THE new head chef at Weighbridge Brewhouse, Russell Hunt has ambitious plans to make the restaurant the place to go in Swindon.

Russell, 37, has plenty of experience and expertise – and says he is looking forward to the challenge of building a great reputation for the venue in a converted Great Western Railway weigh house.

Officially he took the reins of the kitchen at the beginning of the month – but he already has plenty of ideas about the direction of the menu.

“I was approached to be head chef here,” he says. “This is a long term project, and I want to make it the place to go in Swindon.

“We serve contemporary British food with a European influence – I have classical French training – with British ingredients.

“At this time of year, we’ve a focus on game. I’m a big believer in using local produce, and in Wiltshire, I think we’re in the best county for it – just look at the farms all around us. I love creating new dishes, training staff and working within the seasons. When you do that, the dishes naturally create themselves.”

His October menu includes such seasonal delights as halloumi and pumpkin skewers, smoked game bird Scotch eggs, coffee crusted saddle of venison, chalk stream trout fillet and vodka cured Cornish mackerel. Russell is also planning a vegan menu, and as well as the a la carte menu, you can dine on a two-course express lunch, perfect to fit in a lunch hour.

Russell has been a chef for 19 years. He began working in the industry as a teenager.

“I was a bit of a troublemaker when I was young,” he says. “That’s the best way to put it. A friend of the family, Stuart Hunt – not a relative – was a head chef and said to my mum, bring him down to me. I was just turning 18, and it gave me a kick up the backside. Soon I was working hard and I developed a passion for cooking.”

He went on to work at a variety of restaurants and hotels, became a head chef at the tender age of 24, and helped set up a chain of coffee shops called Fego Caffe.

In 2011, Russell decided to reboot his career by retraining, and joined Cannizaro House in Wimbledon. After two and a half years refining his skills and returning to fine dining, he moved to Swindon in 2013, to become head chef at Marsh Farm Hotel in Wootton Bassett, winning a gold award from Taste of the West. He went on to work at the Carnarvon Arms near Highclere, the King’s Head Hotel in Cirencester and the Queen’s Arms at East Garston.

Now he oversees a kitchen with a staff of eight, including sous chef James Newton, who made the move from the King’s Head in Cirencester to join his team. Russell admits it can be a stressful job but says he makes sure his own staff work reasonable hours.

“You have to love what you do,” he said. “A well-rested staff is a more efficient staff – you’re only as good as your team.”

The Weighbridge building was built in 1906 as a weigh house for the GWR trains and remained as such until 1977. It was bought by Mark Archer Wallington in the 1990s, who transformed it into Archers Brewery, which Mark ran for five years until he sold the lease on to another company who carried on brewing for another 10 years.

It then went into receivership and became derelict for two years, when Anthony and Allyson Wintle bought it and undertook a major £2 million renovation, turning the derelict building into a successful restaurant with a microbrewery.

They sold the Weighbridge Brewhouse to Upham Pubs about 18 months ago. The new owners are refreshing the interior with new fabrics and blinds, and Russell has ideas for the future, such as opening up the kitchen so diners can see the team at work. The microbrewery is still producing a range of beers.

The bar and restaurant are open seven days a week, and booking is advised, particularly over the weekend. For further information visit