A CHEF has spoken of his pride at opening his first restaurant in Henley.
Shaun Dickens has moved into the old chandlery at the Hobbs boatyard, off Station Road, where Spanish restaurant La Barca closed almost a fortnight ago.
The official opening of Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse will be on bank holiday Monday.
Mr Dickens says it will offer modern British fine dining.
The 27-year-old has come from Fallowfields country house hotel and restaurant near Abingdon, where he was head chef and farm manager for two years.
Before that he was a sous chef at L’Ortolan restaurant in Shinfield, where he gained two AA rosettes and helped win the Tourism South-East small hotel of the year award.
Mr Dickens, who lives in Thame, said: “I can’t wait to open the doors. I have been in this job for around 14 years and I have only ever focused on the kitchen side of things, so this is the biggest step of my career.
“I will be ensuring that the standards are what I want them to be day in, day out. The food should be beautiful and taste great and the service should be of the same standard. I am incredibly excited but scared too.” Mr Dickens and his wife Gemma used to live in Henley and he is happy to be returning to run a business.
“It is a fantastic place and when I started thinking about branching out on my own a year ago, Henley was one of the preferred options,” he said.
“My business partner Paul Duckworth and I wanted a market town on the river as we thought that fitted really nicely with our product. This place came up and we came to have a look and fell in love with it straight away. In Henley town centre there are lots of eateries which cover a broad spectrum of the market. As a fine dining establishment, we would like to think that we could be up there with the best of them.”
The restaurant, which will open six days a week, will offer a two-course lunch for £17.95 and dinner for around £34 for three courses.
“We will also run a deck menu when the weather is nice,” said Mr Dickens. “All my kitchen team have worked with me previously and my background is in Michelin-starred kitchens.
“I have a very youthful and passionate team and want to offer really great food that makes people think ‘wow’.
“This is the proudest moment of my career. I am like a little kid on Christmas Eve but this is what I have worked for from the days of washing up and squirting chocolate sauce on profiteroles.”
La Barca was opened by husband and wife Jose Luis Alvarez Bernal and Kate Shirley-Quirk in April 2011.
The couple, of St Andrew’s Road, Henley, own award-winning food and wine importing business Delicioso.
Ms Shirley-Quirk said: “The restaurant was not our main business so our main reason for deciding to sell the restaurant was to be able to focus on and expand Delicioso.
“We would like to say thank-you to all our customers who have supported us over the two years of La Barca.”