Michelinn star: Britain's best restaurant is... a pub

Thanks to Tom Kerridge, and others, fine food is no longer confined to hushed restaurants. Susie Mesure reports on the 'casualisation of dining'

You could call them "Michelinns": the new breed of pubs putting the "inn" into Michelin with their star-studded dishes and awards aplenty. Their chef-in-chief is Tom Kerridge, the proprietor of the double-starred Hand and Flowers, last week voted Britain's best restaurant despite its being, technically, a pub.

His new guide to cooking what he calls "proper pub food", which is also the name of his BBC cooking show, is the talk of taverns up and down the country as publicans pledge to overhaul their menus in an attempt to ape his success. Proper Pub Food, which features the larger-than-life Kerridge on the front cover, is selling faster than portions of his famed slow-cooked duck breast: it was one of only five books to amass sales of more than £100,000 last week and was, at one point, outselling even the new Bridget Jones. Jamie who?

From the Red Lion at Britwell Salome in Oxfordshire, to the Hogget in Hook, Hampshire, pub owners can't get enough of the big man from the West Country. Paul Whitbread, who runs The Royal Oak in Leighterton, Gloucestershire, said Kerridge's was "the sort of cooking we aspire to", adding: "We're certainly taking a lot of inspiration from the book." The Hogget's Tom Faulkner said: "I think we'll all take elements of that book and do our own thing."

They're not the only fans. Last Monday night, Tom Kerridge capped what has been quite a year by winning the National Restaurant Awards. The award had added piquancy because it is voted for by 150 industry professionals, which means, says the chef, that The Hand and Flowers is "where they'd like to go on their days off". That means everything to the 40-year-old, who describes himself as the ultimate "jeans and white trainers guy".

"I wanted it to be somewhere I could sit and feel very comfortable and enjoy being me without worrying about what everybody thinks about what I'm wearing." The same goes for everyone, from Marlow FC-supporting locals to someone in "plumber's overalls. They should all be more than welcome to sit down."

Kerridge's joint was the frontrunner in a growing number of pubs to feature on the list of 100 best restaurants. The Sportsman, near Whitstable in Kent, was ranked seventh; its chef, Stephen Harris, won the coveted Chef's Choice award. The best restaurant in Wales, The Hardwick, in Abergavenny, is another pub, as are The Royal Oak, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, East Yorkshire's Pipe and Glass, The Star at Harome, North Yorkshire, and the Green Man & French Horn in central London.

Will Drew, editor of Restaurant, the organiser of the awards, said Mr Kerridge's victory "reflected the casualisation of dining". He added: "People have high standards of food, but they don't want an old-fashioned, formal environment. [Kerridge's] pub classics, elevated several degrees to match restaurant cooking, epitomise that shift."

Kerridge picks an omelette as "probably" his favourite dish on his menu: "It's the same every time, again, and again, and again. Just four ingredients: eggs, parmesan, beautiful smoked haddock and a hollandaise glaze, treated beautifully. It's been there since the start, which means when we opened it was a two-star dish; I love that. It's a good reflection of what we do."

He reckons his two Michelin stars, unique for a publican, boil down to his team's unfailing consistency, spiced with a little of his own individuality. "The menu doesn't change very often," he said. "We don't have blackboard specials. I get excited about serving 65 covers exactly the same at lunch and dinner."

His BBC2 series is proving popular, although critics have suggested the recipes, some of which need to be started three days before they are served, are a bit "fancy". His retort? "If your version of pub food is microwaving a pie and some baked beans, then yeah, it's really complicated cooking. But if it's just about getting the best out of simple ingredients, then it's not. Pub food has to change. Pubs should be slow-cooking things so they can use slightly cheaper ingredients and offer great value for money and great food."

Or, to use a true Kerridgeism, "proper lush" food. He laughs when I pull him up on the fact that he hasn't said "lush" once during our chat, yet his show is peppered with the term. "I was trying to be eloquent! Put food in front of us and I use the words 'lush' and 'proper' all the time. 'Lush' was used all the time in the West Country when I was growing up. I didn't realise I was saying it until I watched it back. I thought, 'Oh my God, I sound like a pirate. I sound like a real happy pirate.'"

He's pleased, though, because it shows just how much he cares about his ingredients – all of them, even the vegetables. "You can always tell the chefs that are going to go a long way, if they have a plate of raw ingredients in front of them and they think that that is lush, because they can't wait to cook them. It's about having some lovely beef, and some raw carrots and some peeled shallots and stuff, and getting excited. You're going 'that is lush', and it's a raw carrot."

Perversely, for someone in the food business who is renowned for his love of meat, Kerridge sounds like just the sort of chef a vegetarian should be seeking out. And that's despite his offering precisely zero veggie options on the Hand and Flowers menu. Instead, he "works with" his vegetarian diners (though, admittedly, there aren't that many) to come up with something that they truly want to eat, rather than saddling them with the lack-of-choice of a single meat-free dish. Vive the Michelinn revolution.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Day In a Page

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada