Great pub chefs - Back to basics

By David Marks

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Chefs Culinary art Chef

Back to basics
Back to basics
Celebrity chefs may be all the rage, but Barry Wallace's food heroes are traditional cooks like Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. David Marks visits...

Celebrity chefs may be all the rage, but Barry Wallace's food heroes are traditional cooks like Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. David Marks visits his Bath pub.

As befits a straight-talking, passionate Glaswegian who has worked under top chefs such as Richard Corrigan and Nico Ladenis, Barry Wallace pulls no punches when he's talking about the catering business. "I had a young chef come down for a job the other day and when I told him I wanted him to work every weekend, he looked horrified,"​ says Barry. "He told me he couldn't work weekends because of family commitments - I couldn't believe it. "When I worked in London for Richard Corrigan, we were working 7am to 1am, six days a week. We used to work like bastards, but I had a passion for food and I loved it."​ I'm sitting in the Hop Pole with Barry, putting the culinary world to rights over a pint of excellent Gem beer - the awardwinning ale brewed by the pub's owners, Bath Ales.

Barry has just emerged from the kitchen after a busy Friday lunch time, during which he and his commis chef cooked for about 40 people. In four hours' time, they will be starting the evening session, cooking for customers in the bar and in the fully-booked restaurant. With a potential 100 covers per night in the bar, restaurant and garden, the Hop Pole is one of the West Country's most popular food pubs, with a good week seeing 600 to 700 covers at an average spend of £25 before drinks. Barry and his partner, Elaine, who he marries in July, arrived in Bath two years ago. Since then they have turned the pub around, to the extent that it regularly takes £14,000 per week, with £4,500 of that on food. "When we took over the Hop Pole, they weren't doing bad food, but it was things like chicken stir-fries,"​ recalls Barry, whose current menu includes seared Scottish scallops with piquillo pepper filled with Cornish crab and confit leg of Barbury duck with braised red cabbage and haggis.

The Hop Pole is the second pub Barry and Elaine have managed, although the first one didn't take off quite as well as they had expected. "We took over the Red Lion in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, and the locals gave us hell," explains Barry. "It had been a freehouse for 17 years, doing scampi and chips, and they just didn't like a chef coming down from London and changing things. I remember I was making homemade chips and they wanted the frozen ones - I was at the end of my tether. "The owners eventually said they couldn't afford to keep us on as it hadn't really worked out and we put our hands up and accepted it."​ After a short holiday, Barry and Elaine approached Bath Ales and they haven't looked back.

The Hop Pole has attracted rave reviews in the national and regional press and, after years of cooking in London restaurants, Barry says he thinks he will stay with pubs and hopefully open his own one day. "We wanted to keep it very much a pub a local where people could just come and have a pint without having food thrown in their face. "The thing that really makes this place work is that people can still sit at the bar and have some paté with their pint or eat the same food being served in the restaurant. "Since we turned the skittle alley into the restaurant, it's gone mental. We're booked out most nights and we get a lot of young people and a lot of chefs from town. "I cycle into town and check who's busy and I'm surprised that a lot of restaurants are quiet - I think it's because it's a more relaxed dining experience and that's what people are looking for these days. "I've just started working with the local B&Bs and they're linking me up with their websites so we're getting a lot of business from that and that's why it's really steady all week. "We haven't got a weak day. Lunches are our weakest point, but we don't really mind lunches being quiet because we use that time as the prep for the evenings."

This flexible approach to dining has been a winning formula at the Hop Pole. As well as a lunch menu featuring bar snacks and sandwiches, there is now a three-course offer for just £12.95. Sunday lunches have recently been expanded, with five different main courses on offer now that roast goose and duck have been added to the menu, and there are plans to launch special hog-roast evenings, with a whole Gloucester Old Spot being roasted in the garden. In the evenings, the constantly-changing a la carte menu has six starters, seven mains and four desserts (plus a selection of British and French cheeses). Barry's menus are seasonal and use as much local produce as possible. Meat comes from Bath butchers Bartletts, fish comes straight from Cornwall and the rhubarb for the brûlée on the current menu is grown in the pub's garden.

Barry's passion for seasonality comes from his food heroes - people like Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and Joyce Molyneux, all of whose books line the Hop Pole kitchen shelves. This is a kitchen with no room for celebrity chef books. "They go back to basics," says Barry. "These women were making their own corned beef like their grandmothers used to. They were keeping the tradition going and I think that's important. "I go to pubs and see bought-in terrines and I just think that's lazy - those chefs should just get out of their beds half an hour earlier and make it themselves. It's satisfying making and selling these things."​ Barry's love of cooking started as a child, when he cooked at home for his mum. "Every boy in Glasgow wanted to be a footballer, but I always wanted to cook. When I told my dad, who was a fireman, that I was going to be a chef, he called me a 'poof'!"​ Self-taught, Barry lasted only a month in college before being told he was wasting his time and should be working in a restaurant.

"My biggest influence was Nico Ladenis's book My Gastronomy and I used to read it in my break when I was at college. "It made me realise that the stuff the chef at college was teaching us in the theory lessons wasn't what was happening at that time in restaurants. "He'd be showing us how to make rouxbased sauces, when it was really all about veal stocks. When I told him one day I would be working for Nico, he laughed and said Nico wouldn't put up with the likes of me!"​ Another tutor found Barry a job at the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel and he was soon heading for London, where he worked with Nico Ladenis for four years and for a further three years with Richard Corrigan, who he rates as one of the best chefs around.

"Corrigan taught me how to wake up early and work like a bastard,"​ laughs Barry. "He's a chef's chef, his cooking is gutsy and he doesn't hold back. Every punch is out in his cooking."​ Like many chefs, Barry wanted to move away from London to enjoy a slightly better quality of life and he feels that he has achieved that in Bath. "I don't want to work the hours I did in London and my quality of life has certainly improved. Of course, you get weeks when you're knackered and you still get days when chefs let you down, but we've built a good team here. "On a busy night, you might be in the shit for half an hour, but, as I've told my commis, you're never really in the shit, it's just that you're busy, and the reason we're busy is because we're producing some good stuff here."​ So what drives him on? "A love for cooking. There's nothing I love more than reading cookbooks, getting new ideas and also going out eating. "I cook the food I want to eat and I'd certainly eat here!"

Chef's CV

Name:​ Barry Wallace Experience:​ Self-taught, he lasted only a month at college in Glasgow before going to work at the Gleneagles Hotel in 1990. After that, he moved to London, working in French restaurant Shaw's in South Kensington before working for Nico Ladenis for four years and Richard Corrigan for three years. After a short spell running a wine bar, he met his partner, Elaine, and they decided they both wanted to run a pub. The first venture, at the Red Lion in Bloxham, Oxfordshire,

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