The next milestone in England’s roadmap out of lockdown will see restrictions on indoor hospitality ease from 17 May, with six people or two larger households allowed to meet and dine inside for the first time since last year.
Along with many other independent venues across the county and the Midlands, Little Seeds in Stone will reopen for service on Thursday 20 May. Sauce spoke to cofounders Jake Lowndes and Sophie Hardman to find out all about their exciting new concept and what they’ve been up to since last summer.
Jake, head chef, and Sophie, who manages the front of house, have certainly not been resting on their laurels during the most recent and previous lockdowns.
“We launched Little Seeds at Home at the beginning of November during the second lockdown,” says Jake. “Obviously it was a worry about what we would do over Christmas, but in the end we supplied more customers with our dine at home boxes over the Christmas week than we would ever have been able to serve in the restaurant.”
Little Seeds’ popular dine at home boxes have offered customers a new menu every week, in the same spirit as the monthly theme nights they have hosted in the past. Each box aims to take you away for an evening through the medium of food.
“Our style is modern British using what’s in season, but it would have been fairly boring to have Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage and parsnips on the menu every week throughout the winter,” Jake explains. “So, we tried to lift people’s spirits by taking them with our menu to France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Scotland… For us, it meant we got to try different things and that’s all contributed to the new menu for our reopening. It’s been good creatively and kept us going without only relying on grants.”
So, do they have any plans to carry on with the dine-at-home offering when the restaurant is fully open again?
“We were thinking of bringing it back for special occasions – alongside the theme nights, and then maybe for Christmas,” Sophie tells Sauce. “As we said, we can only fit 30-35 covers in the restaurant so it would be a way for more people to enjoy our food.”
New Tapas Terrace opens
“It’s changing every day at the moment!” Jake laughs when I ask how Little Seeds has changed since the team last welcomed guests through the doors. “We’ve just had a new combination oven fitted, which is a piece of kit I’ve wanted since we started. All of our money went on the front of house and getting set up when we first opened, and then we had the refurb in 2019 to link with our new style. Now we’re at the stage where we can spend on equipment to take us to the next level with food and service, and also to accommodate the fact we’ve got the outside garden.”
The freshly landscaped outdoor courtyard, lined with bay trees and lavender, hopes to capture day time diners with a relaxed, Mediterranean vibe and a whole new tapas and drinks menu. It’s inspired by the likes of Simon Shaw’s El Gato Negro and Brindisa at Borough Market Kitchen.
Served outdoors only at Saturday lunchtime and all-day Sunday, the tapas menu ranges from nibbles like Gordal olives and salted Spanish almonds, to Cobble Lane Cured Meat and a mix of the finest Spanish and British cheeses. There are meat, fish, and veg dishes like pork and chorizo meatballs, pan-seared hake with Romanesco sauce and classic patatas bravas, plus desserts like crema Catalana and Basque cake with blood orange.
Jake has aimed for authentic tapas recipes using the best of British produce, including Cobble Lane meats from London, Cornish fish from Celtic Fish and Game, and Wellocks for seasonal fruit and veg. There are certain ingredients like the olives and almonds that come from Spain, but the spirit of the menu is very much in-keeping with the Little Seeds ethos.
“We’ve also tailored the drinks menu for drinking outside, with some lighter wines for you to relax and enjoy a few glasses of alongside the tapas,” adds Sophie. “And we’ve added some Spanish sherries and now have wine available by the carafe.”
There’s a new bar outside as well, for pre- and post-dinner drinks on sunny evenings. If the weather turns and you want to move inside, there will always be space to do so and the tapas menu available. The outdoor area will likely close in October for the winter, with the menu moving to comforting Sunday roasts.
A Taste of Little Seeds
Evening service will see the à la carte and A Taste of Little Seeds menus available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A Taste of Little Seeds was launched back in October and ran for two weeks before lockdown 2 kicked in. It will be available every evening, and although you don’t need to specifically book the tasting menu, Jake and Sophie ask that the whole table partake if you do choose it.
“We love what the team are doing at The Boat Inn, near Lichfield, but there isn’t much in a similar format closer to Stoke or in the Stone area,” Jake tells Sauce. “The dishes on the Taste of Little Seeds menu are similar to the à la carte, but with a few extra special courses and some surprises at the start and end of the meal. Basically we’re running three new menus when we open up!”
The couple are both looking forward to seeing the whole hospitality industry back up and running after an exceptionally tough year.
“I think hospitality will be key to giving people the confidence to come out, because a lot of people are suffering anxiety about it,” says Sophie. But what they are most looking forward to is getting their team back together again. “In our industry, who you work with becomes a massive part of your social life because you work evenings and weekends, so it will be good to have everyone back. And of course we’re lucky to have lots of regular customers, so it will be good to see them and learn how to chat again; you lose the art of conversation during lockdown!”
Jake has a new chef starting in the kitchen, who has recently qualified from Stoke-on-Trent College, and Sophie is happy to have some new additions to the front of house team, too.
“We’re trying to bring some new young people into the mix,” she explains. “It’s been hard for a lot of school and college leavers, with not sitting their exams and teaching being online. We’re trying where we can to help a few young people get onto a new ladder, because they probably haven’t had many opportunities over the last few months.”
One additional change is that the restaurant will open Thursday to Sunday to give the team an extra day off, although Jake and Sophie will still be there on a Wednesday to do paperwork and prep for the week ahead.
“We want to be a progressive company and that’s another reason behind the four-day week,” Jake states. “We’ve got this small, elite team and ideally we want everyone working all the time we’re open, so it feels like everyone is in it together and pushing towards the same goal of making the restaurant the best it can be. That work-life balance is part of showing that it can be a great career, whether you want to stay here or move on eventually.
“It is a lifestyle but if you enjoy food and drink there is no better job.”
You can book your table at Little Seeds online now. The outside Tapas Terrace will be open every weekend, weather-permitting, and guests will have the choice when they arrive of whether to sit indoors or in the courtyard. Drinks on the Terrace are on a walk-in basis, no reservations.
16-18 Radford Street, Stone, ST15 8DA