Great pub chefs - North Star

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

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Great pub chefs - North Star
Good food is the best produce, cooked with care. Put simply, that's the philosophy of Michael North, and it's one that is paying off at the Goose. Jo...

Good food is the best produce, cooked with care. Put simply, that's the philosophy of Michael North, and it's one that is paying off at the Goose. Jo Bruce reports.

Sometimes the real talent is in knowing when to keep things simple. At the Goose in the Oxfordshire village of Britwell Salome, head chef/manager Michael North believes good food is all about the best produce you can buy,cooked with care. His dishes are based on classical ideas using, in many cases, traditional French recipes, but with minimal butter and cream to leave dishes lighter and fresher. The menu changes daily and generally features a choice of six dishes in each of the three courses - starters, mains and puddings.

It may be a small menu compared to some, but it is a quality offering, with as much as possible sourced locally and a major emphasis on obtaining the best produce possible; all the scallops used are collected by divers, and all the bread is supplied by awardwinning artisan producer De Gustibus. Indeed, many of the Goose's suppliers also provide produce for the prestigious Le Manoir and Fat Duck restaurants. "We use lots of local suppliers," stresses Michael."They're more expensive but you know you're not going to be disappointed." Michael was sous chef at the Goose for Prince Charles' former chef Chris Barber.

In May he took charge for the new owners, and is already making a name for himself, with bookings becoming essential. Much of the Goose's custom comes from Henley, Oxford, Reading and London. On an average week, the pub will serve around 250 to 300 covers - and, with just Michael and a trainee in the kitchen, he is kept busy. But like many other chefs he points out that people choose the job - despite the hours - because they "really love it"​. And in common with many pubs and restaurants, finding and keeping good staff is one of Michael's biggest challenges. "When you employ someone as a chef, sous chef or chef de parties you hope to get a couple of years out of someone, but you've done really well if you get nine months,"​ he points out.

At the Goose, starters, at £7 to £9, can include dishes such as salad of grilled goats cheese with smoked bacon and pine nuts and parfait of foie gras with fig compote. Main courses, around £14 to £17, have ranged from roast loin of pork with roast potatoes, apple sauce and sage gravy, to roast breast of pheasant with cannelini beans and chorizo, and roast crown of duck with a green peppercorn and honey jus. But, stresses Michael, one of the main strengths of the kitchen is the desserts. "We often offer a soufflé - it's an impressive dessert and shows that the kitchen is confident in everything you do,"​ adds Michael. Among other desserts on offer recently was a plate of sticky toffee pudding, miniature apple tart-tatin and praline ice cream, and passion fruit crème brûlée. But for those seeking something on the lighter side, there's a day-time bar menu, a set lunch menu, plus sandwiches and a range of nibbles.

The bar menu offers light meals, such as wild mushrooms on toast with or without a soft poached egg, terrine of the day, and mushroom omelette. The set lunch menu of the day, featuring two or three courses, is available Tuesday to Fridays for £12 to £15. Sandwiches include smoked salmon and steak and shallot with mustard mayonnaise and the range of nibbles features those such as marinated olives, roasted hot nuts and Japanese rice crackers, all at £1. Apart from the food, one of the Goose's main strengths is its extensive list of around 120 wines.The average spend is about £20 a bottle, but there are wines up to £100 and Cristal Champagne at £145 a bottle. Among Michael's favourite wines on the list at present are a Kanu Estate, South African Chenin Blanc which sells at £13.50 a bottle and a £99 South Australian Armagh, the latter of which he sa s "good food wine"."This is a fantastic wine,"​ he adds. "It's not a really tannic Pinot Noir. It has much more sophisticated tannins."

The pub itself dates back to 1728 and has plenty of character, with a light, airy and modern feel, but without being minimalist. Warmth is added through the open fire, squashy sofa and antique pine tables. The lion's share of the Goose's turnover comes from food and there is now little space just for drinkers. It was envisaged that the pub would be a "village boozer with a restaurant"​, explained Michael but it has become more of a restaurant, although "we'd have loved to have sold more beer and had people support us as a place to drink,"​ he stressed.

The Goose is firmly focused on quality and Michael says he believes that as members of the public become increasingly aware of what they are eating, they will realise some pub deals of "£6 for two meals"​ are not such a good buy. "I think places where they are buying and serving up very low-standard ingredients are almost insulting people, but at the moment there is a niche for it,"​ he says. Michael believes the overall quality of pub food is improving - but the emphasis needs to be on quality rather than quantity on the menu. "I think that the majority of pubs try too hard and have menus that are too long,"​ he adds. "There's absolutely no way that the food can be fresh, as they wouldn't be able to put on four or five fish dishes."​ A shorter but quality menu like that at the Goose is an example many pubs could learn from - and a philosophy that is certainly paying off.

Chef's CV

Name:​ Michael North Age:​ 24 - "I have four brothers and three sisters. I've had to work hard to get on."Experience:​ Michael has worked in and around Oxfordshire from apprentice to head chef for the past nine years. He has also undertaken stages in the kitchen of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Marco Pierre White at the Mirabelle, Mayfair in London and Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in Devon. Ambition:​ To buy his own freehold to start a 10 to 12-cover restaurant in a good area, like the Merchant House, in Ludlow. Favourite restaurants:​ Le Manoir "for the whole experience not just the food"​, and Gidleigh Park - "the food is amazing"​.

The Goose - fact file

Menu philosophy: "We are not creating any wonderful flavour combinations. Just taking really good produce and cooking it well."Style:​ modern British, a restaurant with a pub Owner:​ freehouse, owned by private investor Wet:dry split:​ 33%:66% Covers a week:​ 250 to 300 Capacity:​ 50 covers Average spend per head:​ £37 during the week, £40 to £50 at weekends Average gross margin:​ 65% Number of wines on list:​ About 120 Point of difference:"Everything we use is the best we can buy."Spotted:​ Vinnie Jones, Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race Overheard: "The best steak sandwich ever on earth. Cooked exactly as I wated it."​ and "The food was fresh and simple and cooked really well. Well worth the money and the journey."And another thing…​ the Goose offers an impressive range of quality cigars.

In the hot seat

What would be your desert island dish? ​A good cheese like Vacherin Mont D'Or with foie gras terrine and some really nice soft bread. A posh ploughman's!

What piece of equipment would you not be without in the kitchen?​ My 12-inch Gustav cook's knife

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in the kitchen?​ Shut up. Keep your head down, and don't be cheeky.

Are chefs either artists or scientists?​ Generally neither, they just copy other chefs. But there are chefs who are both scientists and artists such as Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc.

What do you believe is the most i

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