With ever-rising property costs, there are compelling reasons for giving priority to the dining room when dividing restaurant space between front and back of house. This inevitably means a less-than-ideal amount of room in which to fit the equipment necessary to deliver the menu. However, a measure of clever design and the use of scaled-down equipment can squeeze extra output from cramped kitchens.
Byfords, a hotel, restaurant, café and deli business in Holt, Norfolk, used to rely on a series of individual small cooking units in its "minuscule" kitchen, but this interfered with work flow. So when proprietors Ian and Claire Wilson increased the amount of scratch cooking, they opted to install a single compact bespoke island suite by Falcon.
By building in induction hobs rather than open burners, it was possible to shave off valuable inches. Installation of Williams undercounter fridges to handle a lot of the fresh food storage likewise saved space, because they double as preparation tops as well as reducing the amount of chef movement.
Les Trois Garçons restaurant in London's Bethnal Green boxed equally clever with its new island range, made by Athanor and supplied by Signature FSE. To fit the limited cellar kitchen space, designed and installed by Carford, the all-electric range is just 1,160mm wide instead of the usual 1,400-1,600mm.
This is possible thanks to bespoke construction, including two 4kW radiant hobs, a central 900mm solid top and four 375mm-square plancha solid tops which can heat pans or cook food directly, griddle-style.
The suite can thus cope with both mise en place and specific cooking processes during service, and its compactness also eases communication between the relevant sections.
Hot and cold
Another space-saving approach is to combine refrigerated storage within a cooking range. The fast-growing La Tasca chain of tapas restaurants, now spreading to UK town centres, favours Sizzle ‘n' Chill units for its paella production.
Supplied by Imperial Catering Equipment, these 36in-wide (914mm) ranges mount six open burner tops over refrigerated drawers. While the tops cook a range of paellas, the base can accommodate one full-size steam tray or individual trays holding the various ingredients. Foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation prevents temperature migration between the cook-top and the base.
Cramped city-centre buildings are not the only environments which pose space challenges. HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's largest ship, can't afford unproductive inches in its main galley. Its latest refit features
multitasking Convotherm P3 combi-steamers supplied by Enodis Distribution UK, which have the benefit of "disappearing doors". Special hinges and channels along the side of each cabinet enable the doors to be opened and slid quickly out of the way. This saves aisle space while still giving chefs maximum freedom of movement.
For kitchens which need the versatility of combis but lack space, "mini" versions may be worth seeking.
In the "minutely small" kitchen serving Conran's new Sauterelle restaurant in the Royal Exchange Grand Café and Bar in the City of London, the problem of tight space was compounded by Grade I-listed status, which necessitated freestanding equipment with no screws, brackets or bolts touching the interior walls. But these restrictions have not inhibited the menu, which ranges from ballotine of guinea fowl and saucisson Lyonnaise to braised rabbit with tarragon.
A key component is an extra-small (550mm wide x 680mm deep x 490mm high) combi-steamer which fits neatly alongside salamanders, griddle tops, boiling tops and a twin-bowl fryer. Made by Ambach, it holds 4 x 2/3 Gastronorm pans but does all the tasks expected of a standard combi-steamer.
The kitchen may be small but it manages to serve more than 68 lunches from 12 noon, and nearly as many full à la carte meals in the evening. Installer Catering Connections also squeezed refrigeration, warming cupboards, a tiny prep area, dishwashing and beverage systems into the kitchen, which is partly visible to diners.
Other potential cooking solutions in restricted kitchens include oven stacking. Options possible within the Hobart range include convection steamers in two high stacks, or mixed towers of convection steamer and pressure steamer.
Cooking faster within the same space can also justify a spot of lateral thinking. This is a familiar refrain with combi-cooking appliances, of both the convection-steam and microwave variety. An interesting further refinement appearing this year is convection plus microwave plus impingement, a technique once restricted to conveyor ovens for pizza baking. The new EC402S Merrychef oven incorporates special impinger plates - removable for cleaning - both for extra speed and for a more even heat pattern inside the cavity.
A similar new high-speed solution is the US-made TurboChef Tornado, a combination of high-speed impinged hot-air dual microwaves and an infrared heating element. Like the Merrychef, it is claimed to be able to cook as much as 12 times faster than a conventional oven.
With some equipment, opportunities to save space may stem from uprated power input. Lincat shaved 100mm off its latest Opus 700 twin-tank fryers by reducing their width from 700mm to 600mm, but with no loss of output thanks to increased power.
Montague specialises in packing a lot of options into its latest Complete Cooking Centre, supplied here through Aberna. This 1,900mm-long single-piece suite has 10 cooking zones including a six-burner gas range, griddle and broiler. It also has two traditional convection ovens underneath, with front venting for simple operation in confined spaces.
Cooking is not the only activity which hogs valuable kitchen space. When the Galleries coffee shop and family restaurant in Hartlepool expanded its capacity from 100 to more than 450 covers, one logical answer was to upgrade warewashing to a conveyor machine. But the space simply wasn't available.
A neat conversion involving two smaller pass-through dishwashers, one in each of the two available corners, plus three connecting tables, achieved the vital extra capacity within a compact U-shaped layout. The installation was planned by CNG Foodservice Equipment using Winterhalter 502 dishwashers.
It may be worth considering the mounting kits available with some equipment. For example, Gram offers compact wall-mounting brackets which permit its half-height K or F200 cabinets to be fitted above work benches or other counters. The company also makes a stacking kit so its entry-level Compact Line fridges and freezer units can be stacked in a space just 595mm by 620mm.
The Gram Combi-Cabinet, to be introduced this year, likewise combines a professional fridge and freezer within a small footprint.
Another approach is offered on latest versions of the Adande VariCool counter refrigerator, which can be configured in an upright format up to three drawers high or as low-level counters. Key features remain, such as switchability of each drawer independently to chilled, frozen or ambient storage, plus blast chilling.
New Valera chillers and freezers designed on the same basic principle as flat-pack furniture can be useful for cramped basement kitchens, because they can be moved down tight staircases or through narrow entrances. They come in three sizes which, once assembled, hold 700, 1,400 and 2,100 litres respectively.
A further solution for saving storage space is to site refrigeration units remotely in spaces outside the building, instead of constructing it integrally into cabinets or coldrooms.
Extra installation can add 10-15 per cent to cost but, as well as trimming the length of, for example, refrigerated counters, remote units can contribute to a cooler kitchen environment.
- Aberna (Montague) 01252 532222 www.aberna.com
- Adande VariCool 01502 537135 www.adande.co.uk
- Carford Group 01202 851920 www.carford.co.uk
- Catering Connections 01773 836300 www.catering-connections.co.uk
- CNG Foodservice Equipment 0191-422 6159 www.cngfoodserv.co.uk
- Enodis Distribution UK 020 8561 0433 www.enodis-distribution.com
- Exclusive Ranges (Ambach) 01707 361770 www.exclusiveranges.co.uk
- Falcon Foodservice Equipment 01786 455200 www.falconfoodservice.com
- Gram UK 01322 616900 www.gram-commercial.com
- Hobart UK 0700 210 1101 www.hobartuk.com
- Imperial Catering Equipment 01664 424100 www.imperialrange.co.uk
- Lincat 01522 875500 www.lincat.co.uk Merrychef 01252 371000 www.enodisuk.com
- ServEquip (TurboChef) 020 8686 8855 www.servequip.co.uk
- Signature-FSE 01908 235660 www.signature-fse.com
- Valera 01708 869593 www.valera.co.uk
- Williams Refrigeration 01553 817000 www.williams-refrigeration.com
- Winterhalter 01908 359000 www.winterhalter.co.uk