The Long Room at Lord’s might just be the most iconic space in the world of cricket.
Running parallel to the famous pitch at Marylebone Cricket Club, it is filled with portraits of famous players, historical articles of the game and stunning architecture. Reserved for players and members of the cricket club only, it offers unrivalled views of match action that only the chosen few can enjoy.
But this year, the in-house catering team at Lord’s have created a dining offer that will have sports fans and culinary enthusiasts bowled over.
In May, the Lord’s Dining Club welcomes world-renowned chef Tom Kerridge to the kitchens at the 28,000-capacity arena to produce a one-off menu from his famous two-Michelin-star pub, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
“We wanted to create something quite special, that perhaps attracts a new type of customer,” says James de Groot, head of catering. Lord’s has worked with Michelin chef Alfred Prasad over the years for the matchday hospitality box offers, but the catering team wanted to bring that level of gastronomy to the non-matchday offer.
“Lots of venues have used celebrity chefs to raise the profile of their matchday offer,” explains De Groot. “We don’t feel that we necessarily need to do that in our hospitality areas specifically.
“We have a very vibrant non-matchday business that is on about £3.5m in turnover a year, but we have aspirations to grow it. We have some amazing spaces, the Long Room being the jewel in the crown, that we want to use.
“We delivered the first one with a brilliant menu and a great character like Tom and delivered the event with our in-house team.”
After consultation with its members, Lord’s decided to take its F&B from contract caterer to in-house some 14 years ago, with a focus on driving quality and range for the customers rather than a commercial gain. But with the financials also performing well, it is time to explore a little.
“We attracted a very different clientele,” says Chris Warden, head of hospitality and events.
“From our point of view, it wasn’t necessarily cricket fans being drawn to Lord’s because of the history and what happens here on a matchday – it was a different, more foodie crowd, which was great.”
As well as a very amusing Q&A between Kerridge and former England bowler Angus Fraser MBE, a four-course menu, with wine pairing from Nyetimber, served up a starter of parsley and lovage soup with smoked eel and cheddar tortellini. Middle course of chicken terrine with Waldorf garnish; main course of treacle-cured fillet of beef with asparagus, smoked brisket and wild garlic pie; and finished with tonka bean panna cotta, English strawberries and honeycomb and liquorice meringues.
All served in banquette style, with provenance described by Kerridge himself between courses while overlooking the pitch. Not bad, eh?
But it is not just the opportunity to fill this fantastic space with up to 200 guests that has driven the Lord’s Dining Club, but the expertise and experience that it brings to the catering staff.
“I thought it was great to see the two teams come together,” says Karl Pearce, head chef.
“Looking at the logistics of prep being done off-site and merging everything together, while using new suppliers, and just seeing chefs really putting their heads together.
“For the kitchen team, being involved in an event like that is great experience.”
There’s already an aspiration for the Lord’s Dining Club to go four or five years down the line, with 2018’s visiting chefs completed and next year’s being lined up following the sell-out experience with Kerridge – which included the upgrade option of a tour of the sacred Lord’s dressing room.
“This year we have got Claude Bosi from Bibendum on June 21st, we have Simon Rogan of L’Enclume on October 17th and Daniel Clifford from Midsomer House on October 28th. I think all of them will deliver a different experience,” says De Groot.
“It is all about pushing the boundaries within the event market and creating something unique.”
The first thing to note about a cricket match is the length. Football matches will see customers in the stadium for 90 minutes for the game and perhaps an hour either side if in hospitality, likewise with music arenas and theatres.
“Especially in hospitality, it is a very long day,” says Warden. “A lot of people are here from 9am to 7pm. But it is up to us to keep it fresh.”
Within hospitality areas, that could mean that the catering team have to serve up breakfast, lunch, the traditional afternoon tea and post-match snacks in one day.
“It is a challenge, but we see it as exciting,” says De Groot. “We have a catering team of 47 full-time staff, with Karl and his team of 17 full-time chefs. We are also venturing into supper and the evening trade for T2o Blast matches (often night games) – we can’t ask for much more from what the team deliver across all those different meal times.”
Warden adds: “From a service point of view, it is all about trying to keep the interest in the venue and change the shape of how things look and are presented, and each time customers come back into the room, tables are set in a slightly different way with different bits of kit.”
Cricket is a sport that is enjoyed by all ages, from all backgrounds, and while guests may be able to hold out for a couple of hours at other sporting events should there be nothing on the menu, an all-day cricket match needs to provide for all variants in diet and demand.
“Just by the nature of cricket being extremely international, food and drink has to be tailored for each match,” says Pearce. “The popularity of the sport on the subcontinent is thought about and all the religious beliefs behind that. For example, Pakistan this year coincides with Ramadan. So, we have to take all of that into account.”
Some elements of the menus across the stadium will feature influences from the away team coming to visit England. This summer will see both Pakistan and India playing at Lord’s.
“There is an element of theme, whether it be in the Captain’s Lounge with a vegetarian curry being of Indian or Pakistani in origin.
“Last year we had the Caribbean style (the West Indies played England at Lord’s), but we also have to be mindful of the demographics,” explains Pearce.
“You still have English clientele, and we are still very much about using local and regional produce. The heart of it is still the best of British. Using local or regional produce, sustainably sourced.”
For example, the afternoon tea offer is quintessentially English; pork pies and finger sandwiches.
De Groot continues: “Lord’s is perceived to be a very British venue, and very traditional. So, it is having that element of tradition mixed in with the nods to the touring teams in all areas.
“Things like afternoon tea will be classic but then Karl will, for example, in an Ashes year, will put a lamington on (Australian cake) just as a nod to the touring team.
“But people come to Lord’s, as they do with Wimbledon and Ascot, and actually see provenance and learn about the venue and the institution they are coming into.”
Within members’ areas Lord’s always serves up a traditional a strip-loin roast beef bap. Take it off the menu and the catering team will soon hear about it.
“As simple as the beef bap is, there is a story behind it, too,” says Pearce. “We have been out there to source the beef to be the best-quality strip-loin or rib and our current supplier is an MCC member (Wells Farm, Kent). So, we really like the history and the story, whether it be the cooking method or the whole farm-to-fork process.”
With 17 satellite kitchens and 23 different offers on a major Test matchday, touching on bowl food, canapes, hospitality (including 1,268 covers across 70 private boxes), retail catering and different types of drinks receptions and dinner parties, keeping on top of the suppliers list is extremely important.
“Karl has got a very good network and good relationship with our suppliers and the supply chain of food; we have some incredible relationships,” says De Groot.
“There’s about 230 menus across all of our catering offers, matchday and non-matchday. So, it’s a big operation.”
The hospitality areas of Lord’s have long been heralded for their quality and even took home the Corporate Hospitality Award at the 2016 SLC Awards, but, like so many other stadia, public catering has become increasingly important.
“We pride ourselves on the quality of offer that we give in hospitality, boxes restaurants,” says De Groot. “And we have worked really hard over the last five years on our public catering offer.
“The most amount of people you touch on a matchday is the public and it is really important that they get the best experience possible. You want people to have a range of catering but also good quality. So, we try and push the boundaries of food and drink across the site.”
Public restaurants such as Pelham’s, Harris Garden, Thomas Lord and the onsite pub The Lord’s Tavern all offer a variety of drinking and dining options, from table d’hôte menus to buffet lunches and from pre-booked to walk-in.
“For public catering, it’s about creating a destination place for them to visit as they roam around the venue. For example, an enigmatic wine bar that they have never seen at a sports venue before that matches wine to salmon platters. You want them to walk away having had a gastro delight, and it was at the cricket!”
Adding to the dining options, and unlike many other venues Lord’s, keeps the tradition of allowing customers to bring in their own food and drink items, while it also offers house-made picnics for customers to collect and have in their seats.
“Our picnics are a massive on-the-day experience for people, too,” adds De Groot. “We sell about 4,000 hampers per year, which serves two. So, 8,000 meals in hampers.”
But with every style of catering at Lord’s, there comes expectation. As a national institution and a leading venue, customers just won’t put up with average – a level that some stadia are still trying to get to.
“The key word is expectation,” says Warden. “Customers automatically have high expectations when they come to Lord’s, and that has come back to us in feedback from our hospitality guests. Things they would accept in other venues they wouldn’t accept at Lord’s.
“They expect it to be innovative and a market leader. It’s a great opportunity for us to have that freedom to try new things and push the boundaries, but there is always a high-level expectation when they walk through the gates. It’s how you then exceed that and introduce new things that you don’t see at other venues.”
That level of expectation means that the catering team are constantly trying to innovate across all areas from public to hospitality while remaining inkeeping with the institution.
“Competition for us isn’t just venues, it’s high street brands and restaurants. The standard of food and drink has shot through the roof. You are up against it everywhere you look,” says De Groot.
“Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say you haven’t got it quite right, but it’s always important to push your catering team to try new things. You can’t just keep your model static and your menu offer the same every year. You have to surprise your demographic.”