At the Wheatsheaf Inn in the Cotswolds, head chef Antony Ely has taken a straightforward approach to modern British cuisine, catering for well-heeled customers who come from far and wide. Andy Lynes reports
Antony Ely may have only moved 10km from his previous job at Bibury Court, but he's taken on a challenge at the Wheatsheaf Inn in the charming Cotswolds village of North Leach that's a million miles away from fine-dining hotel food.
"We're not a gastronomic place. The Wheatsheaf is somewhere you can come and enjoy food that's very good, with relaxed service - there's something for everybody," says Ely, who took over the kitchen in September 2011, reuniting him with owner Sam Pearman, who previously managed Bibury Court.
Ely's CV includes the Mirabelle, the Square and a stint as executive chef of the Tea Room restaurant at the Clarence Hotel, Dublin where he regularly cooked for owners and U2 band members Bono and the Edge. He's still cooking for a well-heeled crowd at the Wheatsheaf.
"Sometimes there are more Bentleys in the car park than in Mayfair," says Ely who has served in excess of 110 covers on a Saturday night to a mix of locals and customers from as far away as New York who are attracted by listings on the Mr and Mrs Smith website and Tatler's 101 Best Hotels in the World.
With a bar, 45-seat main dining room, 16-seat game bar, garden with seating for 40, 22-seat private dining room, an eight-seat poker room, and snug with seating for a further 26, Ely and his team of five chefs and two kitchen porters have a lot of ground to cover.
The range of menus includes breakfast; à la carte offered everyday for dinner and at lunch on Monday to Friday; brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm including Toulouse sausage with green bean and potato salad and a soft boiled egg (£7 or £11 for a main course portion), afternoon tea every day with the likes of blueberry and lemon drizzle cake with clotted cream (£3) and a £10 two-course children's menu that includes roast salmon and chips, and spotted dick and custard.
The private dining Feast Menu showcases meats from Butts Farm in nearby South Cerney and includes whole roast rib of beef served with either béarnaise sauce and French fries or Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and red wine gravy (£28 per person for a minimum of 15).
"Butts Farm is our way into consistency," says Ely, who also gets pork and suckling pig from the supplier. "It's either one of their beasts or from a farmer they know. That means we're not going to end up with a lot of not-too-good beef or chewy beef or meat that's not well hung."
Best-selling starters on the à la carte include devilled kidneys (£5). Ely cuts lambs kidney's in half, removes the sinew then tosses them in seasoned flour. "We cook them in a hot pan with some oil and just as they start to seal we add a big knob of butter and turn them and let the flour crisp up. We add loads of chopped coriander at the end and serve them on toast."
A main course of Butts Farm Old Spot pork chop (£15) illustrates Ely's straightforward approach to modern British cooking. "We rub it with some crushed fennel and salt and pepper. All the trimmings from the pork are diced and fried off for their juices. We marinate fennel in fennel seeds, lemon, olive oil and garlic and cook it in a water-bath and let it go cold," he explains.
For service, Ely roasts three pieces of the marinated fennel to order and serves the chargrilled chop on top with new potatoes and a spoonful of meat juices with lemon juice and parsley.
"We're not into painting pictures," says Ely. "If we've sourced something well and cooked it well, we're not going to then ruin it by taking five minutes building things on the plate."
Sample dishes from the menu
Red wine poached egg, bacon, mushroom and onion £6 Crisp red mullet, sweet & sour tomatoes, olive crostini £8 Pappardelle with braised hare, red wine, root vegetables £12
Chicken Kiev, morels, sauté potatoes & tomato £15 Roast halibut, butternut squash, pearl barley & Parma ham £17 Calves' liver with kelmscott bacon, sherry shallots & mashed potato £12
Popcorn, pecan and salted caramel sundae £5 Hot chocolate mousse, raspberry sorbet £5 Blood orange jelly, vanilla ice-cream £5
The Wheatsheaf Inn West End, Northleach, Gloucestershire GL54 3EZ