Behind the scenes at the 263 Restaurant in Preston
- Credit: Nick Elsby
The team from Preston’s 263 Restaurant have big ambitions – and they won’t let lockdown slow them down
‘We are no less determined than we were before lockdown,’ says Mark O’Rourke, owner of one of Preston’s most impressive dining experiences, 263 Restaurant. ‘Lockdown has been hard, really tough, like it has been for so many, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still aiming for a Michelin star. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to do with 263 and that hasn’t changed. I absolutely want to bring that first star to Preston.’
It’s a bold statement when the restaurant, inside the stylish Winckley Square Hotel, has been open for little over a year – and closed for a chunk of that due to the coronavirus pandemic. But when you have the team Mark has, his ambitions don’t seem so unrealistic.
His kitchen and front of house staff, who are all also Preston born, have worked in some of the country’s best restaurants, from the best in the country, Aughton’s Moor Hall, to the Lake District’s L’Enclume and Forest Side, dining heaven Northcote, and Nottingham’s celebrated Michelin starred Alchemilla.
‘When you add all of the stars this team have had between them, it is quite staggering,’ says Mark, who also runs the popular Fino Tapas, We Don’t Give a Fork and Winckley Ale House in the city. ‘They are an incredibly talented group and I know they are all pushing towards the same goal.
‘I know they will make it happen. People might think it is a crazy idea but not us. What we do here is something quite special.’
At the helm of the kitchen is Tom Dickens, who did an internship at Copenhagen’s internationally renowned NOMA and turned down a job there to go and work with friend and super chef Kevin Tickle at the Michelin-starred Forest Side, just outside Grasmere. He’s also worked at Northcote and travelled the world. The restaurant, which was awarded two AA Rosettes within weeks of opening last year, is his first head chef position. With him on the team are former Alchemilla chef James Prout, former Moor Hall restaurant manager Elliott White, and former Northcote talent, Alex Lister.
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‘I should have been travelling and should have been in Australia now,’ smiles Tom. ‘But the pandemic brought me home. ‘But it has meant we’ve also been presented with this incredible opportunity to put my home city on Michelin’s radar. I know what it takes to get them here and impress them, as do all of the team, and I think we can do it.
‘We’re all Preston born and are all driven to making it happen. We’re all also friends and if there hadn’t been a pandemic, we probably wouldn’t have been here, able to all work together.’
Since they reopened in July, the skilled team have been working to refine what they offer, creating menus packed with exciting dishes, gradually refining everything they do.
‘We don’t want it to be an overnight thing,’ says Tom. ‘This is something you work towards, gradually getting better and always making tweaks along the way. I learned a lot from Kevin Tickle and he taught me a lot about how to be a good chef. We’re good friends too.’
While the seasonal menus, full of Lancashire sourced ingredients, would look at home in any Michelin rated dining venue, owner Mark is determined to create a non-fussy, relaxed atmosphere.
‘Some of my experiences of fine dining haven’t been as good as the team here are turning out,’ says Mark. ‘And often these are places where you can’t feel relaxed, you must have a waiter put a napkin on your knee and you feel like you are standing on ceremony.
‘I just don’t want that. Here, it is the food and the service that speak for themselves. Hopefully lots of our customers agree.’
Mark’s plans now are to try to weather any more challenges coronavirus presents – not an easy task for someone running four places to eat. But he is more determined than ever to make 263 Restaurant the go-to-place for the best food in Preston – although it’s arguable he’s already done that. Exciting things will be coming from this team. Watch this space.