THE Horsell Kitchen is celebrating winning the Muddy Stilettos award for Best Café in Surrey.

“It was wonderful to get some recognition after such a challenging first 18 months in business,” said Joanna Hodgson, who runs the café in High Street with her husband, John.

“We were nominated by customers, and then based on customer votes we were shortlisted for the final. Voting then opened again, and we won! 

“It was our first award for the café, although we have previously won awards at our restaurant in Dartmouth.”

The Muddy Stilettos awards focus on respected small local enterprises, looking for, in the words of its website, “the unique, creative, quirky and most exciting businesses”.

Quite an accolade, then, especially as the café’s early months were hampered by lockdowns.

“We’d only opened on 3 February [last year],” said Joanna. “Then we had this complete change in circumstances and we felt then that the only responsible solution was to go to take-out, and close the indoor seating.

“During all the lockdown periods John cooked hundreds of meals and I delivered them to local customers. We do still offer freezer meals and they can be purchased by visiting the café.

“At the café now we serve breakfast and lunch, and regularly add new dishes to the menus. We also prepare dinner kits for customers and provide simple cooking instructions, or we can cook in your home. We provide catering for weddings, funerals, birthdays and meetings.

"We also do supper clubs at the café, and we have done tapas nights, mussels nights, steak nights, and soon we are doing surf and turf nights.

“John is a classically trained chef with more than 20 years’ experience, so he particularly enjoys these evenings.”

One of Joanna’s greatest regrets during lockdown was having to release staff, shrinking the business to just herself and John.

Now, however, she has been recruiting again, once more providing local jobs.

“We have just taken on three new staff,” Joanna said. “That brings us up to six, and John and myself.”