The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.
Nick Fenton is the co-owner and manager of Henne, a local, seasonal and ethical restaurant in the Cotswolds village of Moreton-in-Marsh.
I began my career at the bottom
My first job in hospitality was at the Manor House Hotel, right here in Moreton-on-Marsh, where I waited tables and worked behind the bar. Over time, I took on more responsibility and was eventually sent on a professional bartenders course and was eventually promoted to bar manager. I really got into cocktails and ended up creating bespoke lists of 30 drinks. After a couple of promotions, I headed to The Kingham Plough as deputy general manager, where I met Darren Brown — who’s now my partner at Henne.
I left the industry for a few years
I’d been recruited by Salt — chef Paul Foster’s restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon — which had aspirations of getting a Michelin star. It was a relatively new business and I was there for about eight months, but we won a star in that time. By then, I felt like I needed a break, as I’ve got a young daughter. So I took a couple of years out and had a bit of reset.
The pandemic got me back into restaurants
I’d started doing a bit of consultancy work with Darren at Feldon Valley, another Cotswolds restaurant before the COVID took full effect and I eventually got offered a job as food and beverage manager. As Darren and I had spoken about looking for our own place a number of times, when we were furloughed again in November 2020, the idea came into full swing — and here we are.
Our name pays tribute to our location
Moreton-in-Marsh used to be called Henne Mersh, which translates loosely as Marsh Henne — or “hen” in Old English. We thought it had some relevance to keep the name of the restaurant as local to the town as possible, as we are a local, seasonal, and ethical restaurant.
We have a very similar mindset
Darren and I operate in the much same way. We are very quality-driven and want to be the best that we can be. But we also want the flexibility to do as we wish. I mean, it’s freeing not to have to compromise and to have the flexibility to do as we wish when it comes to business.
Good hospitality is about enhancing the guest experience
I look after the wine list and try to include a unique balance of countries and styles. The list is always evolving and you won’t find the usual suspects. We're trying to educate people on styles and countries they’re probably not used to seeing. A lot of people in this part of the country are unfamiliar with German and Austrian wines. They associate them with Blue Nun from the 1970s. The drier wines from Germany and Austria are absolutely stunning, but unknown to the majority of people around here. So it’s about enhancing the guest experience, so people can come away feeling they've learned something as well. I think it adds a different element to the service.
Despite our experience, we’re always learning
One of the biggest changes we’ve made since we launched has been operational — and using Superb for reservations, to kind of tailor things, has made our life a little easier. We started off with a number of covers that surpassed what we wanted in terms of the timeframe. All the tables were getting condensed into an hour and we found we were running around too much and weren't able to spend enough time at the tables interacting with our guests or getting to know them a bit more. So we switched to four covers every half an hour, just to make sure we weren't overrun and that it didn't hamper the guest experience.
We’re all about pushing the boundaries
Right now, we play deep house in the restaurant. I mean, if we're going to do something radical in Moreton-in-Marsh and to be radical, we need to put the beats on. Unfortunately, we can't be too loud because we’ve got a lot of neighbours.
As told to Superb. The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.