He’s a self-confessed megalomaniac who’s pushing the boundaries in the seaside town of Seaham and his surf ‘n’ turf and oysters and Prosecco are pulling in people from right across the region. Savour chats to Russ Wood, owner of The Lamp Room
When Russ Wood’s close friend who runs a successful restaurant in Cyprus flew over to Seaham to share some of his wealth of knowledge with The Lamp Room, the experience didn’t end well.
“He came into my kitchen and had my head chef in tears. He was brutal, he tore a strip off my staff and even upset my wife.
“He pulled us apart and it was too much of a bitter pill to swallow,” says Russ who found it difficult to make the changes his friend suggested.
Russ is now a force to be reckoned with, but his business partner and wife, Melanie, and his team of staff all admire him for it.
“Who else in Seaham can say that they serve fresh, whole lobsters and fresh octopus? We really do have something special here – and it’s Russ that’s the driving force behind it all,” says head chef Josh Palmer. “He runs a tight ship, the kitchen has to be spotless, the food exceptional but it makes you feel proud to work here,” he adds.
Although the The Lamp Room may seem like an upmarket bistro-cum-restaurant, to the trained eye and the true food and drink fans, it’s a place that delivers passion on a plate.
By day, the bustling bistro beckons visitors with breakfasts such as eggs Benedict, smoked salmon bagels and waffles. Lunchtime specials such as gluten-free fennel salted belly pork and the Lamp Room lasagne – which is a huge hit with guests – fly out of the kitchen; but it’s on Friday and Saturday evenings that Josh and his team of chefs really let their creative juices flow, as the menu changes to a Surf & Turf and Tapas offering.
And due to popularity, the restaurant will now open its doors on a Wednesday and Thursday, too.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” says Russ, with passion glistening in his eyes. “When we first thought of opening in the evening and serving up lobster, we questioned whether it was the right thing to do; after all, we opened three years ago as a coffee lounge.
“Was it right for Seaham? No one else was doing it, but you have to take risks,” says the businessman, who admits he can get slightly obsessive over delivering high standards.
“Being in this game can tip you over the bloody edge, you certainly have to love it. We took the risk and next thing we were sending out 20 lobsters a night from the kitchen,” added Russ, who then took it one step further.
“I thought, ‘let’s add steak’ and that worked too. But I wasn’t happy with the meat, to me it was too fatty so I upped the game and sourced a more premium butcher. OK you pay more, but you get far better quality – and that’s what we are about.
“When I walk in the kitchen and see Josh and his team playing at the level they’re playing at, my God, it’s such a wonderful feeling,” said Russ.
Exceptional food needs exceptional wine, and Russ spent time with a sommelier selecting a bin of 20 wines to complement his team’s dishes.
“We have super reds from a vineyard in Portugal and wines from The Reynolds Winery which supplies top hotels and Michelin-star restaurants. We took the entry level wine but we’re now taking it up a notch as our customers absolutely love them,” says Russ.
Inside the plush bistro, palatial furnishing such as high-back leather seating and booths create a relaxing atmosphere.
While Russ – a former joiner – put in walls and built the kitchen and bar, he and Melanie brought in interior designer, Mark Hardy, to create a laid-back luxurious vibe. But the couple aren’t stopping there. Later next year, they plan to extend the kitchen and cocktail bar.
Russ said: “We overlook the beach, we’re in an enviable position. It’s a destination area that people will travel to for fantastic food and service.
“The strip in Seaham where we are situated rivals Tynemouth, in fact, I think we’re better – and at The Lamp Room, we’ll just keep elevating.”