Alex (right) with Lawrence Butler, his restaurant partner
Alex Rushmer shares the story of how his new Mill Road restaurant, which opens this month, came to fruition
Way back in October last year, it was with some degree of trepidation – but mostly a significant level of excitement – I announced I would be opening a new restaurant on Mill Road. The timeline of the project actually goes back further than that, with ideas being thrown around ever since I returned from Switzerland at the end of 2017. The genesis was an amorphous mass of swirling plans hooked on the briefest of concepts. Watching it evolve and take shape ever since has been an adventure in and of itself and, after a lengthy and sometimes difficult gestation, those feelings of trepidation and excitement are swelling up once again as we get ever closer to opening the doors.
For so long, Vanderlyle was nothing more than an idea. It swam around in a small but collective conscious, devoid of mass and meaning outside our own thoughts. Some time after, it became renders on a screen and printouts on pages and pages of A3 paper – the core ideas providing a central hook on which to build a truly exciting and wholly contemporary restaurant space.
Our first designs were scrapped after we began peeling off the layers of what had once been the franchise of a global sandwich company. Underneath the laminate flooring, yellow and green liveried fascia and plastic-clad walls was the shell of something far more exciting, with a historical relevance we did not expect. I came to Cambridge too late to personally experience Barney’s but, having sought out tales of its significance – and seen ghosts of its past gradually reveal themselves as we stripped out the trappings of the sandwich shop – we completely changed our design plan to incorporate as much of the previous inhabitant of 38-40 Mill Road as possible.
‘We allow the fields and the farmers to set the direction of the menu’
Below a thick layer of cement was the original terrazzo tile floor. Beneath beige tiles was a wall bearing graffiti, smoke damage and signage saying ‘merchandise in this store is protected’. Once the illuminated shop sign was removed, the outline of the original name was revealed in an evocative shadow. These, more than anything else, provided context for why we so desperately wanted to be a part of Mill Road’s wonderful community and why we – a firmly independent business – felt it was the perfect place to create a small restaurant.
Although we have been relatively transparent about what Vanderlyle is, we’ve been slightly reticent about exact details. More than anything, Vanderlyle is about delicious food. We have spent months seeking out wonderful local and independent suppliers, farmers, growers, producers and artisans. The restaurant is, above all else, an opportunity for us to showcase the work of committed and hard-working individuals.
The menu is comprised of five courses that ebb and flow with the seasons, wholly dependent on the produce delivered to us every morning by our suppliers. Rather than being led by the kitchen, we allow the fields and farmers to set the direction the menu takes each day. This represents a significant but important shift from the way in which most restaurants work.
The main restaurant space will seat 22, with four more seats available as countertop seating at the pass, with a view directly into the open kitchen. This represents another shift; in most restaurants, the kitchen space is completely separate from the dining area. After spending years hidden away from the people I was cooking for, with only brief interactions, it was a central pillar of the plan that Vanderlyle avoids that separation.
In order to facilitate a genuine balance between work and home for our staff, we are opening for four evenings a week. Built into this is the time and space to create unique one-off events over the course of the year. We may open for the occasional bank holiday brunch or be tempted to cook a roast on a few Sundays a year. The welcoming and open kitchen is the perfect place to host cookery lessons or private parties. The space is a flexible one we want to share with you in as many ways as possible once we open the doors. We can’t wait to see you there soon!