Tell us about Salt & Malt…
It’s going to be a seafood café with a bias towards fish and chips. We got on site in July but we’re currently running the place pretty much as we found it. It’s a solid tearoom business that overlooks Chew Valley Lake.
The Pony & Trap is just down the road so it’s all quite manageable.
Is there going to be a refit?
We’re going to extend the back of the building and put in a new kitchen but not just yet, we want to get to know the staff that are currently there and give them a smooth transition. We don’t want them to be scared of us. We’ve already got one of them cooking at the pub, actually. But it’s also about the locals getting used to things. Holly [Eggleton, Josh’s sister and business partner] and I took the same softly softly approach when we opened The Pony & Trap [in 2006]. I cooked simple dishes such as home-made lasagne because we didn’t want to alienate anyone.
But the cooking has now evolved somewhat…
Well yes and no. We do a tasting menu but we also offer a ploughman’s for £7.50 and today we’re serving home-cooked ham, triple cooked chips and a fried egg. I’m very keen on the place remaining a pub. We still have farmers that come in and drink pints at the bar. People can have a bite to eat wherever they like – there’s not a set place to have the tasting menu or anything like that.
We hear a revamp is on the cards…
Yes. Holly, my parents [who also play an active role in the business] and I are reinvesting. We’ve actually reinvested £75,000 to £100,000 per year because the building is old and needs constant TLC. The refit will be our biggest yet and will focus on the kitchen.
What’s the plan?
We’re going induction-only, which will create a much nicer environment for our team because the kitchen is boiling hot in the summer. We’re also going to plant an orchard, get some chickens and maybe even have a go at beekeeping. We want to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Will the new kitchen bring about changes on the menu?
Not really, although we’ll obviously be a bit more driven by the foods we are producing. The menu is always changing here. I’m constantly fiddling with dishes because there’s always something you can do to improve things. It’s a bit of a nightmare for the boys in the kitchen.
How would you describe your cooking style?
It has a British bias definitely and it is very ingredient-led too. We use modern techniques as well but we don’t shout about them. When we started out we had nothing and the food was still good – we don’t rely on water baths and a Thermomix.
And we hear you’ve just come back from Russia?
I’ve just finished a big chunk of work for a tea company over there. It involved putting together a book of 75 simple British recipes, some of which were matched with the teas. I also had to go out to promote the book, which was an interesting experience to say the least.
Things are a bit different over there. I’m dyslexic so writing can be a trial but my sous chef [Matt Holgate] has a degree in English literature so he helped me a lot.
Any plans for a book about The Pony & Trap?
We have thought about it, but if I did it, I’d want to do something quite involved. I like the idea of a compendium of basic recipes that can all be brought together to create complete dishes.
We get the impressions you like to keep busy…
I’m not good at standing still. We also operate a catering company that does weddings and corporate events from our production kitchen at the pub. And we’re involved in a project called Eat Drink Bristol Fashion, which champions sustainable food production, ethical food systems and food traceability. Part of that involves running Yurt Lush, which is basically a pop-up yurt outside Bristol Temple Meads that does simple but good-quality dishes, such as pulled pork baps, Welsh rarebit, burgers and a great Sunday lunch.
Any other projects?
Yes, we work with a beef farmer to run two burger bars at Glastonbury Festival. We sold about 7,500 organic beef burgers this year. I also do some consultancy work.
You’re quite the businessman…
I always knew I wanted to run businesses but I guess I have developed a love of food and cooking along the way. There is nothing that pleases me more than to be in the kitchen serving people a perfectly cooked plate of food, and I will hopefully always be at the pub doing that. It was only a year or so ago that I was running my own section in the kitchen, but now the team has expanded I tend to be on the pass most of the time. I also enjoy taking out tasting menu dishes to diners. I spend my mornings in meetings and generally organising stuff before doing service at The Pony, then I have a few more meetings before doing evening service.
I’m happiest when I’m beyond busy.