After nine eventful years that have seen Tom Kerridge turn a struggling boozer into a two-Michelin-starred powerhouse, and go from relative unknown to the new face of BBC Two's Food & Drink programme, he and his team at the Hand & Flowers have launched their second pub. Tom Vaughan reports
"I'm in love with every brick of this building," chimes Tom Kerridge, sitting in the bar of his restaurant, the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
"And it's almost like, with this new site, we'll be reaching out an arm and making a little extension of it."
It's the eve of the launch of his new pub, the Coach, and the famously garrulous chef has turned the loquaciousness up to 11. He hasn't stopped talking for about 20 minutes: "We want it to be a local pub; to be user friendly and accessible. One of the best things about the Hand & Flowers is that it is booked for a long time. That's amazing for a business. It's humbling and embarrassing, because really it's not what we set it out to be, which was great food in an accessible environment, but because of media and TV it fills up months in advance, which means it is not really a pub."
Located on the same road, a stretch further into Marlow, the Coach, which opened earlier this month, is Kerridge's second attempt at creating the modern British pub. The first, arguably, became a victim of its own high standards and was diverted into the world of fine-dining.
"The Hand & Flowers has that pub vibe but you can't just pop in any more, which is what a pub is all about," says Kerridge. The Coach is the Hand & Flowers team's answer to the increasingly competitive allure of the high street.
"So many little elements are eating away at pubs, but mainly I think it is because people's social habits are changing and we as an industry have to adapt," he explains. "If people want to go out now they will go to Zizzi, have a pizza and a bottle of wine and not spend much at all. Those high street offerings are good, and offer good value. We need to get pubs back to where they should be - eating and drinking places that are accessible."
The bijou site, originally a pub that had been run as a Chinese restaurant for several years, seats 20 at the bar with further dining for 20. It's run by staff from the Hand & Flowers, features a menu of small plates such as potato and smoked eel Scotch egg with charred onion (£6) and chicken Kiev with maple-glazed squash (£12), and, most importantly, will be an all-day operation.
"If you are getting in to open a pub at 11am you might as well open for breakfast. If you are open for breakfast you might as well be selling coffee after. There is a trade there - pubs can capture it if they create an environment that is comfortable and you don't feel like you are drinking the wrong thing because you are having a coffee," says Kerridge.
His love for the great British boozer runs deep, and the Coach aims to please the diverse crowds who use pubs: drinkers, sports fans and diners. Dotted around the room are small screens showing different sports, the sound turned off. Does he think it will put diners off?
"Think of really good Spanish pinxtos bars where they show Real Madrid v Barcelona," he replies quickly. "Or American bars where you can go and eat great burgers and steaks and watch baseball and American football."
The small plates menu is written in conjunction with head chef Nick Beardshaw, who Kerridge has promoted from senior sous chef at the Hand & Flowers, and features a rotisserie.
Chefs will cook, serve and even clear tables. "The kitchen staff will be completely interactive. We're trying to break down the barrier between front and back of house," says Kerridge.
But for a chef so wed to the best quality ingredients, can he make the Coach work at a mid-range price point?
"My biggest concern is that if you are offering dishes at around £14 you sometimes have to compromise on ingredients," he says. "We are overcoming that by making the prices lower but doing slightly smaller portions - small plates - which will range from around £6 to £15. If we get a great bit of turbot, say, we might do a more expensive special."
The early days will be rocky, he freely admits, but when it all beds down, is this something that could be rolled out elsewhere?
"It will definitely work anywhere, but it is not for me to roll out. A massive reason for me doing this is we want to create something that every landlord who is struggling can use as a blueprint to try and turn things around. We would love for it to be a small starting point for how pubs might be in 20 years. But it's not something we are actively looking to roll out."
It's been nine years since Kerridge opened the Hand & Flowers and in that time it has risen from provincial gastropub to two- Michelin-starred powerhouse and propelled him into the media limelight. So why has it taken so long to dip his toe in the water witha second site?
"One reason is that we're not Londonbased. There are so many more sites available in London. Not that we don't get offered any - over the last few years we've probably been offered one a week. All of the time we say no, because a massive part of our business is the team and the team ethic. Opening in London would mean having two separate teams and me floating in the middle - there would be no synergy. Never say never, London is appealing, but it would have to feel right and organic, which is what the Coach is."
From the Coach menu
- Blowtorched mackerel with rotisserie beetroot and horseradish £6.50
- The Coach Caesar salad £4
- Mushroom 'risotto' Claude Bosi £6
- Rotisserie roast celeriac and truffle £4.50
- Rotisserie roast of the day £12.50
- The Coach burger with smoked cheese £10
- Roast pork belly with crackling, mash and pickled cabbage £12.50
- Steak and ale pie with suet pastry (right) £11
- Hot chocolate tart with hazelnut ice-cream £6.50
- Whisky and rye pudding (above right) £6.50
- Banana custard with dates and honeycomb £6.50
- Spiced plum fool with brandy ice-cream £6.50
The team behind the scenes
Aaron Mulliss, 32, head chef, the Hand & Flowers
Mulliss joined the Hand & Flowers just over seven years ago, having been over-awed by Kerridge's cooking while on a staff outing with his previous employer. He made the step up to head chef four years ago. What has kept him at the restaurant for so long?
"The whole ethos of the place. I feel like it's as much mine as Tom and Beth's [Kerridge's wife and business partner]. Tom taught me how to run a kitchen. There are 17 boys in the kitchen and we are like one big family here, all striving for exactly the same thing."
Nick Beardshaw, 31, head chef, the Coach
After four years at the Hand & Flowers, during which time he rose up to the position of senior sous chef, Beardshaw is stepping into his first head chef position at the Coach.
"The concept is definitely different and it is going to be a challenge, especially getting the service right, as we are trained to cook and serve three courses. But this is how we want pubs to be," says Beardshaw of the Coach. His career before joining Kerridge's team included spells at Midsummer House in Cambridge and the Castle in Taunton, Somerset.
Jamie May, 29, senior sous chef, the Hand & Flowers
Following Beardshaw's move to the Coach, Jamie May has stepped up from junior to senior sous chef at the Hand & Flowers. After stints at Pétrus under Marcus Wareing, at Arbutus and in Australia, May has spent four years at the Hand & Flowers.
What has kept him here so long? "The guy next to me," he says, gesturing at Kerridge, who is embarrassedly tapping his phone. "The support they have for everybody is fantastic. Now it's on me to step up."
Claire Kreigenfeld, 28, manager, the Coach
Following four years at the Hand & Flowers as assistant manager - and three years in the same position at Mallory Court in Leamington Spa prior to that - Kreigenfeld is stepping up to manage the Coach. "She is such a smiley, friendly face and has the systems and experience to really make the room work,"
James Shaw, 25, bar manager, the Coach
After 18 months as chef de rang and bartender at the Hand & Flowers, Shaw moves over to the Coach as bar manager. Previously at Taylor's Restaurant in Tavistock and at Brown's hotel, London, Kerridge says he is the perfect man for the job: "He is so keen and so eager and so lovely. He's got a love of food and booze and how it is made. His knowledge and understanding is going to be a huge asset."
Whole stuffed rotisserie roast quail
- 25g salt
- 250ml water
- 10 juniper berries
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 x 180g quail
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 100g good quality sausage meat
- 2 sage leaves finely chopped
- 2 dried figs
- Salt and black pepper
- 250ml good quality veal stock
- Lemon thyme
Firstly make a brine by dissolving 25g of salt in 250ml of hot water. Add the juniper and bay leaves and allow to cool completely in a fridge.
To prepare the quail, make an incision using a sharp flexible knife in the large part of the breast, moving up and around the ribcage as tightly as possible. Trace the knife all the way around without going through the breast until the ribcage comes out and a completely boneless cavity remains.
Trim any excess from the wings and neck and reserve all bones for the sauce. Put the quail in the brine, ensuring it is fully submerged, for 4 hours. Remove and rinse for 10 minutes under cold running water.
To make the stuffing, sweat the onion in a small amount of butter until soft and translucent. Allow to cool completely. Mix the sausage meat, onions and sage with a twist of pepper and pinch of salt until fully combined. To stuff the quail, take the figs and shape the sausage mix around them as if making a scotch
egg, so the figs are evenly encased by half a centimetre of mix. Stuff this into the cavity in the quail and mould the quail to look like a whole bird again. Leave in the fridge for half an hour to firm up.
To make the sauce, roast the quail bones until deep golden all over. Bring the roasted bones and the veal stock to the boil, then turn down to a very low setting and simmer gently, skimming frequently. When the stock has reduced by a third, remove the bones and pass the stock through a fine chinoix. Set the stock in a fridge then remove any fat from the surface. Reduce the stock to sauce consistency.
Cook the quail on a rotisserie for 15 minutes, and then rest for 10 minutes. Serve with a couple of picked lemon thyme leaves on the top and the quail sauce.
Tom Kerridge on…
The fame from his TV series
"It's been bananas. The great British public - 99.9% of them - are amazing and lovely and friendly and they come here because they know it is the bloke from the telly. So many of the people who come to eat here haven't eaten at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant before. It means we are reaching out to people. And if they like it, maybe they'll decide to go and eat at Nathan Outlaw's or Sat Bains'."
Messing with the public
"People look at your shopping basket in the supermarket, and they want to know what you're buying. When that happens I go and do something to mix it up - put in a value pork pie or Heston's cookbook. Then they want to meet you and have a photo with you - it's bizarre, amazing, flattering, brilliant, bonkers and a great reflection of what we as a team are doing here."
Surviving the recession
"The start of the recession was a really bumpy time. Sometimes I'd do 48-hour shifts - work here all day, then overnight I'd bake bread to sell on the Saturday
morning on a stall in town, then roll into Saturday service. We'd make about £300 selling bread and that was my and Beth's wages for the week. You have
to do it - without doing that, without that determination, we wouldn't be here now."
Gaining a second Michelin star
"Initially, people were comparing us to Le Gavroche or Le Manoir. They were expecting one thing and got another. Now people are supportive and happy to be eating two-star food in an environment they feel comfortable in. We are very aware people wait so long to get here - it is a huge responsibility. When they get here and they want steak and chips we have to make sure that steak and chips is the best."
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