Deacons Bank Restaurant – Report Back

Fine Dining! With Tom Gouldburn, owner of Deacon’s Bank restaurant

26th January 2024

On a chilly, windy morning we assembled in the charming John Craven Room in Chapel Golf Club (warmer than the big lounge) to hear from entrepreneur Tom Gouldburn, whose venture into fine dining in Chapel-en-le-Frith has raised eyebrows and expectations across the Peak District.

Tom is a local lad who attended Buxton College and has a BSc in Computing from the University of Derby. The fact that his laptop was almost out of juice was of course coincidental. Still in his thirties, he explained he has three companies: one in consulting, with clients such as National Rail, SSE and National Highways, a property development company and thirdly a restaurant which opened last autumn. In all he employs some 15 people.

“My role as a consultant is to tell the story from start to finish during a live construction project, from contract award to delivery and project handback, whilst substantiating and evidencing delays where project budgets are exceeded.”  Tom reminded us, not all obstacles can be foreseen. His rescue of the old Pear Tree Print house in Canal Street in Whaley Bridge started with the purchase  – and then the local Toddbrook Dam breached; he got planning permission  – and then came Covid and lockdown. Basin House and Basin Cottage are now two elegant holiday lets in a town with almost no accommodation.

Against that disruptive background, unsurprisingly it’s taken three years to sort out the old Royal Bank of Scotland branch on Market Street in Chapel, which closed in 2018. The idea was to turn downstairs into a 28-cover restaurant, with two holiday lets upstairs. Scrub land at the back has also been acquired, with the intention of creating two pods for outdoor dining.

“Planning permission took 18 months,” said Tom, “and then the works took another 12 months….” This is a Grade II listed building in the middle of Chapel’s conservation area, with crocked beams suggesting it was already ancient when the original bank opened in the 19th century. The total lack of access added to the nightmare, but lockdown paradoxically helped here as the Royal Oak next door was persuaded to allow diggers and deliveries to trundle across their car park. Another problem was the lack of skilled craftsmen during and after lockdown, plus soaring costs and supply chain issues we have all experienced.

During the early stages, Tom extended an invitation to chef Simon Harrison to join forces. They had attended school together and maintained a Facebook connection, although they hadn’t actually spoken in 18 years. Simon boasts an impressive 18-year tenure in the catering industry, most recently at Losehill Hotel in the Hope Valley, where he earned the esteemed double AA Rosette Award for Culinary Excellence. It’s this same level of ambition that Tom and Simon aspire to at Deacon’s Bank. The inspector has already visited twice, offering positive feedback on the second occasion, indicating that formal recognition may be imminent. To draw in diners from afar, a restaurant must earn a place in culinary guidebooks and garner strong support on platforms like TripAdvisor. Currently, only two locations in the Peak District enjoy such acclaim: Fischers and the Peacock at Rowsley, both holding 3 AA rosettes and featured in the Michelin Guide. This is the level of recognition that Tom and Simon aim to attain.

Having a distinct personality is key to a successful restaurant, so they prioritise local sourcing within a 5 to 10-mile radius whenever feasible. Thornbridge in New Mills crafts Deacon’s Bank beer, a mushroom farm near Bakewell supplies the funghi. Mac Burnham’s supplies their meat, R G Morris in Buxton the fish, and although the source of their cheese remains a mystery, its quality is exceptional and could suffice as a meal in itself.

Tom is also committed to integrating into the local community through a Community Fund, supporting initiatives like the creation of a new garden behind the Methodist church or the sponsorship of a children’s football team. This effort helps challenge the notion that “fine dining isn’t for people like us,” as it offers a truly special experience, albeit at a fitting price. However, once those coveted rosettes arrive and tables become scarce, I forecast patrons will regret not discovering the restaurant sooner.

Tom’s personal plan now involves reducing his involvement in the corporate world and redirecting his efforts and investments toward strengthening the local supply chain. He’s set to take over the Roebuck Inn in Chapel’s market square, a property with an unused kitchen and five letting rooms. Together with other potential ventures in Chapel’s centre, these two premises could provide an excellent venue for intimate celebrations like smaller weddings. Tom also mentioned the challenges of recruiting staff, prompting suggestions he should start apprenticeships to cultivate a skilled workforce for both front-of-house and kitchen roles in the future.

An intriguing idea in Tom’s imaginative mind is a collaborative Taster Menu event featuring Deacon’s Bank Head Chef Simon Harrison and his team competing against another award-winning restaurant. Diners score each dish and rate the best Chef! Limited seats available for this exclusive dining experience. The first event is already fully booked on Thursday, 29th February, filled with exquisite food and wine, as Head Chef Simon Harrison welcomes Nathan Wall to Deacon’s Bank at Chapel-en-le-Frith.. “Nathan Wall, renowned for his accolades, including 3 rosettes and a Visit Peak District “taste” gold award, will be joining our team for the evening. Former Head Chef at Fischers Baslow, Nathan brings a wealth of knowledge.”

There will be more – watch their website

We can’t compete with that. As bacon baps arrived, fresh and inviting, we concluded our gathering, filled with admiration for the visionary pursuits of this remarkable local entrepreneur in this revitalized Peak District town.