Why do you think so many top chefs open pubs?
There’s a certain romance to it. As I kid I spent a lot of time sitting on the doorstep of a pub waiting for my dad to come out. I’ve had restaurants for close to 20 years now so it’s nice to do something different. You can be a bit more casual and you can be a put more gutsy too. I like the idea of being able to put a simply but beautifully done plate of fish and chips on the menu. I want to take classic British dishes and show people how great they can be. I could not do that at Purnell’s (the chef’s Michelin-starred, central Birmingham flagship).
As a young cook I was probably a bit of a snob. As you get older you calm down a bit. It doesn’t always have to be perfectly-pressed linen and sommeliers. I take myself less seriously now but that’s not to say The Mount won’t be professionally run. Chefs including Tom Kerridge have put pubs back on the map in terms of food over the last ten years or so.
Tell us about the site
It’s in the medieval town of Henley-in-Arden. It’s a beautiful pub that’s about 200 years old. It previously traded as The Butcher’s Social. It was successful but there was a parting of the ways between the owner and the chef, as I understand it. We’re doing a big refurb but we will keep as many of the original features as possible.
So it was already on the more foodie end of the pub scale...
Yes. The food was good. I went there a few times myself actually. It’s been a food-led pub for some time so we’re not going to get accused of coming in and ruining the local boozer. There are plenty of proper local drinking pubs along the high street for that sort of thing.
How have the locals reacted to you taking it on?
They’re pleased about it, I think. Henley-in-Arden is a beautiful place that does not need to be put on the map but I think the locals like the idea of us being here. I’ve had some good chats with people. I was even asked to judge a cake competition. People are excited to see it open. It's helped that we have taken some of the former staff on and we have also employed some other local people. I think that's important.
How is the space going to work - will you offer table service?
The 40-50 cover dining room will definitely be table service but we haven’t quite decided what to do about the two bar areas, we will see what people want to do. I know a lot of pub goers like to order from the bar. And you’ll definitely be able to come in and just have a pint.
Tell us about the menu
The restaurant menu will be geared towards having three courses but people don’t have to. You will be able to have the bar menu in the restaurant but you can’t have the restaurant menu in the bar. I hate it when you go to a pub and they won’t let you have the tasty bar snacks in the restaurant.
What are your key dishes going to be
We have obvious things like fish and chips with minty peas and tartar sauce; and Hereford sirloin steak with Marmite mushrooms and Béarnaise sauce. Smaller items will include house-cured salmon; black pudding Scotch egg with mustard and apple rémoulade; and pressed ham hock with my own GP pickle, which I created when Birmingham’s HP Sauce factory was shut down (it’s now made in Holland). I’ve never touched the stuff since it left the city in protest.
Tell us about the decision to close your bistro
We’d been there 10 years and the lease ran out. But the pandemic did push it to the edge of shutting. We tried to renegotiate the rent but they wanted silly money for it. Some of the team there will be moving across to the pub, including Pete Casson (as GM) who has been with me for 18 years. My current sous chef Phil Stegall will be heading the kitchen supported by a number of chefs that used to work at Purnell’s Bistro.
Are you still going to open in Coventry?
Yes. That project has been in the offing for about four years but keeps getting delayed - it’s a thirteenth century building so it’s been quite a complex build. It will open towards the end of this year or possibly early 2023.