Great pub chefs - Spanning the spectrum

By Nigel Huddleston

- Last updated on GMT

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Spanning the spectrum
Spanning the spectrum
There's no pigeon-holing the Lamb Inn in West Wittering - Tim Powell is determined to cater for all types of tastes, as Nigel Huddleston reports. If...

There's no pigeon-holing the Lamb Inn in West Wittering - Tim Powell is determined to cater for all types of tastes, as Nigel Huddleston reports.

If anyone was in any doubt that to deliver good food means having to have fancy ingredients, then they should scroll down the lunch menu at the Lamb Inn to find the Cornish pasty. It comes with a salad, pickles, and brown sauce. Yes, brown sauce, frequently delivered in sachets with the cutlery, but seldom seen as a listed menu ingredient. Tim Powell isn't afraid to have the everyday on the menu at his pub in West Wittering near Chichester. But when your CV includes La Tante Claire, the Ritz and Pont de la Tour, you can probably afford to do things your own way, or as Tim himself puts it "not being afraid to put on something as simple as a lasagne"​.

"When you're doing food, you have to think of all different kinds of people,"​ says Tim, "so we always have a curry on each evening. "We've got the ability in the kitchen that if someone on a table likes spicy food and someone else likes Mediterranean grilled vegetables with pitta bread, hummus and a few olives, and someone else likes fish and chips, we can do it. "We want to be open to every type of taste, not limited to up-market food or jacket spuds."​ Tim and wife Lucy settled in the coastal mini-millionaire's row a year ago in a bid to escape the pressures of big city life and work.

West Sussex had a lot to offer. "It was important to get back to the areas where good food was produced,"​ says Tim. "But it was also about lifestyle and bringing my kids up away from the big city environment. "Unless you go back into Chichester, you couldn't find anywhere to eat fresh fish, so it seemed like it would be a good place. I found that the highest concentration of market gardens and greenhouses were based in this part of the country, so from a produce point of view, it's been very good as well. "Part of the joy of cooking is using stuff that's in season and has been picked that morning. Last week it was English asparagus and I know a couple of guys up in town who couldn't get it, and a few weeks before that, it was sprouting broccoli. I know it's not the only place in the country but it's nice to think that most of the things that are going on the plate are from this area."

Running a pub signalled a change of working environment for Tim. "If you'd have told me a couple of years ago I'd have been going to do a pub, it would not have been in the forefront of my mind. "The main reason we went this way was that we weren't finding the sites we wanted," explains Tim. "But more importantly, I'd weighed up in my own mind, after being in town for so many years, that a lot of people were coming out to eat but it wasn't a pleasure anymore; it was work and done out of necessity. "In that environment you only hear the complaints and not when people have enjoyed their evening. There's nothing more disheartening in this job than to only hear the bad stuff, or answering 40 e-mails about Valentine's menus six months down the line."

The Lamb is a Hall & Woodhouse tenancy, which had its own benefits. "To any chef looking to open their own business I'd recommend a tenancy because apart from the working capital and buying the existing equipment, it's the cheapest way to set up,"​ points out Tim. "And you get a group of customers who are already in place, unlike opening a restaurant from scratch."​ A year down the line of pub ownership, the Lamb had quadrupled its turnover and increased its staffing levels sixfold, but the expansion hasn't been at the expense of substituting quantity for quality. "Once you've got a table for the evening that's it, it's yours. I'd rather do 70 meals well than 100 badly. "We run out of fresh ingredients quite regularly, but I'd rather do that and get fresh stuff in the next day. We're not about trying to do as many as we can, it's about doing the job well."​ Even the brown sauce.

Chef's CV

Name:​ Tim Powell Experience:​ Apprenticed at the Ritz, then moved to La Tante Claire. Had a spell in Michelin-starred restaurants in France, then became senior sous chef at Pont de la Tour before becoming head chef at Sir Michael Caine's Canteen at Chelsea Harbour for two years. Powell then opened restaurants for the owners of the Asian franchise, based in Hong Kong. He returned to the UK at the Great Eastern and then had two and a half further years as executive chef at Pont de la Tour.

Fact File

Location:​ Chichester Road, West Wittering, West Sussex Seating capacity:​ 70 Average covers per week:​ 700 in the summer, 400 in the winter Food style:​ Eclectic - from Asian to classical French and Italian Staff:​ 18, full-time and part-time, including head chef Luke Morris Wine list:​ 10 reds, 10 whites, one rosé. Five each of red and white by the glass

In the hot seat

What's the difference between running a pub kitchen and a big restaurant?"Going from controlling 30 chefs and 120 staff in Pont de la Tour to this environment, the main thing is getting back to cooking - that's what I was missing. I don't think that I've cooked better for a long time. One of the main things with a pub is that the expectations are slightly lower. People obviously expect to have good food, but you've got the ability to surprise somebody, give them that little bit extra without being poncey."Do you now feel you're running a pub or a restaurant?"The idea is always to keep the bar as a pub and the food as a separate element. I thought that it was very important that apart from good food, you should provide good beer, so we've gone out of our way to make sure the beers are served well. It's a small brewery chain so again it was personal and in line with what we were doing with food. There's a community thing in rural areas - it's a place where people meet. We're not going to do quiz nights or meat raffles, but we want to keep the pub as a pub."What do you think of pub food in general?"A lot of places think they can get by with one chef, but you know that if you see a blackboard with 50 things on, it's going to have to come out of the freezer. We'll only ever have the number of main courses that we do at the moment [eight to 10]. Half of the trick is with sourcing the products. It's taken us a long time to find the people we want to supply us. But if you have fresh fish you don't really have to do a lot with it."

On the menu at the Lamb Inn

Lunch bites​ Salad Paysanne - £3.95 Mixed charcuterie board - £6.95 Sussex cheddar, dolcelatte or brie de Meaux cheese board - £5.95 Traditional Cornish pasty with tomato salad, pickles and brown sauce - £4.95 Lasagne Bologna - £10.95 Deep-fried haddock in beer batter - £10.95

A la carte

Starters Chicken liver paté with red onion jam - £4.50 Wild rocket salad, marinated anchovies, soft-boiled egg and parmesan - £4.95 Thai beef salad - £4.95 Main courses​ Pan-fried boneless skate with chorizo sausage - £15.50 Steamed darne of halibut, champ potatoes,petit pois Française - £16.50 Mixed grill of calf's liver, smoked pork sausage and crispy bacon - £11.95 Magret duck breast with Savoie style potatoes - £13.95 Chicken and ham Parmegana with macaroni pasta and zucchini - £11.95

Spanish stunner​ Roasted cod with cockles and clams, Boulangere potatoes, white wine, garlic and olive oil.

"It's a Spanish dish. The Spanish take a sizeable haul of the white fish consumed in the world. It's quite a simple preparation with the seafood, oil and garlic. Like any fish dish, the trick is not to overcook it and get it just to perfection, so the 30 minutes shown in the recipe is important."

Preparation time:​ 15 m

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