<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Zeffirellis and Fellinis - an Ambleside institution

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 August 2015 | UPDATED: 19:47 23 March 2016

The restaurants, cafe, bars and cinemas can serve 1,000 people a day

The restaurants, cafe, bars and cinemas can serve 1,000 people a day

Archant

It’s 35 years since Derek Hook and his family launched a business which has grown into an Ambleside institution, writes Eileen Jones

Dorothy Smith and Derek Hook Dorothy Smith and Derek Hook

To the rest of the world they are two of Italy’s most revered film directors. But to anyone who’s ever been to Ambleside, they represent a dynasty which is at the heart of the town’s cultural and social life.

Zeffirellis and Fellinis – no apostrophes, please – between them offer two restaurants, a café, a jazz bar and no fewer than five cinema screens in a town with a population of just 3,000. (That can multiply tenfold at the height of the tourist season).

And like any good organisation with an Italian influence, it’s run by one family, who are celebrating 35 years in business this summer. The founding godfather, and now company chairman, is Derek Hook, a former butcher and rock-band drummer who one day simply put down the meat cleaver and became a vegetarian.

His principles have dominated the business ever since, but in such a subtle way that many visitors are unaware that they are dining in a vegetarian restaurant. The food and the ambiance is so good - the staff hold an award for outstanding service - that the absence of meat becomes irrelevant.

Head chef, Stefan Dumitrascu Head chef, Stefan Dumitrascu

The managing director is Derek’s sister, Dorothy Smith, an elegant and bubbly matriarch who selects the films, does all the programming for the five cinemas and supervises changes to the menu with undimmed enthusiasm. Her husband Graham is a director, along with brother Ray, who also has a career as a singer and ventriloquist on cruise liners.

General manager David ‘Stan’ Stanning isn’t actually a family member, though he has worked at Zeffs since his teens – with a break for a foray into accountancy. But head chef Stefan Dumitzasw has about a dozen of his family working there, including his wife in the box office. The head chef at Fellinis, Scott Graham, has been with the family for 15 years.

And among the regular diners and café folk are families who came first as children and have grown up with Zeffs. ‘There are people who came here as babes in arms and end up working for us,’ says Dorothy.

On a busy day, more than 1,000 people might be served across the restaurants, café, bar and cinema, and on a busy night Zeffirellis alone has totalled some 450 covers.

Zeffirellis cater for vegans and vegetarians Zeffirellis cater for vegans and vegetarians

Two of the cinema screens are in the main building, the site of a former “flea-pit” picture house which had an auction room in the basement. When screen two was developed in the attic, the whole of Ambleside’s road network was closed by a delivery lorry carrying an enormous RSJ to strengthen the structure. When they took over the running of the cinema, and made the decision to do Italian style food, Derek says the name of Zeffirelli came naturally.

Two further screens are housed down the road in a former school, and the fifth is in the fledgling of the family, Fellinis, opened six years ago in what had been the Conservative Club. Unlike Zeffs, with its emphasis on pizza and pasta for all the family, Fellinis offers what they call a “vegeterranean” menu, fine dining with a Mediterranean influence.

Likewise, the films shown at Fellinis are niche studio and arthouse productions, complemented by screenings of live opera, ballet and theatre. Dorothy says: ‘It’s more aimed at adults, it satisfies a cultural need. We decided that in order to grow the business, we needed another restaurant, with food that was completely different from what we already served.’

Her credentials were impeccable. For six years she and Graham had run the Lupton Tower, a Zeffs’ outpost near Kirkby Lonsdale which won hosts of awards including the best vegetarian restaurant in England. They also made the top ten – of all restaurants, not just meat-free – in the Good Food Guide.

‘I started to learn about vegetarian food,’ Dorothy recalls. ‘I started doing soups and desserts, alongside our chef, and I used John Tovey’s Miller Howe recipes for inspiration – I’d just take the meat away.’

‘It was like going to dine at a friend’s house, only you paid for it! I didn’t plan ahead. I would create menus from day to day, depending on what was freshly available. We were hugely popular. We would take bookings for a month ahead at weekends.’

They moved in 1992 to take on the downstairs café at Zeffirellis; at that time the restaurant was upstairs, and at street level there was also an arcade of shops.

The restaurant was eventually moved downstairs, and expanded as the shops became empty and the space absorbed by the business. Food is still served in the upstairs bar, where on three nights there’s live contemporary jazz and world music.

At each step along the way, the family has invested in the business, with a programme of improvements, re-design and re-decoration. ‘It’s important that we are constantly updating,’ says Dorothy. ‘A business can’t rest on its laurels. And we have found that every time we do something new, more and more people want to come and have a look.’

Derek took early retirement in 2002 when Dorothy became MD, and he plays a background role these days, though he is still the design guru. He’s also responsible for the choice of music: classical during the day in the café, contemporary light jazz at night in the restaurant.

Dorothy is on site most days, though she does take time to spend with her grand-daughter Maisy. Her daughter, Jenny, is a head teacher in Barrow.

‘I still love it, I’ve still got the passion for it,’ she says. ‘I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved, but more than that, I’m pleased with what we’ve done for the locals, for the town. There’s a rich cultural life here.’

Related articles

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Lancashire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Lancashire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Lancashire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Food & Drink

Mon, 13:05

Take a look at some of the finest hampers available in the county.

Read more
Christmas
Monday, November 13, 2017

There is no challenge too small for cake maker Molly Robbins, writes Mairead Mahon

Read more
Sunday, November 12, 2017

It’s the home of the UK’s longest running vegetable box scheme and is showing no signs of slowing down. Mairead Mahon reports

Read more
Lancashire Food
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Beat the Autumn chills with Soup and a Sandwich for just £7 all throughout November.

Read more
Monday, November 6, 2017

Throughout November The Top Lock will be serving up some delicious Vegan dishes for you to try!

Read more
Monday, November 6, 2017

Curry Club at The Top Lock - All throughout November!

Read more
Monday, November 6, 2017

Cheese & Wine Offer at The Butlers Arms, Pleasington - November 2017.

Read more
Monday, November 6, 2017

After the success of our Curry Week in October we were asked to bring it back...

Read more
Friday, November 3, 2017

The beautiful woodland John Collinson’s hens explore on Longridge Fell is what makes Bowland Forest Eggs taste so good. Emma Mayoh reports

Read more
Lancashire Food Bowland
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The inaugural Taste Lancashire conference united the county’s food industry

Read more
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Saddleworth actor is relishing a new career as a restaurateur, as Emma Mayoh discovered

Read more
Oldham
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tom Parker and the team at The White Swan are taking flight, as Emma Mayoh discovered

Read more
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

You don’t have to go to Michelin starred venues for a fine dining experience. Foxholes Restaurant at Runshaw College is coming up rosettes, as Mairead Mahon discovered

Read more
Lancashire Restaurants
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Harvey Nichols doesn’t just do fashion darling, it does fab food too, as Janet Reeder discovers

Read more
Manchester Restaurants
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Lancashire Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search