From Prussia with Love: Acclaimed chef and TV star Phil Vickery is ready to launch his venue

By Max Gosney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Phil vickery Ready steady cook Chef

From Prussia with love After going undercover to pioneer a new pub, acclaimed chef and TV star Phil Vickery is ready to launch his venue. Max Gosney...

From Prussia with love

After going undercover to pioneer a new pub, acclaimed chef and TV star Phil Vickery is ready to launch his venue. Max Gosney reports

Michelin-starred chef Phil Vickery's switch from Ready Steady Cook star to pub entrepreneur has been so stealthy that you wonder whether even locals at Farnham Royal in Berkshire know the identity of the new landlord at the village's King of Prussia pub.

"People are very surprised when they discover I've got a pub," says Phil. "I've not really done any PR because I wanted to get the business right before we started blowing our own trumpet."

Phil and business partners, Chris Boot and David Gibbs, signed a 10-year lease with a private landlord on the 80-cover eatery in July 2004. With a blueprint to create a traditional pub, serving good food in a relaxed atmosphere, the team immediately launched a six-week revamp at the King of Prussia. "The pub had fantastic potential but was in need of some care and attention," explains Phil. "I wanted people walking in to a bar area with an open fire and a friendly barman to greet them."

The restoration of a beautiful brick fireplace and wood-panelled bar provided the foundations of Phil's perfect pub. But, he admits, the key to success depended on the kitchen. Says Phil: "I wanted to serve simple dishes bursting with flavour, because that is what people want from a pub. My business partners and I realised there was a gap in the market in the area for quality cuisine at affordable prices."

However, with commitments to TV and a wife and four children, Phil was unwilling to volunteer for cooking duties. "I was getting too old for service and knew that I could bring in someone with the ability to create what I wanted.

As a hands-on chef for 20 years, moving to a back-seat business role was tough. Phil put his faith in Andy Knight, a young chef who had caught his eye while at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset. "Andy is a fantastic talent and one of a handful of guys I would trust with this project."

Groomed to create a menu rich in fine British ingredients served without fuss, his protégé has excelled says Phil.

"He's doing a great job and I'm really satisfied with the food now." His confidence is backed by figures showing a boom in the number of weekly covers at the pub from 200 in September 2004 to 500 at present.

Creations including Thai green curried mussels (£6.50), Cumberland sausage with creamed potato and onion gravy (£9.95) and goujons of beer-battered cod, chips and mushy peas £12.50), endorse Phil's mantra that simplicity counts.

"I believe that you should never have more than five items on the plate or the tastes become confused."

Criticism that Phil's reluctance to don the chef's whites at the King of Prussia, make him merely a figurehead for the pub is misguided, he says.

"I speak to the guys in the kitchen twice a day and I'm here in person four times a week," he explains. "I'll supply Andy with menu ideas and taste the menu twice a week to ensure it's up to scratch."

Phil's influence is obvious. Desserts, such as baked egg custard with apple crumble ice cream (£5.95), display the masterful touches of a former Egon Ronay Dessert Chef of the Year. But, admits Phil, the end product is in the complete command of his pupil. "At the end of the day it's Andy who is the chef and I try to give him as much freedom as possible."

Phil's experience at the helm of top UK eateries and the culinary wisdom that he has acquired over the years have ensured that some of the country's best ingredients are found at the pub.

Pie producer Dickinson & Morris supplies fresh-baked Melton Mowbray pork pies direct from the town and gingerbread is delivered from Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread Shop in Grasmere, Cumbria.

Local suppliers are also employed wherever possible says Phil. "Our local baker delivers fresh bread to the pub cheaper than we could make our own. The menu is brimming with seasonal British produce. We won't buy strawberries in December, what's the point?"

Retirement from the kitchen has done little to dampen Phil's enthusiasm. "I get a real buzz from running the pub," he explains with gusto. "When I look around at all these diners having fun and enjoying their food it makes me happy."

The effervescent chef is brimming with new menu ideas.

"I want to do a platter of British antipasti with pork pies, piccalilli and smoked mackerel. I'd also like to introduce a desserts board to share and we are planning to introduce a salad bar offering fresh ingredients like artichoke."

Satisfied that the King of Prussia is beginning to hit its stride, Phil also plans a publicity campaign to build the pub's reputation. "The pub is doing great and I think now we are ready to bring it to a broader audience."

Phil plans a cookery school run from the King of Prussia's dining area as he aims to lend his star appeal to the cause. Yet fame, he says, will not be going to anybody's head at the pub.

"The focus will remain on serving customers quality food in a fun environment. For me, a pub with a Michelin star ceases to become a pub. We're more concerned at keeping the customers, rather than the critics, happy."

King of Prussia low-down

Owners: Phil and business partners Chris Boot and David Gibbs took over a 10-year lease with a private landlord in July 2004

Phil's Philosophy: A friendly informal pub serving simple cuisine, cooked with the best British ingredients

Covers: 80

Covers per week: 400-500

Average spend: £32.50

Wet-dry percentage split: 30:70

Best-selling dishes: Smoked chicken risotto, Thai green curried mussels, lamb chops, lamb and mint pie and baked egg custard with apple crumble ice cream

GP: 70% to 73%

Weekly turnover: £13,000 to £16,000

Wine list: 38-strong with a combination of old and new-world selections. Prices range from Grant Burge GB 23 Colombard Chardonnay 2002, South Australia (£13.95 a bottle) to Chateau Beauregard 2000, AC Pomerol (£75)

Beers: Fuller's London Pride, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Stella Artois (£2.80 to £3.10 a pint)

Phil Vickery fact file

Born in Folkestone, Kent, Phil has spent more than 20 years in the catering trade.

Highlights include earning four rosettes in the AA Guide and a Michelin star while head chef at the Castle Hotel, Taunton, Somerset.

He is married to TV presenter Fern Britton and regularly appears on the This Morning and Ready Steady Cook TV shows.

Phil is an avid footballer and plays on the left wing in a local six-a-side team.

How Phil Vickery took the throne at the King of Prussia

Phil's journey to the pub began on a train trip home in 2003 when approached by city worker, David Gibbs.

"He recognised who I was and told me that we should launch our own place together," explains Phil. "I laughed it off and said that I wasn't interested but we did exchange numbers."

Several phone conversations later Phil was persuaded to go for a beer with his future business partners.

"I met up with David and his friend, Chris Boot, at the pub and the two of them talked me around to the idea. They recognised that there was potential for a pub offering great food at reasonable prices in the Farnham Royal area."

However, when approaching potential sites the trio faced drawbacks because of Phil's celebrity status. "The trouble was that when sellers heard I was interested, they would ask for more money," says Phil.

Phil was, therefore, absent when David and Chris agreed terms for the King of Prussia last summer. "If I had walked in during the deal the landlord probably would have demanded twice as much," he jokes.

Pub life is proving a hit with Phil and he is keen to expand his empire in the future. "We're looking for three or more pubs," he says. "But w

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