Food and Drink: Winner from the Roux stable: Emily Green raises a glass to the chef at the Brown Horse pub, in Cumbria
Saturday 19 February 1994
The chef is 36-year-old Steven Doherty. He worked for 12 years with Albert Roux, most of that time at Le Gavroche in Mayfair, the most venerable of Michelin-starred restaurants in Britain, and one of the few fancy-sounding names in catering worth dropping. Far too many grand restaurants employ large brigades, work them hard, teach them little, pay them less and even deny them the respect they might accord an expensive piece of machinery.
Albert Roux appears to be a different, rather paternal figure who believes in the strict demands and substantial rewards of the French apprenticeship system. From his fold have come the London restaurateurs Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire, Marco Pierre White at The Restaurant, and Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place.
Outside London, Roux-trained chefs include Nigel Raffles at St Benedict's Grill in Norwich, Paul Rankin at the Roscoff in Belfast, and Michael Hjort at Melton's in York.
All of these restaurants are above average, and at least three are excellent. Only two are expensive. Albert Roux should be knighted.
Eating at the Brown Horse, one might be tempted to conclude that the Roux influence is somehow Germanic. It is not. The presence on the menu of such dishes as roast pork with cabbage and apple sauce, Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel is the contribution of Mr Doherty's 'sleeping partner', a German named Rudy Schaefer. Where the Roux influence may be detected is in Steven Doherty's cooking of these dishes.
Other influences might appear random, but amount to a basic understanding of what the British like to eat: chicken ragout, onion soup, cannelloni, seafood crepes, steak and chips . . .
Mr Doherty says he learnt how to cure gravadlax in salt, sugar and dill from an American chef at Le Gavroche. As served at the Brown Horse, in generous slices with dill cream, it is delicious, if salty.
A green pea and ham soup was gutsy, simple and served hot enough to scald the mouth badly. The pink and tender roast pork was the best I have eaten either in a British restaurant or at home. The accompaniments cleverly spanned the tastes from sour to sweet: apple sauce, red and white cabbages, carrots. The spicing was deft: cloves and such, registering only subtly in the fruity apples; carrots tasting as if they had been boiled in stock and the cabbage seeming to have gutsy tones of vinegar and caraway. On top of the pork was crackling too tough to eat.
Apple strudel is almost never as light as the one served at the Brown Horse. By way of wines, Jennings, the brewery to which the pub is attached, offers decent Gascon numbers at pounds 1.50 a glass. The white is particularly good.
'We are still classed as a pub,' Mr Doherty says. This explains a rather odd arrangement. Guests ferry their own drinks from the bar, while waiting staff serve only the food. This would feel more natural if, in fact, the Brown Horse felt more like a pub and less like a spartan restaurant. The large, freshly decorated dining-room is distinguished mainly by warm south light that floods through its large windows. The only distinctive design motif is horsy - horses pictured in handsome drapes, horses on light fixtures.
The owners of the Brown Horse must understand that a certain austerity is refreshing after the tourist kitsch of nearby Bowness and Windermere. Prices, too, are lean. I paid pounds 18.60 for what could easily have fed two: two glasses of wine, four courses, coffee, VAT and a (voluntary) 15 per cent tip.
This sort of sensible set-up appears to attract an unusually high proportion of locals, for the groups nearest me indulged in deep discussions about the onset of the lambing season and the ins and outs of training sheepdogs.
The Brown Horse, Winster, near Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria (05394 43443). Vegetarian dishes. Open daily lunch (12noon-2pm) and dinner (6-9pm). Approx pounds 10- pounds 15. Cash and cheques only.
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