Oven Restaurant - The Independent Tees Collective

17 Jul 2021

It's no secret that the foodie scene on Teesside is absolutely amazing. We've got a whole host of small home businesses, markets, events, and a vast amount of restaurants, all of which are incredible and there's new ones popping up every day. And I thought it was about time that I spoke about the latter on my Indie Tees Collective series, starting with one of the hottest spots on Linthorpe Road, Oven (pun definitely intended).

I'm certain that anyone who has visited Middlesbrough or walked down Linthorpe Road would recognise Oven in a heartbeat. It's pretty difficult to miss with its super leafy al fresco dining front, and unique wooden panelling. It definitely grabs your attention as you're going past, but it's even more amazing inside. With fabulous owners, warm and friendly staff, a modern take on rustic decor, and brilliant food to boot, it's somewhere that should be high up on everyone's 'to visit' list.

If you haven't had the pleasure of trying Oven before, I implore you to book a table ASAP. If you've been before or are a regular, you know just how sensational it is. But either way, in this post, you can find out more about the duo behind the business, the restaurant's biggest achievements, and what you should try next time you visit!

Hello! Let's start with a bit of an introduction. Who are you and what is your business all about?

Hi! We are Tarek Thoma and Lisa Ward, founders of Oven Restaurant Middlesbrough. We’ve been chefs together for over 20 years and have been running restaurants on Teesside for 16 years - first in Darlington, which we opened in 2005, before selling and moving to much larger premises on Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough in 2015.

Oven Restaurant is vibrant and all about our love of food. Tarek is from Egypt and I travelled extensively growing up, which definitely reflects on the dishes we serve. We have a strong Mediterranean influence running through our dishes. Middle Eastern dishes and spices feature alongside innovative dishes that mix classic and modern British, Italian, Mediterranean and Arabic flavours, served using the best local produce. We've just installed a huge new pizza oven, which is going down a storm with our customers - we even have one customer who now comes every single morning for a margherita pizza! We kind of went on a journey of discovery during lockdown and became obsessed with dough and pizza, resulting in our new passion project; authentic stone baked Neapolitan pizzas.

During the day, there is a relaxed vibe, open from 10.30am every day (except Sundays, we open at 12 noon). We have introduced a new brunch menu and have an amazing range of unusual coffees and lattes, smoothies, shakes and hot drinks that everyone loves. You can call in for a coffee and a cake, come an order an iced Spanish latte with shakshuka, or just pop in for a cocktail. Our all day menu is available from 12 noon and runs until last orders at 9pm. Sunday lunch is a bit of an institution across Teesside for our customers and you’ll often find a queue at the door on Sunday afternoons.

We try to be as eco-friendly as we can and manage to recycle almost all our our waste - even our food stuffs are recycled to a local farm. We source almost all of our ingredients from local suppliers and are always on the lookout for local businesses to use.

What has the reception been like for Oven since opening?

We’ve had a phenomenal reception since we opened in 2015 and are now established and constantly busy. It’s great and really what any restauranteur strives for.

What is the most popular dish on the menu and why?

I would definitely say that the cult delicacy of Teesside, the parmo, is up there as the most popular dish on our menu. We are ranked number 1 on Tripadvisor, so we must be doing something right! When we first opened, we didn’t have them on our menu, but it didn’t take long for us to embrace them after so many requests. We try to make the best parmo we possibly can using free range Cumbrian chicken, Japanese crispy panko breadcrumbs, butter, milk and good quality cheese, and try to come up with different seasons variations.

What would you recommend we try from the menu?

It's difficult to recommend just one dish! Our authentic, stonebaked Neapolitan pizzas are definitely worth a try - everyone is raving about them! Our spicy Egyptian stew is a customer favourite, along with our spicy French fish soup, prawn pil pil, and our braised shin of beef in black pepper sauce. Lots of our customers return for a specific dishes on the menu!

What do you enjoy most about running Oven?

We love helping people share life’s joys through food, having a space where everyone can share memorable moments that last a lifetime, and connecting with hundreds of Teessiders every day. Each day is different when you run your own business - there’s always a new challenge to face and each day has its own unique sense of achievement. It could be a new dish, a new cocktail or a new customer we’re welcoming for the first time. We get a great deal of satisfaction working in such an amazing vibrant and diverse town.

What has been Oven's biggest achievement so far?

Recently, Tarek was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen's birthday honours list for services to the community, which was a massive personal achievement, but also a collective achievement for the restaurant.

We felt at a loss at the beginning of lockdown, forced to close and unsure of what the future would hold. We contacted Middlesbrough Council to offer our help, realising we had the perfect location and enough refrigeration space to be of use. Discussions led to the care package initiative, and together with Middlesbrough Council, the mayor Andy Preston and our suppliers, we created a packing factory within the restaurant to create provision boxes for everyone that was vulnerable or shielding. We also cooked and delivered hot meals daily to James Cook hospital and other charitable residences around the locality.

All of this really gave us a great sense of achievement every evening. We were still able to do something productive and helpful within the community, and provide nourishment and care to people when they needed it the most. We are also proud to have reopened with a bang! The restaurant went under extensive renovations during the last lockdown, we’ve made some major improvements, and also introduced authentic Southern Italian cuisine to the menu.

What do you love about the Teesside independent food scene?

We love how vibrant the food scene has become on Teesside, from Michelin star restaurants to street food markets, it's all encompassing and growing quickly. We love how welcoming it is now, and how receptive people have become to new flavours ideas and new cuisines. There's a great entrepreneurial spirit on Teesside.

What's next for Oven? What do you hope for the future?

Our plan is to continue to work with the council and hope to organise some fundraisers for our local charities. We are thinking about taking on the initiative to start a non-profit organisation too. Right now, we are just happy to be open and trading again! It’s been a funny old year and as the saying goes, “you never know what the future may hold”.

And finally, recommend one other Teesside independent to us!

It's difficult to recommend just one! Can we be cheeky and give a few shout outs? We have old favourites that we have used for many years like Gallerina in Darlington, a fantastic art gallery. We also have new discoveries, like LemonTop Gin (we are selling their gin in our restaurant and everyone is loving it) and Coniscliffe Cakery, a great little indie that sells lovely homemade cakes and the most amazing Biscoff fudge!

Anybody else really itching to book a table now? I absolutely love this series because it adds a totally new layer to the businesses I already loved, and I've definitely learned lots of new things about Oven from this post. It truly is a fantastic spot, whether you need somewhere for date night or a family dinner, so make sure you check it out. You can see the Oven Middlesbrough menus here, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with all their news.

Make sure you check back next week for another incredible Teesside independent!

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