Would you like to be head chef at The Drapers Arms

Five years ago this May when I opened the Drapers Arms with Ben Maschler we were very lucky to have Karl Goward as our head chef.  Karl had been head chef at St John Bread & Wine so he brought great ‘chops’ to his cooking, credibility to the pub and experience to the kitchen.  Mostly when I say lucky though I mean he brought calm, professionalism, great organisational skills, planning – a personality that could help get a new business off the ground without meltdowns, chaos, pan throwing, chef branding or tantrums. Lucky indeed.

At the end of our first year when Karl and Ben decided to head off and try other challenges I looked around the kitchen to see if there was someone who could take the business into the second phase of consolidation and development.  One face shone out…literally shone out.  James de Jong was not the sous chef or the junior sous… I’m not even sure if he was the most senior CdP but his sunny personality, can do, creative approach and general demeanour made him stand out as the person I thought I would enjoy working with and for the last four years I have enjoyed having him as head chef enormously.  Although he turned green when I asked him if he would like the job that was a reflection of his modesty and seriousness of intent – wonderful characteristics I think in a leader.

In the last four years James has led a team which has cooked for 1,000s of people – including creating memorable occasions for numerous weddings and other important days; retained the Bib Gourmand the Karl obtained for us in the first year; built on the established foundations of the approach to food with his own style to strengthen the distinctive identity of the pub; helped us to 19th place nationally in the Morning Advertiser’s list of top gastropubs (I’d like to be higher!); been rated as the top London pub in the Scotch Egg Challenge for the last two years; shared his kitchen with Henry Harris, Jackson Boxer, Andrew Clarke, Tom Oldroyd, Gizzi Erskine, Raymond Blanc and James Ramsden.  He has done all this with calm, maturity that belies his years and the respect of everyone that has worked with him.  Understandably he has caught the eye of other restaurateurs and, equally understandably for someone young, talented and ambitious he has felt the call to move and seek new challenges and experiences.  He does so with my thanks and very best wishes.

What that means is that at five years old we are now looking for someone who is excited to be head chef here and to take us on to hopefully, higher levels still.  I hope that this is a great place to work and that the opportunity is attractive – the broad brush is that the head chef and I discuss the approach, philosophy and targets and then he or she runs the kitchen and writes the menu.  The core values and approach will remain the same and there are a few ‘signature’ Drapers things that I’d need a lot of talking out of, but as I muse through sleepless nights I come up with the following thoughts, we:

  • cook seasonal, British, honest and authentic food
  • use fresh, high quality ingredients that we buy from suppliers who we believe provide the best produce at prices that help us to be great but affordable
  • seek to be generous to our guests
  • hope to be great because we want to send people away having added pleasure to their lives as an end in itself
  • have aspirations and ambitions not pretensions – if that isn’t too pretentious
  • use interesting ingredients, are contemporary and stay in touch with new ingredients and techniques without chasing fashions – this week we have had wild garlic and asparagus because they’ve been great, nduja because it brings thrilling, rich depth and warmth and sweetbreads and ox-heart as we use and adore the whole animal, but we haven’t found a place for kimchi yet and that’s been around for a while now
  • work 6 shifts and encourage the team to have the time to enjoy life
  • work as a team and treat each other with consideration and respect
  • have a searing determination to be better because if this is what we are going to do with our one life then we don’t want to waste it being mediocre

If you like the sound of that and you think you might be the person to take us to the next level then I would love to hear from you.

Nick

James (MoW) Handford’s special wine selection … and Drink the List

Moving swiftly on from my love of morphine to my actual day to day partner drug – wine!

I checked on google and everything and the ‘Institute of Masters of Wine’ website says that there are currently 312 masters of wine living in 24 countries around the world.  One of them, James Handford, runs a wine business that supplies us and we are lucky to have benefitted from his advice and wonderful wines for the five years since we opened.  In that time I have often wondered how we can get more of his knowledge, enthusiasm and fabulous wines to actually impact and benefit our customers.  Although we change our wine list twice a year it remains a relatively static and sadly finite collection of bottles.

But inspired by, borrowing from…wholesale stealing from – however you choose to express it…. the lovely and wonderful Sager & Wilde I have agreed with James an exciting new way for him to thrill and delight adventurous and engaged wine drinkers..

Each week starting this week James is going to wander around his shop and send me a mixed case of 12 bottles, starting out with four wines, three of each that he thinks it might be interesting to offer here as a special one off.  There really isn’t any specific guidance for him – one week he might do a theme, one week it might be a country - another some quirky things might catch his eye.  In order to make this accessible we will put a flat £ mark up on each bottle consistent with one of our ‘pouring by the glass’ wines – so hopefully if James picks a nice bottle this will represent a great value opportunity as well.  If we find we sell all the case in the first two days after they have arrived then we will up the weekly delivery.  I hope this provides a great opportunity to get access to really interesting and special wines chosen by a real expert with over 20 years of selling special wines.

If you have any thoughts, comments, suggestions or feedback then as ever I would be delighted to hear it.

This seems an opportune time to also mention that we have also set the date for our next ‘DRINK THE LIST’ which is on the 17th April (yes the day before your long weekend so you can really come with intent) – I’ve written it up before on here but to save you scrolling down here is the basics again, do call, email or twitter if you fancy coming:

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Here is a re-blog (?) of something I did to explain drink the list last year…same principle this week, come and guzzle as much wine as you like - drink only champagne and puligny montrachet or try every one of 80 odd bottles, it is your call…..

On the [17th April] we are holding our third DRINK THE LIST event.  I’ve bedded down the new wine list and am pretty pleased with some of the new wines that I’ve got on the shelves, as well as the welcome return of one of my favourite wines - the St Ennemond brouilly.  However, even my staff seem to find it difficult to explain the event so here it is in summary:

•we take lots and lots of bottles of wine upstairs to our lovely dining room, and then open a bottle of every wine on the list, from house to the 2001 Poujeaux, 2007 Mikulski Meursault and champagne

•guests come upstairs, grab a glass and help themselves to as much of any wine as they like, drink and repeat until we sadly have to ask them to leave at closing time

•you can if you like simply drink the most expensive wine we have (£65) and as many bottles of it if you like - or you can range across the list trying different price points, countries, colours.  Compare a sancerre and otago sauvignon; finally pin down the difference between a bordeaux and burgundy; oak and unoaked; try some natural (unfiltered and sulphite free) wines, or just grab and glug….

•we will feed you some simple and stomach lining snacks to stop you falling over

Why do we do it?  Well I enjoy it and it is a great opportunity for me to refresh my knowledge of the list and check that it is balanced and drinking well.  Underlying it originally was the idea that if regular users of the pub came they could find which wines we have they like the most and then choose the right wines when they come next, helping them to enjoy their visits more. In theory…

For guests it is like a great drinks party - inevitably our friends end up mingling like at a good party but some people come in big groups and have a great boozy night out with a bunch of mates.  Do contact the pub if you fancy coming and kicking off the ultra long weekend in style…the full list can be found on our website.

Unintended consequences

This morning I awoke sharp and fast.  My sleep was like a bubble that broke free from the bottom of a glass and shot to the surface breaking instantly at the top – my sleep dissipated instantly.  Sometimes, rarely but when it happens it is so delicious, I come to consciousness imperceptibly slowly and as I become aware that has happened I can choose to remain in the moment – fully aware of being cosseted in an all-encompassing duvet, of being gorgeously warm and of just hovering on the sleep side of being alert.  Then my sleep is like the bubble that gently edges up the inside of the glass, stopping just under the surface and staying there below the surface.

A few years ago coming round from (minor) surgery I experienced an awakening like that but, incredibly drowsy and really barely awake more so that I can describe.  In some pain however I called out and was given morphine and pethidine.  The effect was like someone taking a warm blanket of love and, starting at my toes, pulling it gently up my body so that I had never felt so happy, relaxed, loved and comfortable in my whole life, hovering as I was just there under the surface yet to pop. I was aware that I had fallen deeply in love with my drug of choice.  I haven’t had it again since, and no-one has offered it to me and I am very clear that that can only be a really good thing.

****

We had the busiest lunch ever this Sunday and it made me muse on my earliest Sunday pub lunches.  When I was at school (with parents abroad I used to board here in the UK from an early age) around the age of 15 a group of us took to ‘signing out’ on a Sunday to go fishing.  So we would all jump on our bikes and cycle to the pub for lunch – I suddenly remembered the name last night it was the ‘Carpenters Arms’ in Tonbridge, just far enough away for us to be safe from teachers.  When we got there we would have scampi and chips in a basket, drink two or three pints of Guinness or Director’s (if memory serves), smoke Chesterfield, Rothmans or Winston with Café Cremes for after we had eaten or sometimes a cigar from behind the bar.  What we wouldn’t do is misbehave, get drunk and loud or draw attention to ourselves.  There was absolutely no way that the publican or his staff thought that we were 18, but we both maintained the pretence and what we were desperate to do was be accepted in the grown up environment and not called out by staff or customers.  As a result we learnt how to control our alcohol intake in a social environment and how to behave when out drinking.  The publican was obviously breaking the law, as were we, and there would have been consequences if he had been ‘caught’ – but I suspect in those days there was more of a culture of the landlord being trusted to manage the situation and use his or her discretion.

I am not advocating that any publicans take a similarly discretionary approach to underage drinking now – the penalties and possible threat of losing one’s licence are way too severe and with a culture of ‘challenge 21’ I found myself challenging a 24 year old just a week ago (perhaps a sign of my distance from 18 and failing eyesight as much as of the assiduousness with which we enforce the rules!).  I am however, as my sons arrive at a similar stage in life, curious and concerned about the consequence of this robust enforcement of the rules and what it means for young people who wish to drink.

I don’t think anyone pretends that young teenagers will not drink at all – sometimes in controlled ways with their families and at other times in less controlled ways with other adults.  Where do you think that might happen and who do you think sells them the drink?  It is a shame to me that my children will not be able to enjoy the illicit going to the pub adventures that I enjoyed – and that they will not have that lesson in how to behave – but it is not my main issue.  What preys on my mind is my assumption that the source of booze will be some guy in a park, rec or estate who is probably also prepared, interested and motivated to sell drugs as well.  I am not so naïve to think that no-one is ever going to sell drugs to kids, or even to my kids, but the timing (how old they are) and social context concerns me.  If the buying of alcohol is simultaneous to and equivalent to the purchase of drugs and takes place within an unfamiliar and high pressure environment when being cool, appearing to know how to behave and with peer group pressure and (possibly alcohol induced) impaired judgement how far and how fast can they get involved and how soon?  What if someone offers them their drug of choice, the one they fall in love with when they are small, only partially formed and not ready to recognise the danger and stay in control?

I have never to this day been offered heroin, but I can’t but shudder at the consequences had I been at the time that I was desperately trying to find my way and establish my identity in this world.  I led a pretty sheltered life up to leaving school and wasn’t in fact offered drugs at any time through my teenage years.  I don’t aspire to that necessarily for my children or for yours or anyone elses because I accept they are part and parcel of contemporary society.  Perhaps I should give other young people more credit for being more grown up and less desperate, needy and keen to belong and please than I was (am).  But…. if there is something that sometimes keeps me awake at night it is the idea of children being pushed out of convivial, kindly managed and caring pubs into the shady and ill-lit spaces where they fall prey to people who don’t really have their best wishes at heart.

Deputy to GM needed

Yesterday we were lucky enough to be included in the Morning Advertiser top 50 gastropubs.  Looking around at the incredible quality, constant striving and sheer hard work evident in the other businesses represented at the awards it was a real honour to be there.  We were asked in advance for some comments to be read out as our position was announced…including plans for the year.  In due course the master of ceremonies announced our place and our intention….’to be better in 2014’.

Nothing fancy - we don’t have room to buy woods for pigs like some entrants or to expand - but we do really need to be better at some basics in order to deliver on our customer expectations to the highest level and the highest level of consistency. We need to hire, train and retain great front of house people.  We need to do all the things that we aspire to consistently and better every day.  We need to make sure each and every person working with customers makes it clear that nothing do-able is too much trouble and that their great experience means everything to us as an end in itself not just to fill the place, get busier and make money.

We have already made some really exciting hires in the kitchen this year and I genuinely look forward to the food here pushing on to another level in the coming months.  I want to make sure we match the kitchen’s efforts in the front of house.

If you think you have the interest, talent, enthusiasm, personality and work ethic to help us do that as our deputy GM in 2014 please email me nick@thedrapersarms.com

Refuge…

Since I wrote the below last year I continue to be amazed at the forgiveness of women in the face of this extraordinary war waged on so many fronts.  The ‘social media’ abuse directed at so many women who dare to speak up must be indicative of behavioural patterns which make daily life at times extraordinarily difficult.  It is still the abuse in the home and from those who are supposed to provide love, support and tenderness that moves me most viscerally and that is why we will again be donating every penny spent in here on Valentines to Refuge again this year.  It’s a Friday so come in droves and cost me a fortune!

 

Valentine’s at the Drapers Arms 2013..

The autumn and winter season has a rhythm and series of events in it that perfectly suit the pub – and it gives operators a framework for hanging events and ‘get yourselves down here’ marketing messages on.  The whoooooo of Halloween; crash, bang, whooooosh ….ahhhhh! of the 5th of November; lighting the fires…mulled wine and cider (bleeuuuurgh); carols and mince pies; Christmas parties and gatherings, from family dinners to vomit and shots corporateathons and finally the crash bang snog and lengthening bog-queue fest that is New Year’s eve as our exhausted staff thank god the month is over (whilst wondering how they are going to survive New Year’s day service).

And then the barren wasteland that is late winter in the new year and early spring…our customer’s wallets are exhausted, their livers tender and there’s little on the horizon to celebrate.  Oh hurrah as valentine’s pops over the horizon, like a piece of driftwood edging toward a drowning man on an otherwise empty sea.

My early valentine adventures seem so very long ago…hazy memories across the mists of 30 years.  At a boys only boarding school and whisked off at the end of term to what was effectively a mining town in the middle of Africa where I met no girls there was never a danger of my being overwhelmed by valentine’s cards, and yet walking out of breakfast to where our post was set out was always a nervous time, tinged with hope – and sure enough after a while the odd card popped up.  As more time passed the day transformed for me so that, broadly speaking, at my stage in life I think of valentine’s as an opportunity for us blokes to show our love for our womenfolk and I think sometimes we do ok on the day and step up to the plate.  *pats self on back*.

But I get to thinking, what about the other 364 days, how do we blokes do then? Well I’ve got a little list of how women fare the rest of the year, and it isn’t exhaustive. Women:

  • Are paid on average around 15% less to do the same job as men
  • Have glass ceilings and working practices at work that prevent them from enjoying an equal opportunity for fulfilment through work and career
  • Are ganged up on, bullied and trolled on the internet when they dare to be smarter, cleverer and funnier than men
  • Are  depicted in magazines and ‘newspapers’ that take pictures up their skirts, of their sweat patches, underwear, weight gain, weight loss, aging, poor plastic surgery, bad hair days, poor clothes choices – at the same time as being bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ unattainable ideals for womankind ….so there is no woman anywhere who can ever feel un-judged, secure and happy with their appearance
  • Are raped at home, at work, at play and in the outside world where rape convictions are at shockingly low levels
  • Are sexually abused as children principally in the homes and schools where they should feel most secure
  • Are forced into marriages they don’t wish for
  • Are subject to attempts to deny them control of their own bodies by refusing them abortion rights including after rape
  • Are ‘honour’ killed when they don’t do what they are told
  • Are called sluts if they enjoy sex and frigid or lesbians if they don’t sleep with us
  • Are called ‘normalised’ pejoratives like ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ in everyday language
  • Are the target of acts of domestic physical and psychological violence that destroy and undermine their entire lives
  • Have men mutilate their genitals with the express intention of preventing them from enjoying sex
  • Have rape against women used as an act of war in conflicts propagated mainly by men

Quite the list, and taken around the world collectively it affects billions of lives.  So, in the round, I’m not that comfortable ringing the tills in the name of mens’ love for women on the 14th of February and turning a blind eye the rest of the time to mens’ collective acts of violence against women.  Women should step out into the world feeling genuinely loved by men 365 days of the year.  This year and every year until it is no longer needed we will treat all of our takings on valentine’s as a voluntary donation from our customers to a charity organisation that supports women affected by the violence of men.  This year that will be Refuge.

Because there are 365 days in the year, not just one.

Drink the List Thursday 31st October

Here is a re-blog (?) of something I did to explain drink the list last year…same principle this week, come and guzzle as much wine as you like - drink only champagne and puligny montrachet or try every one of 80 odd bottles, it is your call…..

On the 31st May we are holding our third DRINK THE LIST event.  I’ve bedded down the new wine list and am pretty pleased with some of the new wines that I’ve got on the shelves, as well as the welcome return of one of my favourite wines - the St Ennemond brouilly.  However, even my staff seem to find it difficult to explain the event so here it is in summary:

  • we take lots and lots of bottles of wine upstairs to our lovely dining room, and then open a bottle of every wine on the list, from house to the 2001 Poujeaux, 2007 Mikulski Meursault and champagne
  • guests come upstairs, grab a glass and help themselves to as much of any wine as they like, drink and repeat until we sadly have to ask them to leave at closing time
  • you can if you like simply drink the most expensive wine we have (£65) and as many bottles of it if you like - or you can range across the list trying different price points, countries, colours.  Compare a sancerre and otago sauvignon; finally pin down the difference between a bordeaux and burgundy; oak and unoaked; try some natural (unfiltered and sulphite free) wines, or just grab and glug….
  • we will feed you some simple and stomach lining snacks to stop you falling over

Why do we do it?  Well I enjoy it and it is a great opportunity for me to refresh my knowledge of the list and check that it is balanced and drinking well.  Underlying it originally was the idea that if regular users of the pub came they could find which wines we have they like the most and then choose the right wines when they come next, helping them to enjoy their visits more. In theory…

For guests it is like a great drinks party - inevitably our friends end up mingling like at a good party but some people come in big groups and have a great boozy night out with a bunch of mates.  Do contact the pub if you fancy coming and kicking off the ultra long weekend in style…the full list can be found on our website.

Glandstonbury 2013

As ever I am standing on the sidelines applauding the enthusiasm and genius of others…

Glandstonbury

Time:                    From 7pm on 10th October 2013.  Dining from 7.30

Location:             The Drapers Arms, 44 Barnsbury Street. London. N1 1ER

Chefs:                   Andrew Clarke and Jackson Boxer. Rita’s

                                Henry Harris. Chef Proprietor, Racine

                                James de Jong. Head Chef, The Drapers Arms

                                Tom Oldroyd. Executive Head Chef, Polpo

Cost:                     £45 per head for a multi course feast of offal not including drinks

Booking:              Please call the pub on 020 7619 0348 or email info@thedrapersarms.com

Menu

Glandstonbury 2013

£45 per head

Snacks

Crispy pigs ears

Spiced chickens feet

Chopped liver & shmaltzed radish

Tasters

Calves brains Grenobloise

Henry Harris, Racine

Duck heart kebabs & pickled cherries

James de Jong, The Drapers Arms

Chargrilled chitterlings, endive, pickled pear, malt & molasses

Andrew Clarke & Jackson Boxer, Rita’s 

Devilled black toads, apple & almond slaw

Tom Oldroyd, Polpo Group

Feasting

Tripe, pig’s trotter & ox heart cassoulet

Henry Harris, Racine

Bath chaps with sauce gribiche

James de Jong, The Drapers Arms

Iberico pork & morcilla faggots

Andrew Clarke & Jackson Boxer, Rita’s 

Venetian sliced liver, onions & sage

Tom Oldroyd, Polpo Group

Beets. Radishes . Leaves

 

Sweets

Junket 

Chocolate & foie gras truffles

 

Booking via The Drapers Arms: 020 7619 0348 or nick@thedrapersarms.com

Menu may be subject to change.

Blush pink fruit cider?

One of the lovely things about this business is, among the best of people, the willingness to share knowledge, enthusiasm and support with new starters.  We were the beneficiary of umpteen years’ worth of carefully, possibly painfully accumulated knowledge being willingly dumped in our laps when we started out, notably from Clive Watson of the Garrison.  Without that invaluable help we would almost certainly have stumbled and fallen in the early days.

I was privileged enough recently to be asked in turn for some pointers and tips from one of the talented young chefs who at one time worked here who has now moved on to set up his own place in the country. Sensibly he had come with a detailed list of questions, but David Brent like I of course launched forth into the wisdom of Nick…and my starting point was that if you fix an idea in your mind of what sort of place and person you want to be then from those firm first principles everything can flow.  If you want to be hands on, behind the bar as an owner operator with a close family of staff then you can expect those first principles to be different to a business set up with a group of third party investors, a business plan that requires you to open four places a year before selling in four to five years and an operations manager hired from an international burger chain.  At the same time if you decide you want to hit a 70% GP on Sunday roasts priced at £10.00 then you will have started from a different point to someone looking for a far lower GP on rare breed animals that come from farms you have visited.  Many different approaches are valid and choosing one rather than another doesn’t mark you as a morally superior person – it is just about what you are looking to do with your time.

We set out to embed a number of key words and values in all of the choices we made around food, drink and environment: authenticity, honesty, generosity and integrity.  Based on these principles, for example, we have never stocked a lager that is brewed in the UK but branded and marketed as if it comes from a completely different part of the world – for example like a Japanese lager brewed in Kent.  These words and values are as useful in our current day to day decisions as they were in deciding what sort of place we wanted to be at the start.  For an old fuddy like me they are going to be invaluable as we decide how to change and stay relevant in a changing world – because I hope to still be here in 20 years when I may have stopped being quite as hip and down with the kids as I obviously am today..and I’ve recently had the opportunity to find them useful.

I noticed lately a series of adverts by a bottled cider manufacturer in the trade press – the message basically was that they planned to do a strong marketing push around drinking their product over the summer and that this was a great opportunity for pubs to boost margins.  Advertising driving brand awareness boosting demand… not a lot of mention of quality.  You can find that cider in a pub fridge near you probably for something around £5.50 a bottle.  At the same time at our weekly managers’ meeting we were talking about increased demand, particularly at the weekend and weighted toward young female drinkers not dining, for fruit ciders.  As a first step I asked our main bottled product wholesaler what they had available – all turned out to be well known brands with high advertising spend – and we ordered some of one of them to try.  We put some of it in the fridge for a weekend and it flew out of the door, strongly outselling the existing bottled cider offerings.  We also tasted some and found it to be horribly sweet with a complete lack of apple crispness and bite.  Doing a little research I found that it was made from fizzy water, fruit wine…no apple cider in it at all.  Digging around and tasting some of the other market leading brands I couldn’t find one that I thought would meet our standards and satisfy the clear customers demand (which of course we want to serve – we don’t set out to be snobbish about what people would like to drink).

Taking to twitter and doing some more research we found a number of artisanal, rather than manufactured, alternatives and got in some samples.  It gave me pause for thought that I hadn’t done this quite as quickly and instinctively right at the start which is what made me write this – as a way of reminding myself that we are at our best when we remember to look back at the principles that we established, that they do work in making sure everything you do is a coherent whole that delivers on what you meant to do and offer.  Worthy of mention are Scottish Thistly Cross  www.thistlycrosscider.co.uk/ and Cornish Polgoon www.cornishwine.co.uk/ ciders – both very high quality products – but, after a tip off from Dom of the Bull pub in Ditchling, we decided to go with a (raspberry) blush cider from Cornish Orchards www.cornishorchards.co.uk/  .  I’m happy to admit that in looking for a product we could be proud to serve we also took into account what customer’s expectations were likely to be – the Cornish Orchards is a brighter pink that the almost ale–coloured equivalent from Scotland and it has a much more obvious fruity strong flavour than the lovely but very subtle Polgoon ciders.  All of the those ciders are very drinkable and if you spot them in a pub fridge or shop I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them as a fun alternative to both rosé and  apple or pear ciders.  If the summer comes along and you fancy something different it is in the fridge from this week..

As I was standing behind the bar this Sunday someone walked in and looked at our lager range (Becks Vier – brewed in Germany unlike standard Becks, Camden Hells, Freedom Pilsner and Brooklyn) and asked ‘Don’t you have any premium lager?’  I wondered to myself how many people think we are being obstructive for the sake of it choosing what we do offer – and I am aware that the explanation comes across as smug and sanctimonious.  Perhaps lots of people would prefer to order branded products where they pay £5.00 a pint to fund the huge advertising spend that gives them familiarity and comfort.  Ultimately I do believe though that without the principles that guide us we would be all over the place in terms of what we offer – chasing a buck and a margin in the short term and probably not making it through the next 20 years.

If you are coming to drink the list Thursday….

You can just come along and get stuck in, perhaps you know lots about wine, perhaps you know little but just want to drink some good stuff in decent company…

But if you can bear any more of my wittering you might find this helpful…

First a confession - it wan’t as many years ago as I’d like that I didn’t know that pouilly fumé and fuissé were made with different grapes from different parts of France - I just thought they were really nice, drinkable and expensive wines that were generous to offer guests or take round to someone’s house.  And that they are.  But part of the reason I didn’t know much about them was that I had never had a chance to drink them side by side and compare the experience.

Chardonnay versus sauvignon blanc; the great white grapes of France play themselves out across our list at different price points.  At the less expensive end an unoaked chardonnay fom Preignes le Neuf mocks all those who miss out on it when they say “a glass of white wine, anything but chardonnay”, and can be compared to the most popular wine on our list - the ‘petit sancerre’ that is Touraine sauvignon.  At the other end, past the petit chablis (yes chardonnay) a flinty silex Sancerre (sauvignon) does battle with a trio of high class chardonnays Rully, Mersault, Montrachet.  So right at the start there is the comparison of what you get for your money (although the less expensive wines are sweated over and carefully chosen the answer is still….a lot) and you get to compare two of the world’s most wonderful white wines.  Oh and we’ve slipped in a new world sauvignon as well.  Generally you won’t see too many wines that have travelled a long distance - I prefer to see a grape/style/price point filled by a European wine where possible and really only list old world wines where there is a strong argument that the terroir and grape sing exceptionally together.

Ideally, however, those wines are just marking points for the adventure that lies ahead across the rest of the list.  I routinely express my sadness that people don’t feel that another £5-£10 on a shared bottle of wine isn’t worth it, when it so often is.  My other, greater, sadness for our diners is the small number of them that venture off the beaten track amongst the mid list white wines.  Here real discoveries are made and the discovery of something wonderful in a wine transforms an event into a special and memorable one.  If you are in Thursday at some point pause and look around and listen - wine is a drink that makes people fizz with excitement, pleasure, conversation.  The white wines in our mid list are amongst the best at delivering that and yet sadly are among the most neglected. For sure stay up in price and get your money’s worth so do not leave without trying the classic Gruner Veiltliner, fabulous Friulano which I could drink a bottle of a day, elegant Riesling much misunderstood and maligned as a ‘sweet’ wine, and the generous and moreish Macon.  But do get down and dirty with the picpoul, white rioja, pinot gris…..

Oddly if we only sold red wines I perhaps wouldn’t feel there was as much value in doing the drink the list - red wine drinkers seem to range more wildly across countries, grapes and styles.  I suspect most do know that burgundies are made with pinot noir and bordeux with a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot.  It is again worth comparing the less and more expensive (Roncier pinot noir with Roche Bellene, Feraud Rhone with Gigondas) and the new versus old world (High Note compared to Savigny).  Explore varietals and blends, the spicy and fruity Spanish, the super drinkable Brouilly..

If you like bagging cult names or you are a winemaker geek then the (Potel) Bellene, Thunevin, Seresin, (Geddes) Gordito and of course Chocolate Block are the ones for you.

I will be on hand on the evening if you have any questions or want to chat, and I am hoping that a couple at least of our suppliers will be around too.  Most of all I hope you have a lot of fun.

Sherry?

New Sunday lunch hours and bookings…

Another mea cupla…or just acceptance that we get things wrong and try to get better.

Which means it begins again with ‘When we first opened’….

When we first opened we were determined to be a pub not just a restaurant.  That means we are ok with people sitting at a table slowly drinking one pint and try to be as welcoming to them as we are to dining guests.  We have tables that we don’t book…we did decide, however that we do take bookings.  As pub dining has incorporated important family gatherings, birthday and other celebrations so people like to know where they stand and aren’t prepared to take the risk of meeting somewhere good, popular and crowded without reservations.

 So we took the early decision that we would take bookings.  We were adamant, however, that we would not ‘turn tables’ – by which I mean automatically give people time slots after which we would bump them off and ask for the table back.  It didn’t doesn’t seem right to be sitting in a pub on a Friday night or Saturday lunchtime being asked for the table back.

In the last year the Sunday lunch bookings have gone crazy – I’d like to think it was just our much in demand big sharing roasts, but I know the other great pubs nearby us have the same experience as us.  Sundays are booking out at least a week in advance of any other day of the week.  And I know why – I’ve booked in to the pub for Sunday weeks in advance for my birthday (21st since you ask) as it is great for family gathering and seeing friends – as people go out less during the week so the weekend becomes more important .  We always keep tables free for walk-ins, we always ‘turn’ some tables as people naturally leave but the fact is that we disappoint lots of people by turning them away when they would like to eat here.  And we hate to disappoint.  As a result we have decided to change our Sunday opening hours to go straight through from 12.00 to 8.30pm with one single Sunday lunch sitting, instead of stopping lunch at 4pm and opening again at 7.00pm.

What this means, sadly, is that we have to now allocate ‘turn times’ to tables on Sunday lunch.  We have set up the system so that it always allows what we think should be enough time for you to enjoy a leisurely and enjoyable Sunday gathering – for example a table of three will be allocated 3 hours…

All staff who take bookings have been told very clearly, however, to always ask people making a Sunday booking if they would like the table for longer than the default offering …and that they should meet any request for a longer sitting without question if it is available.  Here is the text on our website to the same effect:

As a pub we do not ‘turn’ tables – if you book for lunch or dinner the table is yours for that service unless all we can offer is a table with a prior booking and we let you know that when you book.  The one exception is SUNDAY when we run from 12.00 to 8.30pm.  The system will allocate you a table time of at least two hours, depending on the size of your party.  If you wish to request a longer lunch please do call to discuss, we will always be happy to allocate you as long as you would like subject only to the constraint of prior bookings.  To be 100% clear you can have as long as you want if it is available at the time of your booking and you let us know in advance.

If you have any thoughts please do let us know – if there are teething problems at all in the next few weeks please bear with us/tell us.