MASTERCHEF champion Mat Follas is set to open a new restaurant in Dorchester.
His new venture, which opens on March 7, will be in a small hotel, believed to be The Casterbridge in High East Street.
He will only be open at weekends and accommodating 25 covers.
It is small enough that the famous foraging cook will be doing all the cooking himself, he says.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for the 2009 Masterchef winner, who opened the Wild Garlic restaurant in his home town of Beaminster that year.
Despite two AA rosettes, recommendations in The Good Food Guide, The Michelin Guide and Trencherman’s Guide, and rave reviews by food critics from national newspapers, he was forced to move after the Beaminster tunnel road closure caused a catastrophic drop in trade.
He said: “When the tunnel went we lost 30 to 40 per cent of business overnight. I genuinely think without the tunnel we would still be trading in Beaminster.”
He relocated to the Talbot in Iwerne Minster in April 2013 – but the New Zealand-born chef closed the restaurant there after eight months.
He also opened the Chesil Beach Café on Portland in July 2011 following a £1.1million refurbishment of the Chesil Beach Centre, but left there too when the restaurant passed to new owners eight months later.
Now Mr Follas says he’s excited to be back doing what he loves best – foraging and cooking, Opening in an already-established small hotel will save on overheads and management headaches, he said.
“I hate the business side, which is why I haven’t looked to do a full-blown restaurant again and I am not sure if I ever will.
“I certainly found with the larger place I spent my days managing and not cooking and that is not why I did it.
“If rollercoaster isn’t too much of a cliché, that’s what it has been.
“At times it has been fantastic, winning things like the two rosettes and some of the awards but it has been tough.”
Mr Follas said he would not be in competition with his friend and mentor Russell Brown at the Michelin-starred Sienna restaurant in High West Street.
“We do different things,” he said.
“With the time that I have got I will have the time to physically go out and do some of the foraging myself and use some of those really interesting ingredients that people expect from me.
“Because of its size it will only be me cooking it will be pretty much only be me doing the work as well, I can’t afford to hire anybody else!”
He is also thinking of writing his own cookbook and running more courses.