Great Pub Chefs - Peter the Great - Peter Robinson

By Mark Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Kings arms Chef

Peter Robinson may be a modest man of few words, but his contemporaries in the world of Cotswold gastro pubs rate him as one of the best. Mark Taylor...

Peter Robinson may be a modest man of few words, but his contemporaries in the world of Cotswold gastro pubs rate him as one of the best.

Mark Taylor travels to Stow-on-the-Wold to find out what makes him tick

Chef's CV

Name: Peter Robinson

Born: 30 August 1969, in Stockport, Cheshire

Experience: Attended South Cheshire College as an apprentice from 1985 to 1988. Worked in fine dining establishments, including Mottram Hall in Macclesfield. Moved to London and worked at Stephen Bull's restaurant in St Martin's Lane, then Atlantic Bar & Grill under head chef Stephen Terry and Bibendum.

Worked as head chef at the Hotel Tresanton, St Mawes, between 2000 and early 2002.

He took over the Kings Arms in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, in 2002 with his wife, Louise.

How it began: "I started washing up in a hotel when I was 12. The reason I got into food was when the commis chef didn't turn up on a Saturday morning and I had to make Scotch eggs and prawn cocktails. That was back in the golden era of melon gondolas with a cherry on the top!"

The future: "To continue cooking for as long as possible, but also to write about food."

There are two types of chef - those with egos disproportionate to their talent, who invariably talk too much, and those without an ego, who let their food do the talking. Peter Robinson is very much in the latter category.

This modest Mancunian may be a man of few words when it comes to talking about himself and his cooking, but he isn't short of admirers who happily promote his talents. Among his contemporaries in the West Country, Peter's gastro pub is often cited as one of the best in the region.

He's regarded as a chef's chef and in such a notoriously-competitive business as the gastro-pub scene, that's a pretty high accolade indeed.

And so it comes as no real surprise that the low-key chef is nowhere to be seen when I arrive just before lunchtime at the Kings Arms in the Cotswolds market town of Stow-on-the-Wold.

"Peter's just gone to get the bread," I am informed by one of his bar staff at the 500-year-old grey-stone coaching inn he has run with wife Louise since 2002.

A passionate advocate of local produce, Peter uses the delicious bread baked at the award-winning Daylesford organic farm shop, a short drive from his Greene King owned pub.

When he arrives back at the Kings Arms, he makes a brief appearance to greet me, before rushing off to the kitchen to cook one of the best lunches I've had all year: ox tongue, beetroot and horseradish salad (£5.50), roast pheasant, quince and Chianti (£11) and warm rice pudding with prunes in Armagnac (£4.75). Simple presentation, robust flavours and fiercely seasonal, it's a memorable feast - and all dishes that have the hallmarks of a chef with integrity and an understanding of the basic principles of good, honest modern British food, albeit with a heavy Italian influence.

After lunch, Peter reappears with an espresso and suggests we do the interview in one of the pub's quiet bedrooms.

Friendly, but straight-talking and to the point, he lives up to his terse reputation, but during our hour-long conversation, he comes across as a chef who simply doesn't compromise when it comes to quality, even if that means not making as much money as he or his accountant thinks he could.

"What's a GP?" he quips when I ask him about the gross profit in the small, four-man kitchen at the Kings Arms. "Oh yeah, somebody told me about it once - we do about 60% to 65% - that's why I'm the worst-paid person in the building!" With starters averaging around the £5 mark, main courses rarely piercing the £14 barrier and desserts at £4.75, such a decent GP still seems surprising, especially when Peter's using some of the best produce available.

"The way we try to do it is by doing things as best as we can and keeping it competitive because we want people to come back and enjoy it.

"We want the sort of place people can come to three times a week, rather than turning it into a special-occasion place. "When you start charging people more than £15 for a main course, you're a restaurant and, therefore, you have to charge the service that goes with it.

"I'm not money motivated and I don't think you can be when you're doing this. I still buy organic free-range chickens for about £9 to £10, but I just make sure I get four portions out of them.

"At the end of the day, we made a decision to not charge too much for what we do. We're not overly greedy.

"This place was dire when we took over. It was making £200,000 a year - and the drinkers didn't even drink here. Now we have a turnover of £800,000 and people travel here from London for lunch."

Peter made his name when he was head chef at Olga Polizzi's glamorous Hotel Tresanton in St Mawes, Cornwall, after stints in London restaurants Bibendum and Atlantic Bar & Grill.

After two years in Cornwall, he decided that he wanted to move to the Cotswolds with his wife and run a gastro pub close to good local suppliers.

His passion for good produce has even extended to buying three pigs, which he plans to use for making his own hams, sausages and black pudding. "The piglets only cost me £35 each so it was a good business move," he says. "I think chefs have got to relearn the fact that we need to use as much of the animal as possible and that meat doesn't just mean fillet steaks."

Peter is already planning to sell some of his piggy products at local farmers' markets, just like his food hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, did on prime-time television.

"I'm going to have a stall and sell some hot pork rolls and soups - it should be fun and earn a little bit of cash."

Kings Arms stats and facts

Covers per week: 800 to 1,000

GP: 60% to 65%

Average spend per head: "£20 to £22 if you combine lunch and dinner, but the midweek people who have one-course lunches drag the spend down to £12 to £14."

Turnover: £800,000 gross.

Wet:dry percentage split: 50% food, 30% wet, 20% accommodation.

Number of wines on list: 50-plus

Wine list description: A predominantly French and Italian selection to match the Mediterraneaninfluenced food. The Kings Arms doesn't have a printed wine list and wines are chalked up on a board in the bar. The wine in the dining room is stored in several backlit wooden cubes along one wall near the bar. The wines stand upright with price tags around the necks of the bottles and people are encouraged to go over and browse the shelves, as they would if in a wine merchant's shop.

Beer range: Greene King IPA, Wadworth 6X, Hook Norton

Owners: Peter and Louise Robinson lease the pub from Greene King

Food sales increase in the last year: 15%

Best business idea in the last year: Buying three pigs. Peter plans to make his own hams, proscuitto, chorizo sausages and even black pudding.

Best-selling dishes in the last six months

Whole roast sea bass for two - "Always a big seller and people like to share dishes these days."

Squid - "It doesn't matter what we do with it, squid always sells. The salt and pepper squid is especially popular."

Crab - "Crab salads always sell well and we do the devilled crab dish out of the Nose To Tail Eating cookbook from St John."

Oysters - "We sell a lot of native oysters. We sell them individually. It's not profitable - if I was selling them for a profit I'd be selling them for £3 each. We charge £1.75 each, but people come back for them."

Dexter beef - "We have a Dexter beef delivery every two weeks. We do a côte de boeuf for two people for £35 and that always sells very well."

Offal - "It amazes me how well offal sells here. It reaches a different audience and appeals to an older generation. Ox tongue always sells well, as does tripe whenever we put it on the menu."

Related topics Chefs

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more