After learning his chops at Michelin-starred restaurants in London, Miller's Collection group executive chef Kevin Chandler is making the most of the fresh produce on his doorstep in rural Hampshire. Neil Gerrard reports
Kevin Chandler is an old hand at luxury pub firm Miller's Collection, despite his appointment as group executive chef at the end of 2010. He has served as head chef of the three-strong group's flagship pub, the Anchor Inn at Lower Froyle in Hampshire, for almost two years and still spends as much time as possible at the stove in charge of the brigade of four other chefs.
The Anchor, like its counterparts the Peat Spade Inn in Longstock, Hampshire, and the Queen's Arms in East Garston, Berkshire, are all owned by former Hotel du Vin stakeholder Ashley Levett, a keen hunting and fishing enthusiast.
That means that Chandler's "nose-to-tail" philosophy fits in well. "I decided that whole animals were the way forward," Chandler says. "It's partly a good way of getting margins right but also does justice to the animal. So I use a whole pig, from the cheeks to the brawn, the head meat, the shoulder, trotters, right down to the tail. I do the same with lamb, venison and all birds."
In fact, the only meat he buys cuts of is beef, because the carcass is too large to manage without a butchery. That means that the Wiltshire farmer's son and former head chef of the Pear Tree Inn, who worked under Marcus Wareing at Pétrus and Jason Atherton at Maze, produces hearty dishes with a rustic twist. This is exemplified by pork five ways (£16.50), which consists of pork loin, braised belly, stuffed shoulder, brawn cake and a crackling twig. "Rather than just going through one piece of loin of pork, you get different textures, different taste sensations, different cooking techniques. So for me it is just a far more exciting way of eating," he explains.
The pub relies on a mixture of local produce, provided the quality is right, and foods from further afield, such as Dorset crab and beef from Wiltshire. But Chandler also likes to encourage customers to bring in their own game, as well as local honey. "You can get venison rock up on your doorstep and butcher it on the pass and put it on your lunch menu," he says. "That's what I like about the way pubs are run. You can't do that at somewhere like Maze or Galvin." Pheasants that land on the doorstep may end up in dishes like the pheasant and bacon terrine, braised leg and hazelnut salad with jus vinaigrette (£7.50), which is also on the lunch menu.
In keeping with the fact that the Anchor and other Miller's Collection pubs are frequented by keen anglers, fish also plays a strong role. The dinner menu features the likes of fillet of wild turbot, sautéd potatoes, spinach and flaked beef shin sauce (£17.50), while Chandler ensures once again that as much of the produce is used as possible with dishes like fish pie, poached egg and spring greens (£13.50).
Meanwhile, owner Levett's passions influence not only the menus but also the decor of the pub. A keen student of the history of the first and second world wars, Levett has adorned the walls of the pub with framed pictures of fighter planes, soldiers and other war memorabilia, on top of the hunting bric-a-brac. Each of the five bedrooms in the building, which dates back to the 14th century, is also named after a war poet.
The decor, combined with the unfussy food and open fires, produces a comfortable, relaxed environment that Chandler claims appeals to millionaire City commuters and more down-to-earth locals alike. "We have to be a bit more commercial here," he says. "It is every chef's dream to achieve a Michelin star at some stage, but I wouldn't want to win one and go bust. My food is very honest in presentation and style. It is all about the flavour."
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
STARTERS Smoked mackerel pâté, pickled cucumber and sourdough £6.50
Devilled lamb kidneys on toast, bacon and parsley £7
Roast beetroot and Ragstone goats' cheese salad, croûtons, pine nuts, balsamic dressing £7.50/£11.50
Lamb loin, rolled shoulder, mash, pea purée and meat juices £16.50
English rose veal chop, schnitzel and quail's egg, kidney pie, mash and creamed leeks £17
Beer-battered haddock, triple-cooked chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce £12.50
Chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce, Jersey ice-cream £7
Panna cotta, Yorkshire rhubarb, crumble £7
Spotted dick and custard £7
Pint of Alton's Pride - Triple fff Brewery, Hampshire £2.90
The Anchor Inn
Lower Froyle, Alton, Hampshire GU34 4NA
Tel: 01420 23261