Hector Skinner and Matt Green-Armytage have turned a south London pub on its last legs into a successful food-led operation, writes Neil Gerrard
It says something about the split personality of an area like London's Camberwell that an ailing back-street boozer could be transformed within a matter of months into a thriving neighbourhood pub and restaurant.
But that is precisely what has happened at the Crooked Well, after the lease for the Punch Taverns pub was taken on by former Hotel du Vin employees and friends, Hector Skinner and Matt Green-Armytage.
The pub/restaurant opened last June, having previously been a wet-led operation which Green-Armytage describes as having been "on its last legs". The pair turned the site into a food-led operation, with capacity in its restaruant area for around 25 diners and it now does around 450 covers per week.
Green-Arymtage has been a chef for 16 years, notching up 10 years at Hotel du Vin, including five years as a head chef. He also worked at the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche under Michel Roux Jnr. He met Skinner at Hotel du Vin in Winchester, and three years ago they decided to start their own business together.
The menu is informed by their time in the hotel business, and although the Crooked Well is primarily a British pub, it also demonstrates the European influences that characterise Hotel du Vin's food offer.
"It is seasonal and British, but I do have suppliers that do the Rungis market in Paris twice a week," Green-Armytage explains.
"My butcher is local and my greengrocer and fishmonger are both based in London. Using local produce is great but at times it is worth looking a bit further afield."
The mix of British and more exotic influences is no better illustrated than by the guinea fowl and chicken terrine, mango and pink peppercorn salsa (£7.50). Aside from the more exotic accompaniments of mango and pink peppercorns, Green-Armytage has used seaweed to wrap the terrine, rather than the more usual Savoy cabbage or Serrano ham.
The quirky, fun approach continues with another starter, the Scotch egg with Heinz tomato soup and crisp pancetta (£5.50).
"We had a bit of fun with that dish. We only put it on about a month ago and it sells well," Green-Armytage says.
Interestingly, the mention of Heinz tomato soup is one of the few examples of a dish which gives any real clue to its provenance. "I haven't gone for name-checking suppliers. Menus tend to turn into an essay and we wanted to avoid that," he says.
Among the main courses, the braised venison, pomme dauphine, root vegetables and jus (£17.90) is one of the most popular dishes, although even that is outsold by one of the restaurant's three sharing dishes, the rabbit and bacon pie for two (£24.50).
Meanwhile, Green-Armytage and the team have given as much thought as possible to value, offering a steak for well under the normal London price of around £20, in the shape of the char-grilled picanha steak, slow roast tomato, Café de Paris butter (£16.90). The meat, aged 21-28 days, is supplied by Donald Russell.
"I am extremely happy that we have found a steak that is cost effective and the feedback has been great," Green-Armytage says.
Sample dishes from the menu
Pig's head terrine, caramelised quince and scratchings £4.50 Smoked salmon, truffle, radish and egg white gribiche £7.90 Crisp salt and pepper baby squid, olive oil dressing £7.50
Crisp pork belly, seasonal mushrooms, kale and apple purée £14.75 Sea bass, mussel linguini, tapenade and coriander cress £16.50 Ravioli of ricotta, kale, and pine nuts, pomegranate dressing £11.00 Roast lamb, spiced aubergine, tzatziki and jus for two £32.50
Chocolate torte, berry Chantilly £5.50
Walnut and pecan tart, vanilla ice-cream, walnut tuille £5.50
Hot chocolate pudding, Chantilly and salted caramel ice-cream for two £12.50
The Crooked Well16 Grove Lane, Camberwell, London SE5 8SYTel: 020 7252 7798000www.thecrookedwell.com
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