What does Nick do?

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to tender for a new site this week in central London – part of the plan is to go in as partner with a well-established chef restaurateur… and for the first time probably with external investors.  Around the same time that we were putting finishing touches to the presentation to the landlord we received a long list of detailed due-diligence questions from our prospective investors.  The investors seem to have a good sense of what a chef does and therefore what my pitch partner brings to the table but they seemed less sure of the point of me.  ‘What does Nick do?’ was one of their questions.  As we drew toward the end of quite an eventful week I couldn’t help but chuckle as I worked on the answers to their questions and, as one of the aims of this blog on our website is to provide access to our business and a real sense of what it is like inside the pub, I thought I would share with you some of the rhythms of this particular week:

Monday starts before I get to work.  Just as I am leaving home I get a call from my GM – there has been an incident at the pub.  A member of the public has entered the building before 9am, coming into an empty premises which was briefly unattended by our kitchen porter who opens the doors as first in, and has injured themself.  An ambulance and police are in attendance the injured person is being taken to hospital.  Jump on bike and cycle to work quite quickly.  When I get there we talk through what has happened and any implications, write up an incident report, notify the council and insurers – everyone is a bit shaken but pleased to hear that the precautionary visit to hospital proves just that and the injured party is ok and discharged.  Normal Monday business of a full stocktake, timesheets, banking, providing details on the week to the accountants, drinks ordering, team meeting of front of house and kitchen are caught up with.  Quite a busy evening service.

Tuesday is pitch day, swing by the pub to make sure everything is ok and prep all the presentations, menus, winelists etc.  Make the presentation which goes quite well – it is an exciting opportunity and it is always thrilling to lay out a vision for a new place and talk with passion and belief about what you think you can do.  At the same time we talk a bit about our existing businesses and it is a great opportunity to be reminded how much I love what I do, why I do it and how proud I am of my team and what they achieve.

Wednesday spend two and a half hours with Islington council Health and Safety team briefing them in fine detail about the nature of the event – this provides an opportunity for them to ask us about every aspect of our health and safety training, policies, procedures, to ask for and review documentation, records, files…. Payroll has been processed so needs to be checked, drinks are delivered from Monday’s ordering spree.  Future events need to be planned, menus set – medium term thinking always throws up a to do list for me.  We’ve had a number of painting, maintenance and wiring tasks done but there is a little shortlist that got missed out and needs chasing up on.  Some people turn up to try and sell me a self contained mini brewery that we can install in the cellar – apparently we can make our own beer for some tiny amount of money and sell it for £4 a pint thus delivering huge margins.  But would the beer be better than what we currently buy in on rotation from multiple fantastic expert brewers I ask?  How would this machine deliver a better customer experience?  Seems to befuddle the salespeople that that is the primary concern.

Thursday. Process payroll – the very most important thing I do, I think the number of times I have paid someone a different amount to what is shown on their payslip is less than two. Early evening I get a call that one of our best known restaurant reviewers is going to swing by – I don’t expect a review but it is nice that this person is checking in on Gina’s settling in.  I’ve arranged to meet with a friend to talk through her birthday party she’s holding at the pub in a couple of weeks so I am not going to be free to look after our guest.  It is right to leave it to my staff and carry on.  Feedback on the food is that it wasn’t all fabulous and I think the specific feedback is probably spot on – the dish discussed isn’t quite right and was new on that evening.  An opportunity missed which is a shame although my delight in Gina isn’t affected and I am unconcerned for the general direction – I think our food is interesting, rewarding and consistent at the moment.

Friday we get a strange email, one of those occasional ones that seems to carry an implied threat or invite compensation – ‘can you tell me the name of your manager I want to write a review of a recent experience’ – I check OpenTable and there are no new bad reviews and I am gratified to see that the recent run is pretty strong really reflecting our determination this year to drive up the quality and consistency of our guests experiences.

 I need to quickly grab Gina when she is in to talk about last night’s feedback and the slight tweaks needed to a couple of dishes.  This is the most difficult thing I do – the head chef’s role is as a creative person and I am not yet confident that my enthusiasm for and knowledge of food makes me obviously qualified to communicate effectively in this area.  As a leader of creative people you look to provide guidance, motivation, encouragement but I don’t think instruction.  At the same time the kitchen needs to receive constructive feedback on how dishes work at the table.  Gina is receptive as of course I knew she would be, early days in our working relationship.

Friday it is baking in the pub, hot and humid and there is a limit to what we can do to cool things down or make it less crowded.  We have a new starter and a trial shifter in and a very busy Friday night pub, plenty of drinkers and a very busy garden.  8pm I get a very strange message – we have a temporary agency chef in this week as staff are on holiday and Gina has not yet fully settled her team.  This temp chef has decided on the spur of the moment to walk out on the shift taking offence to being asked what to do by his Head Chef.  I go up to the kitchen and ask him if he isn’t going to work to leave the building while we try to work out how to deal with the pretty full ticket rail and chattering kitchen printer.  The temp asks me to sign his timesheet so he can get paid which I decline to do saying I will talk to his agency.  He is obviously a little stressed and unhinged and he is also about half as big as me again, two inches from my face.  The kitchen is full of hot liquids, heavy and sharp implements.  I ask him to leave again and he continues to be abusive and threatening so I call the police who say they may be an hour.  After another half hour of abusing and threatening me he goes off to get dressed and leaves the building.  His last words are that if he doesn’t get paid he is coming back to get his money but not in a nice way.  Another of our chefs arrives in a taxi, the break on taking food orders is lifted and mostly people are fed in a timely manner, the show goes on.  We move everyone in from outside and shut all the windows as required by our licence and policed by our neighbours.  Because the relative humidity is around 90% and the temperature in the 90s rivulets of sweat are just pouring off everyone but especially staff.  I take 10 minutes out to sit in the beer cellar and cool down – friends drop in to say hi which is nice.  Staff chat – ‘it’s been quite a week’ I say, “two weeks”, ‘why what happened last week’, “well there was the burglary”….jeez that seems like a lifetime ago…

At the same time each of Monday to Friday this week has been one of the top two busiest days of the year so far for that day of the week – so I’ve poured a few drinks, taken a few food orders, restocked some fridges, cleared some tables, scraped some plates, taken some bookings, seated some customers, corrected some mistakes, soothed a few frettled customers, posted too many pictures on Instagram, tweeted too much personal stuff, spent time with suppliers …

Sunday we have a staff meeting pre-service to prep for.  Our new head chef Gina is doing great things in the kitchen and our front of house really are the most lovely, kind and rewarding group of people we have assembled.  But there are always a few things that can be improved; ideas for better engagement with customers, thoughts on how they can make the very most of their opportunity to take care of people, areas where standards need a little nudge back in the right direction.  We might also mention that we have a date booked for our summer staff party at MeatMission and no that doesn’t mean we can shut for three days for them to recover.  Then there are the 200 plus people we will feed and water – I absolutely love Sundays in the pub, the most rewarding and convivial of services most perfectly suited to what it is that we offer.

This isn’t, thankfully, a standard week but, it turns out….. there is generally something going on for Nick to do…

Thank you to Action Against Hunger for India…

I remember stepping off my first flight to England to come to school aged 7 and being picked up by my maternal grandparents in their Austin.  My grandfather was a monumentally and overtly intelligent and intimidating Cambridge graduate.  Mostly leaving the small talk to his wife he played chess, ate four meals a day (a proper tea), watched the news, did the Times crossword, listened to difficult classical music, engaged in multiple aspects of the community from the local Conservative party (we came to disagree), historical society, town twinning programme and church, managed a small portfolio of shares diligently and corresponded with his children who lived around the world in Australia, the US and Kenya.

He was a kind man, gentle and generous although I am not sure he had too much time for small children.  Although I came to love the sound of his shaky hand rattling a cup and saucer up the stairs and along the corridor bringing me tea in bed every morning (slightly earlier than I would ideally have wanted) I would be lying if I said we were warmly close despite the fact that he and his wife did so much for me in locus parentes – I think I was scared of him when I was young and then I became a most unpleasant teenager when I was getting to the sort of age when he might have begun to find engagement interesting.

I have a few strongly ingrained memories of him – I remember him, my brother and I falling about with laughter at some joke he made about reincarnated sandwiches coming back to life from the freezer one evening when my grandmother was out and we were left to fend for ourselves with something he would not have considered a real meal.  I’ve no idea how he made the idea of defrosted, flabby leftover sandwiches funny but I think the reason it sticks in the mind is I just didn’t think of him as someone who found much to laugh about and even now I think whatever he said must have been one of the funniest things I ever heard - it was helpless, stunned, surprised laughter that I can close my eyes and see and feel.

A further key memory was of opening a letter from him after I had got my degree result from university.   I was absolutely devastated by the poor quality of my degree having always vested much of my self-esteem in a strong academic track record.  The reality of it, however, was that I had failed to take advantage of the incredible privilege and opportunity that was presented to me; my application disgracefully failed to match the opportunity given to me.  As the result became known most people including my brilliant tutors had expressed support, condolences and hard luck these things happen messages.  My grandfather took a different tack.  A short note in his increasingly difficult to read handwriting simply said ‘I was disappointed to hear about your degree result I didn’t know if we could expect a first [which I hoped for] but I thought that we could at least have been confident in a 2:1’.  As I write that it strikes me that you might think that was harsh but, actually it was wonderful, deserved, robust and hearfelt.  I felt intensely how much I had let him and everyone down and his disappointment in me was tangible, visceral.

The third memory I have of him relates to his time in India.  After a brilliant career at Cambridge that ended with a double first George Creek had sailed through his exams for the Indian Civil Service and was in Darjeeling during the war.  I am, I think rightly, deeply ambivalent about the British and other colonial exploits – I do however believe that he would have gone out there with a sincere belief that he was doing a good job and have been diligent and honest and hard working.  I don’t know exactly what it was that he did from day to day but I do know that absurdly each member of the ICS was responsible short years after leaving an English university for the administration of the lives of 100,000’s of Indians.  I remember him talking about the experience of travelling from town to town as a magistrate administering justice but there is another significant conversation that defines my memory of him and was unlike any other conversation I had ever had with an adult up to that point.  I don’t recall the lead up but I remember him telling me about the 1943 Bengali famine.  The story is long and complicated and the explanations are myriad for why over a million people died in Bengal when the floods, crop diseases etc that had presaged the shortfall in food in the area were understood and when there were warnings of shortfalls a year in advance – from poor statistics on harvests, a failure to know the extent of the population, an unwillingness in other better prepared provinces to send food, a lack of communication as to the severity of the problem, structural administrative barriers, British deliberate scorched earth policy to the East in fear of a Japanese invasion as well as siphoning off food for the war effort.  I know I don’t know enough about it, that I need to tread carefully and that I would emphasise that I am not finger pointing.  What I do know that is that listening to my grandfather speak about it was my first experience of an adult expressing deeply felt hurt – not that he was responsible or felt responsible personally, just at the having been in the place at the time and in and of a system that failed on a massive, tragic and pointless scale.  I was quite young and unused to the complexities of adult emotions.

Lack of communication, parochialism, ignoring warning signs, failing to coordinate, greed… I don’t know what Action Against Hunger would point to as the principal reasons why in the next century we still have the utterly avoidable situation of people going without enough food and dying of starvation but I do think we should all feel a sense of shame that we are part of a system that doesn’t do enough day to day.  I am proud of the fact that the restaurant business understands that there is an incongruence in spending so much time deciding what food to have done how when others have not enough or none – and that we are one of the important supporters of Action Against Hunger as a way of in some small way addressing that incongruence.

I am incredibly grateful to have been invited by Action Against Hunger to join a charity bike ride in India this October to raise funds for their work – we will be doing a number of things at the pub over the next few months to raise sponsorship money for the ride, from donating £1 per pimped burger sold every weekend to huge dinners with some of the best chefs across London, plus quiz nights and raffles.

As I have reflected since being invited on the fact of the ride taking place in India my mind has filled with thoughts of my grandfather – I hope that in some way by going there in particular to raise money to make a tiny contribution to helping fight hunger if he were here it would help with the hurt he seemed to feel and that I would perhaps start to make him feel that he could be a little bit proud of me again.  If you would like to donate to help to you can here:

https://rajasthancyclechallenge.everydayhero.com/uk/nick-gibson

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.

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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.