Lee Evans tells James Stagg how his simple, seasonal menu has won over locals and foodies, in a venue transformed from wet-led boozer to destination pub
The town of Glastonbury may be known almost exclusively for the local music festival that shares the same name, but chef Lee Evans and his wife Ally are working to put the area on the culinary map too.
Having taken on the Apple Tree Inn in February, the couple have set about converting the previously dilapidated wet-led pub into a destination pub serving carefully crafted seasonal produce.
Lee certainly has the pedigree to succeed. He took his first head chef role at Peterstone Court on Brecon, before spending four years at the Wheatsheaf in Combe Hay near Bath, where Evans achieved five out of ten in the Good Food Guide and was awarded a Michelin rising star in 2009.
"We built the reputation of the Wheatsheaf up and trade grew, but it got to the stage where I wanted a new challenge," Evans explains. "So we looked for somewhere to take on ourselves."
After a two-week refurbishment with the help of family and friends, the Evans have worked in partnership - with Lee in the kitchen and Ally working front of house.
"Ally gets up in the morning and makes the bread," Lee says. "We're starting to train the apprentice on desserts, but Ally still does a lot of them."
With a small team the food has been paired down from the fare Evans served at the Wheatsheaf, but only in terms of the amount of ingredients and garnishes on the plate. "With a small team we can't have six or seven elements to each dish, he says. "Right now it's just me and an apprentice but we're looking to take on a full time chef before next summer."
His simple and seasonal menu has won over both locals and foodies from further afield.
"Locals are happy to have somewhere pleasant and friendly to come," Evans says. "They realise being food led is the only way for a pub to survive. We're also attracting many people that wouldn't have set foot in here before."
Staples on the menu include three sizes of steak, served with triple cooked chips, a duck egg or wild garlic butter (£19.95 for a 10oz ribeye of Hereford beef).
"The steaks are going down really well and the chips are gaining legendary status," Evans says. "They're a good talking point - everyone loves a chip."
Meanwhile, daily fish specials feature on the blackboard. "Many people come back for the fish. Especially round here people struggle to get fresh fish on menus, but we've got a great supplier so we order little and often," he adds.
For those looking for a taste of Somerset, Evans is currently offering a starter of pan fried mackerel with an apple terrine, bramley apple purée and cider jelly. "It's apple season and we're in the perfect place to make the most of it," he says.
Main courses include a fillet of John Dory with carrot and star anise purée, pork belly and roasted Chantenay carrots. "People are starting to get more trusting, so they are more inclined to go for something a bit different," Evans explains. "With this dish the John Dory is a strong enough flavour to cope with the pork."
It being autumn there are also some seasonal warmers on the menu. Evans has just added a braised haunch of venison, which is mixed with blackberries and wild mushrooms and topped with potato to create a cottage pie.
"We use local venison from Sharpham Park in Shepton which we braise down, pick the meat off and mix with sautéed wild mushrooms, some locally picked blackberries and gravy. We top it with mashed potato and some local cheddar and pop it under the grill before serving it with roasted beetroot," Evans says.
Through fantastic local sourcing coupled with shrewd technical touches, Evan ensures his food packs a punch without over complicating things.
Sample dishes from the menu
- Pan fried mackerel, green apple purée, apple terrine, cider jelly £6.95
- Terrine of duck leg and red wine poached pear, toasted sour dough £6.95
- Bresaola, fig, toasted walnuts and ragstone salad £7.95
- Braised blade of beef, roast shallots, horseradish pomme purée £13.95
- Local venison haunch, wild mushroom and blackberry pie, roast baby beets £12.50
- Fillets of John Dory, carrot and anise purée, pork belly, Chantenay carrots £14.95
- Dark chocolate fondant, mascarpone, fig and honey ice cream £6.00
- Sticky toffee pudding, caramel sauce, praline ice cream £5.50
- Vanilla pannacotta, poached blackberries, cider sorbet £5.50
The Apple Tree Inn
West Pennard, Glastonbury, Somerset, BA6 8ND
Tel: 01749 890060