Restaurant Fiftytwo: Inside Harrogate's newest fine dining experience in five shipping containers and no menus

There’s a new kid on the block when it come to fine dining in Yorkshire – and this one is made out of shipping containers and you have no idea whatyou are going to eat. Catherine Scott reports.

When I arrive at restaurant Fiftytwo there is a tray of freshy picked (and washed) radishes on the bar that have been lovingly laid out in rows and a sink full of Welsh Onions that have clearly been cherished.

One of the chefs is sorting through an array of different herbs and edible flowers, all freshly picked from the Kitchen Garden just a few paces away and delivered by Kitchen Gardener Emma Pugh, who has been lovingly tending the raised beds that supply Rudding’s chefs with fresh produce on a daily basis.

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And this is where the story of restaurant Fiftytwo begins – it even takes its name from the 52 raised beds that grow more than 500 different varieties of vegetables and herbs. It is the relationship between the kitchen garden and the restaurant that is at the essence of this latest offering on the Harrogate culinary scene. So much so that the restaurant is actually made out of five shipping containers placed as close as possible kitchen garden. In fact, weather permitting, guests start their immersive dining experience with a drink and a ‘snack’ (canape to you and me) in the garden and can wander at leisure surveying what is very likely to be on their plate – a ten course blind tasting menu (£115) (six courses on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday £85).

Adam Degg outside Fiftytwo restaurant built out of five shipping containers at Rudding Park, HarrogatePicture: Olivia Brabbs PhotographyAdam Degg outside Fiftytwo restaurant built out of five shipping containers at Rudding Park, HarrogatePicture: Olivia Brabbs Photography
Adam Degg outside Fiftytwo restaurant built out of five shipping containers at Rudding Park, HarrogatePicture: Olivia Brabbs Photography

It is the brainchild of head chef Adam Degg (who made his inaugural appearance on BBC’s The Great British Menu this year) and the two Mackaness brothers, whose family have owned Rudding Park for more than 50 years. Birmingham-born Adam, who has worked with the likes of Tom Kerridge at the two Michelin starred Hand Flowers, was head chef of Rudding’s previous fine dining establishment three AA rosette, Horto. Adam first entered the cooking world by chance when, at age 16, he and his friend missed the train home from the football. HIs friend's parents owned an Italian restaurant close by and so he ended up washing dishes there when they offered him a ride home. From that point forward, the allure of the kitchen became irresistible to him and he changed his plans of becoming an accountant to go to catering college.

He moved to London to work at Wild Honey. From there he went to Chiltern Firehouse, before moving to the Hand and Flowers, and was part of the team that received The Coach’s Michelin star in Marlow.

And he has his sights firmly set on bringing a Michelin star to Rudding Park. "Some chefs say that’s not why they aspire to do, and of course first and foremost is making guests happy and the awards come second to that but it would be incredible to win a Michelin star,” he says. “When I first started working at Horto I felt that Rudding Park was the sort of place that needed a better fine dining offering. Horto was great but sharing a kitchen with the cafe team at lunchtimes I felt it could be better. Now we have this purpose built space it’s incredible. It’s every chefs dream to open a restaurant and have something as beautiful as this and to actually see the guests eating and enjoying your food. Normally you’d be in a kitchen in a basement but here we are out front.”

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Adam originally had the idea of converting an existing cottage adjacent to the kitchen garden into a fine dining restaurant, but then Nick and Matthew Mackaness came up wit the idea of the shipping containers.

Adam uses fresh produce from the Kitchen Garden in his dishes at Fiftytwo at Rudding ParkAdam uses fresh produce from the Kitchen Garden in his dishes at Fiftytwo at Rudding Park
Adam uses fresh produce from the Kitchen Garden in his dishes at Fiftytwo at Rudding Park

“We try to be sustainable here and so using recycled shipping containers really fitted well into that.” From the outside the shipping containers have not been disguised but once inside you are transported to the interiors of an intimate fine dining restaurant with a glass doors out onto a patio with the kitchen garden beyond. "I wanted to be as close to the garden as possible,” says Adam, who is married to Tesco Community Champion Emily and they have two year old son, Jacob. They juggle the childcare around their work and make sure on their days off they do something as a family.

“It is one of the best kitchen gardens I have seen in my career and I felt it would really bring that experience to guests. People have really taken to it. I think people are looking for more of an experience when they go out to eat. I get to speak to every guest and it is lovely to get their feedback and that is possible because we only have 20 covers a night. ” Adam hopes by having no menus not only ticks the green box, it will encourage people to try new things they wouldn’t normally order. There are also aprons to allow the guests to get involved in some of the preparation and cocktail making and cards on the table to break down barriers for those sitting with people they don’t know “We just want it to be fun.” There are no waiting staff – the chefs serve the food while Alice Porter takes care of the drinks and the money side of things. “We wanted it to be like dining in the chef’s kitchen and having a team of waiting staff would confuse that. The chefs serve everything and clear the tables, trained by Alice.”

But it is the relationship between Fiftytwo, Adam, his three chefs and Emma coupled with the clear passion they all have for the produce they grow and serve that sets them apart.

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"When Emma turns up with a bag of produce like she did today we want to get it on the menu as soon as possible, if we had written menus that would be impossible. Sometimes she will bring things in I’ve never heard of before and it’s super tasty and so I put it on the menu.” Before retraining in horticulture, Emma was a physiotherapist with the NHS. And her passion for both is clear. "I’d always liked plants but I never thought I’d end working with them,” she says. “It must be something to do with the caring gene. It’s a really satisfying job. I am constantly learning. There is no waste." It is an ethos echoed at Fiftytwo where there aren’t even any menus to save paper instead guests are emailed what they’ve eaten when they get home. Emma sends Adam an email on Friday to let him know what’s available in the coming week and what would he like, then she knows what she can offer to the other chefs on a Monday. And it can be challenge for Adam as although Emma can anticipate pretty much what will be ready to harvest, sometimes mother nature doesn’t always play ball. “When things are ready, I need to pick them I can’t let them go to seed – I will have to find another home for them,” she says. "The best thing now, with Fiftytwo is he much more flexible,” says Emma, who has to plant a year in advance. Again that is the whole ethos behind Fiftytwo – Adam changes the menu depending on what he knows will be available that week thanks to Emma. "If I have a glut of say celeriac he will be able to deal with it. But if there is too much it will go to the other restaurants to ensure there’s no waste.” Emma has been experimenting growing small batches of more unusual herbs – often taking her work home with her and growing them initially in tubs at home before moving them to Rudding’s green houses. She hopes that soon there may be a LED lighting polytunnel which will allow them to grow more vegetable and herbs all year round to avoid the need to buy in too much. She says she is still learning how to extend the growing season although Adams team are already busy pickling and preserve produce for the winter. Emma also loves to inspire and educate the young chefs.

Adam Jones (sous chef), Adam Degg, and Emma Pugh (kitchen gardener)Picture Olivia BrabbsAdam Jones (sous chef), Adam Degg, and Emma Pugh (kitchen gardener)Picture Olivia Brabbs
Adam Jones (sous chef), Adam Degg, and Emma Pugh (kitchen gardener)Picture Olivia Brabbs

Is there anything that the chefs request that Emma can’t grow? "They’ve been asking me for Salty Fingers. I have some seeds and I’ve got some germinating in the propagator and they seem to be growing it’s really exciting.” Salty Fingers is a plant that normally grows on the coasts of tropical America and Asia – so Emma has her work cut out growing it in Harrogate – but if anyone can I have a feeling Emma can and the Adam and his team at Fiftytwo will turn them into something incredible on your plate.