Pub entrepreneurs Katherine and Henry Cripps have opened their third pub, the Three Oaks. Neil Gerrard finds out about the user-friendly menu and the importance of specials boards
The Three Oaks in leafy Gerrards Cross west of London is appropriately named - after all, it is the third pub to be taken on by Henry and Katherine Cripps, who also own the White Oak in Cookham and the Greene Oak in Windsor.
Re-opened in July this year after its previous owners decided to sell up, the Three Oaks underwent a complete and rather tasteful refurbishment, with muted shades of olive green and dark greys, along with lots of wood - polished wood floors and heavy, expensive-looking wooden furniture.
Meanwhile, the Cripps have hired Claire Beckwith, previously general manager at the Michelin-starred the Crown at Whitebrook, as group senior manager.
The formula seems to be working as the kitchen's brigade of six chefs, overseen by executive chef Jack Woolner, is already pumping out up to 700 covers a week.
For 29-year-old Woolner, the key to his regularly-changing menu focusing on British classics, is to be user-friendly.
"I don't try and put stuff out that people don't know or don't recognise," he says. "I try to keep the menu so that every dish across the board sells, I don't like having just one dish that sells lots. It is really important because that way your stock stays in line and everything stays fresh."
To help him achieve that, the Three Oaks makes extensive use of its specials board, which not-only offers value-led propositions like a ‘three courses for £19' deal, but also gives Woolner and his team a chance to gauge feedback before promoting the best sellers to the main menu. A case in point is the recently-introduced Jacob's Ladder, with griddled oyster mushrooms (£15.90). The cut of thin rib is slow-cooked for 10-hours and served on the bone in a sweetened, sticky jus. It has proved an instant winner, and Woolner sold 16 on a Wednesday lunchtime as soon as he put it on.
Other dishes have already made the leap, such as the (Surf n' Turf) steak tartare and breaded langoustines (£7.25). "I wanted to do something a bit different and that is what I came up with. When you eat the langoustines, aïoli and tartare together they become one - they really click together well as a set of flavours. There was quite a slow reaction to it at first but now it is really starting to speed up," Woolner says.
He also tends to favour strong flavours, something that is very noticeable in the ‘Oaks' chicken liver parfait, fig chutney and toast (£7.50).
"I put a couple of bits in which lift the flavour so it becomes very strong," he explains. "I micro plane some fresh garlic through there and I pass it back out again, but it just kicks it at the end."
It's a similar story with the slow roast suckling pig belly with creamed cabbage and caramelised apple (£15.25).
"We brine the belly so it has a huge, intense flavour. It is close to the line of being almost too far," Woolner says. "It also appears to be quite a small dish but once you have eaten it, it is more than enough for anyone."
In time, Woolner hopes the Three Oaks will rise from its current level to up to 900 covers a week, and given the size of the site and the success of its sister pubs it looks like an achievable ambition.
Sample dishes from the menu
Smoked salmon, caper berries and rocket £6.90 18-month aged Parma ham, grapes and poached figs £6.90 Garlic creamed chestnut mushrooms on griddled bread £5.90
Roast monkfish with smoked salmon risotto and rocket salad £18.50 Confit duck leg, fig tart, watercress and jus £14.90 Roast rump of lamb, sautéd mushrooms, peas, garlic and confit potatoes £15.90
Poached peaches with vanilla ice cream £5 Red berry pavlova £6 Colston Bassett & Berkswell, fig chutney and water biscuits £8
The Three Oaks Austenwood Lane, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire SL9 8NL
Tel: 01753 899 016