar Clam & Cork, which announced its closure this autumn.
Before DN1 opened, diners would struggle to even find a tasting menu in Doncaster - yet high net worth individuals are now drawn to its intimate, 22-cover chef’s table and restaurant with a choice of three, five or eight courses.
Sarah and partner Martyn Pippard, who began their business with a fish stand at Doncaster Market, took over the shop on High Fishergate when their emotions got the better of them. Previously an international foods store, it had been run for many years by the Scicluna family, who came to the area from Malta.
Eighteen months ago, Sarah was browsing the shelves when Josephine Scicluna told her she wanted to step back from the delicatessen for health reasons.
"The deli was always a jewel in Doncaster’s crown, but also a bit of a diamond in the rough. Scicluna’s was the place where everyone went when they couldn’t find an ingredient in the supermarkets. When Josephine told me she was thinking of giving up the lease, I thought it was the worst possible news for the food industry in Doncaster. We’d been looking for a restaurant premises, and Josephine already had a small coffee shop area. I thought after a refurbishment it would make a great chef’s bench and dining room. We came to a deal pretty quickly – it was an emotional purchase for us.”
Josephine has remained on board, her experience combining with Sarah and Martyn’s fresh ideas and promotional nous.
"We are getting the culinary scene up a level. The lower end of the market in Doncaster is flooded, but there is nothing in the upper tier. We want to be like the Harrods food hall – we are not on that scale, but people come here for high quality. Ultimately, we didn’t want Doncaster to lose this place.”
No immediate changes were made, while Sarah assessed her customers’ buying habits and how they used the space. Nine months ago, she introduced a new layout and modernised the aesthetics to highlight the huge 12-metre deli counter, where Iberian hams and 130 cheeses are on display.
Talented chefs have been recruited, stock overhauled and lighting improved. Last month, Yorkshire Life named DN1 the region’s best delicatessen, and other local awards have followed.
"When the judges visited and asked us why we should win, I said these titles always go to places like Bettys and Weetons, with products for tourists rather than real local people. Out customers come on the bus from Balby and Bentley. We’re not a fake deli, we’re the heart and soul of a community.”
The result is a diverse clientele who mesh together so well in the dining areas that strangers often end up going for a drink together afterwards.
"We get a lot of younger couples, who are blown away by the value and quality. We’ve had a few celebrities and high-net-worths. We don’t get many elderly people – 30-60 is our core age group. They all have a chat with each other and they come from all over – Harrogate, Wetherby, Knaresborough, Sheffield, and further afield. Social media has spread the word about us, but we also get a lot of local people who wander in to look at the cheeses and end up having three courses.
"We are ideally situated, away from the heart of town, where it is quieter, and having the car park next to us helps.”
A modest expansion is planned to increase the deli space, but Sarah and Martyn don’t intend to raise their capacity above 30 covers, as they prefer to maintain quality at manageable levels with their five kitchen staff.
And as for that Michelin star?
"People review us and say we are Michelin standard. If we don’t get at least a Michelin Guide recommendation, I have wasted my time.
"I haven’t been anywhere where the food is better than what my chefs can produce. Doncaster deserves it, but will the inspectors come and find us? We can’t request a Michelin visit. I’d like to drag Jay Rayner back (the Guardian critic reviewed Clam & Cork in 2018) but it is down to luck whether we get noticed.
"People often say ‘go now before it gets a Michelin star!’ ”