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Sally Abé has been at the helm of the Harwood Arms, London's only Michelin-starred gastropub, for more than two years, retaining the accolade while continuing to innovate across all areas of the business.
The Fulham pub is co-owned by chef and wild food champion Mike Robinson, Brett Graham of the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury, and Edwin Vaux. Abé was appointed having spent five years at the Ledbury with Graham, following a stint at Elystan Street under Phil Howard. She has said that for her, the Harwood Arms hits a "sweet spot", serving highly accomplished dishes in a casual pub setting.
The Harwood Arms has cultivated a reputation for its game cookery, which has developed under Abé's tenure with venison scotch eggs, a muntjac Wellington and faggots among the venue's signature dishes.
She told The Caterer last year: "I've tried to stay true to what guests love about the Harwood Arms. I've simplified the number of ingredients on the plate so the menu has become a little more refined. I try to intensify the flavour of every ingredient so there's not so much noise on the plate. I love classic, British combinations; I try to put on my own spin, so it's familiar but still a little surprising."
The focus on game supports Abé's sustainability goals, but she is not complacent. The pub takes its ‘locally sourced' claims seriously and chocolate, pasta and rice will not be found on the menu, with UK-grown potatoes and pearl barley the only carbohydrates. The chef applies a similar philosophy to the pub's drinks menu, with cocktails featuring local gins and the wine list highlighting English wines.
Abé also makes her own charcuterie using meat offcuts and grows fruit, vegetables and herbs in a rooftop garden. Setting these challenges, she says, forces her to be "more creative".
Her work has seen the pub retain its Michelin star, with the guide saying the "kitchen is so skilled and so resolutely governed by the country's seasonal produce".
The chef also has a firm grip on ensuring the pub's continued commercial success, with the business experiencing 6% growth last year and continuing to attract not just those looking for a fine dining experience, but also locals in search of a drink and a snack.
Abé was praised by the judges for championing many new initiatives to support her team, including rigorous training and recruitment procedures, morning yoga classes and the setting up of an employee assistance programme. She previously told The Caterer: "I'm really focused on staff wellbeing and creating a positive working environment; I've got no tolerance for shouting, bullying, sexist remarks or anything like that."
It's no wonder our judges were impressed, not just by the food coming out of the Harwood Arms' kitchen, but by the way that Abé has developed and driven the business as a whole.
What the judges said
"Not only is Sally a fantastic chef, her inspiring commitment to promoting a sustainable work-life balance and women in the industry make her a very worthy winner of this award." – Joycelyn Neve
"All gastropubs should be like this. Sally is extraordinary, an example to us all." – Hamish Stoddart
- Sally Abé, the Harwood Arms, London
- Richard Ferrier, the White Brasserie Company
- Tim Foster, the Yummy Pub Co
- Martin Wolstencroft, Arc Inspirations
- Joycelyn Neve, founder, Seafood Pub Company
- Andrew Pern, chef-patron, the Star Inn At Harome
- Hamish Stoddart, managing director, Peach Pubs
- Rachel Weller, head of consumer research and marketing, CGA