Covid-19 hasn't stopped Angus Davies fulfilling a life-long dream to run a country pub, teaming up with chef Jesse Bryson to launch with a takeaway and delivery service. Andy Lynes reports.
The meeting of the duo behind the Hollist Arms was fated. Landlord Angus Davies and chef Jesse Bryson both worked in London, although their paths never crossed. Davies was assistant manager at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth and manager at Lorne in Victoria, while Bryson cooked at St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, Moro in Farringdon and Leroy in Shoreditch.
Both then moved to Petworth in West Sussex; Davies intending to join his family's events business after a stint as manager at Sorrel in Dorking, and Bryson relocating for family reasons. When Covid hit and events management was off the table, Davies decided to fulfil a long-held ambition to run a pub and sublet the Hollist, a country pub in the village of Lodsworth, four miles west of the town of Petworth.
"I came across the Hollist's Instagram randomly. I pinged over my CV to Angus, and he called me about five minutes later and said, ‘do you want to come and be the head chef?'. I said, ‘yeah, alright', and that was it," says Bryson, who will initially head up a brigade of three chefs and a KP, all working double shifts Wednesday to Saturday, plus Sunday lunch.
Bryson expects to serve up to 60 customers in a marquee in the pub's garden. Once indoor dining is allowed, covers will total over 100. Six months down the line, Davies and Bryson aim to open the pub seven days a week, at which point Bryson anticipates having about seven chefs on the books.
Bryson describes his style as "simple, European-inspired cooking" and he's keeping things simple when it comes to the menus, too. Aside from a daily lunchtime blackboard special priced at under £12 and aimed at walkers and cyclists (the pub is within the South Downs national park), there will be a single menu. "It's going to be a daily menu with between four and six starters, mains and puds. It will evolve service to service, day to day, week to week with the seasons, what's good and what the suppliers have got."
It will evolve service to service, day to day, week to week with the seasons, what's good and what the suppliers have got
A silver lining of the lockdown has meant that Bryson has had plenty of time to track down those suppliers. New discoveries include Portsmouth-based Johnson's Fish, which sells out of the farm shop on the nearby Cowdray Estate, tomatoes from Nutbourne Nursery in Pulborough, and rare breed meats from the rewilded Knepp Estate near Horsham.
Bryson will also continue to use suppliers with whom he established relationships while in London, including Brindisa for olive oils and vinegars and Wild Harbour for dayboat Cornish fish.
Bryson admits there will be some trial and error in establishing what the local market wants to eat, but the pub's takeaway and delivery service has provided some clues. "Duck lasagne was our bestseller at about 80 portions.
"I cure duck legs overnight with Maldon sea salt, lemon zest, bay, thyme, rosemary and crushed garlic," he explains. "I rinse them and put them in roasting tray in the oven on a low heat to render out the fat. I sweat off a classic mirepoix with lots of bay and garlic and add that to the ducks with red wine and brown chicken stock and braise in a medium oven until it's falling-off-the-bone tender."
Bryson then picks the meat off the bone and mixes it with the reduced cooking liquor to make a ragù, which he layers with a slow-cooked fresh tomato sauce made with garlic and olive oil, a Parmesan, mozzarella and cracked black pepper mornay sauce and dried lasagne sheets. He serves the dish with a simple green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.
Priced at £49 for four people, it's one of several sharing dishes, which will be a feature of the menu, especially on Sunday when there will be a whole roast chicken with roast potatoes, greens and gravy (£32 for two people) and roast lamb shoulder, lentils and salsa verde (£64 for four or five people).
"We'll always endeavour to have a pretty traditional, recognisable roast dinner on – just because we are a pub, and we don't want to scare people off. But then also we'd like to offer something that's a cut above what's on offer locally. There's some great pubs around here, don't get me wrong – but I like to think that we could maybe offer something slightly better."
The Hollist Arms, the Street, Lodsworth, West Sussex GU28 9BZ
From the menu
- Ox tongue, barley and anchovy £8
- Pork, pigeon and prune terrine £8
- Smoked trout and asparagus salad £12
- Roast lamb rump, spiced chickpeas and romesco £17
- Brill on the bone, lentils, chorizo, roast fennel and aïoli £19
- White beans stew, lemon, Parmesan and salsa verde £14
- Calves' liver, pancetta, sage, polenta £13
- Pear and almond tart with clotted cream £5
- Chocolate nemesis with crème fraîche £6
- Petworth honey ice-cream and boozy sultanas £4
- Truffled Tunworth £9
Photography: Will Ford Designs and Lizzie Patterson
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