After years of working with chef superstars, Nick Deverell-Smith has returned to the Cotswolds to cook dishes that celebrate the tastes of the countryside. Amanda Afiya pays a visit
You could say that Nick Deverell-Smith came full circle when he opened the Churchill Arms in Paxford in the heart of the Cotswolds. Having grown up in nearby Henley-in-Arden and Warwick, and as a regular diner at the 17th-century pub during his teenage years, he couldn't refuse the offer to take it over when the opportunity came up in 2015.
Deverell-Smith was always destined to be a chef. As a self-confessed black sheep of the family, he describes himself as disruptive at school, but, from the age of eight, his outlet was the kitchen. "I would bake cookies and cakes and I always felt at home in the kitchen, I guess. By 12, I was cooking most of the family meals for my three brothers and my parents."
Despite an aversion to school, Deverell- Smith's talent certainly shone through when he enrolled at Birmingham College of Food (now University College Birmingham). He excelled and was quickly identified as a rising star, securing a post at Simpson's in Kenilworth under Andreas Antona as a result.
After a period with Antona and his gifted brigade, which included Luke Tipping and Glynn Purnell at the time, he moved to Mallory Court, where he worked with Simon Hague before being picked up by the London culinary elite, finishing up as runner-up in the Gordon Ramsay Scholar competition in 2006. This significant moment led to him working alongside Marcus Wareing, Marco Pierre White and Éric Chavot.
"I have been fortunate to train with many of today's best-known chefs, but I will always remember my time with Andreas Antona at Simpson's as pivotal, as I was part of the kitchen when it received its Michelin star," says Deverell-Smith. "Working with Éric Chavot was also a huge privilege – he's a total genius and I learned a lot from him."
After several years with Chavot at the Capital hotel in Knightsbridge, as well as at Hotel Chalet Blanc in Montgenèvre in the French Alps, Deverell-Smith joined Soho House, working in a number of the group's kitchens, including Dean Street Townhouse in London, before returning to the Cotswolds to open the Churchill Arms.
The pub is located in a classic Cotswold stone building, boasting 60-65 covers with bar seating for six, a sharing table/semi-private dining room for 12 and a garden terrace seating a further 45, as well as four individually designed bedrooms with whitewashed walls and exposed wooden beams.
Deverell-Smith describes his food style as British and he works hard to source as much of his produce from the Cotswolds as possible.
"I only have five key suppliers. In fact, during my 10-minute drive to work, I go past the Drinkwater's farm, which grows all my fruit and vegetables. Whatever is in the fields determines what will be on the plates in the pub."
Equally, he tries to buy in local ales and beers, with at least half a dozen, including Winter Solstice, Macbeth, Blitzen and Shagweaver (from the North Cotswold Brewery), sourced from within a 15-mile radius of the pub.
The menu can change as often as once a fortnight, depending on the seasons, but will always include bestsellers such as homemade pies (for example, beef and Winston pie, £16.50), fish and chips with crushed peas and tartare sauce (£15.50) and beef Wellington (to share) with hand-cut chips and peppercorn sauce (£65). Other favourites include smoked haddock souffle with chive velouté (£9), and pork T-bone with caramelised apple, sage, crackling and mash (£18.50).
"I enjoy prepping fish, but I also love butchery, too. We butcher all our own venison – we make a ragù from the shoulders, save the legs for Sunday lunch and use the fillets for the à la carte mains," says Deverell-Smith. "We are all about minimising waste at the pub."
Deverell-Smith, who appeared in the 2017 series of Great British Menu, heads a brigade of just four (two senior chefs and two apprentices) and a front of house team of five, which includes his younger brother Chris, who is the Churchill Arms' restaurant manager. Something of a family affair, his mum, Yvonne, is his right-hand woman, too. Together, the teams serve up to 600 covers a week, particularly during their busiest months of May to September.
From the menu
- Cornish crab on toast, brown crab mayonnaise £10.50
- Venison croquette, carrot purée, pickled carrots £9.50
- Baked celeriac, celeriac rémoulade, apple and raisins £8.50
- Burford chicken breast, herb gnocchi, forest mushrooms £18.50
- Calves' liver, confited bacon, cider onions, mash £18.50
- Roasted heritage beetroots, pearl barley, walnuts £16
- Dark chocolate delice, blackberries, honeycomb £7
- Sticky toffee pudding, salted caramel ice-cream £7
The Churchill Arms, Paxford, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6XH
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