Pub food used to mean crisps, pork scratchings and nuts. If you were very lucky, it might run to a toasted sandwich.
Thankfully in recent years there’s been a bit of a revolution and nowhere has that been more pronounced than at Tom Kerridge’s pub, the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
Kerridge and his wife Beth took over the pub in 2005, and inside a year won their first Michelin star, plus a handful of other prestigious prizes.
Since then, they’ve grown their kitchen staff from three to 16 and become the first pub to be awarded two Michelin stars, while Kerridge has become a recognisable face thanks to appearances on The Great British Menu, Saturday Kitchen and various shows on the Good Food Channel.
Now he’s releasing a book, Proper Pub Food, and there’s to be an accompanying BBC TV series too.
“The book was originally going to be a Hand & Flowers cookbook,” explains Kerridge, but that all changed when the BBC heard what he was doing.
“The book and series are all about dishes that are inspirational – great British produce cooked simply at home,” he says.
“It’s kind of like the starting point – the finishing point being where we’re at in the Hand & Flowers. The flavour profiles and some of the ideas are similar. There’s a big crossover in taste combinations.
” The recipes include a spectacular chicken and celeriac dish, baked in hay and cider, which Kerridge insists everyone should try to make themselves.
“It’s the perfect Sunday lunch dish for two,” he says, “with the chicken taking on all the hay and cider flavour, and the celeriac going all buttery and fluffy. I love it.”
Another favourite is salmon cured in gin, a decidedly English twist on the Scottish classic involving smoked salmon and whisky. Delicious it might be, but it hardly sounds like pub food. “You say that, but the number of pubs doing this food is growing,” says Kerridge. “And things like pork scratchings, traditional pub fare, pies too. They’re phenomenal, done well.
“It’s been very easy to dismiss pub food over the years – Scotch eggs and the like – because supermarkets took over Scotch eggs and made them horrific. But they were country pub classics.
“A sandwich can be just a sandwich. Something you buy from a service station to fill a gap while you’re travelling.
Or you could do it properly by buying some beautiful bread, amazing ham and cheese and pretty soon you’ll be eating one of the best things you’ve ever tasted. It’s about treating things with love, no matter how simple it might be.”
Kerridge is not short of love and enthusiasm.
He says he loves every brick in the Hand & Flowers, and looks on his team as a proud family rather than a kitchen brigade.