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Lucy Britner discovers what Marco Pierre White protege Tim Payne is making of pub food as head chef of a new London gastropub After spending an...

Lucy Britner discovers what Marco Pierre White protege Tim Payne is making of pub food as head chef of a new London gastropub

After spending an exhausting summer as Marco's sous chef in ITV1 show Hell's Kitchen, Tim was ready to go to the pub.

Now he's head chef at Paradise by Way of Kensal Green, West London, and set to steer the owners - multiple lessees Steven Ball and Riz Shaikh - in a new, more food-led direction.

The duo also run the Old Queen's Head, Islington, the Queen Boadicea in Clerkenwell and the Westbury in Kilburn - all of them music-orientated pubs.

Tim has more pedigree than the winner of Crufts. He has worked on and off with Marco since taking a job as chef de partie in Harvey's, Wandsworth, in 1989. In 1996, he embarked on a seven-year stint as Marco's executive head chef and remains very loyal to his mentor.

"Marco is the best thing that ever happened to cooking in this country by a mile. He's the only unique chef that this country has ever produced," he says.

"At Harvey's if you ever had any problems with things, you could always talk to him and go through it. He'd listen to points of view and admit if he thought your idea was better. Some lads got a bollocking, of course, but he was prepared to listen."

But Tim isn't so enthusiastic when it comes to other celebrity chefs. He believes programmes like Ready Steady Cook portray an unrealistic images of cheffing.

"Chefs like Jamie Oliver and programmes like Ready Steady Cook that involve piling a load of stuff on a plate like a jumble sale, give chefs a bad name. Being a chef isn't about chucking a load of things together and hoping for the best. Chefs like Hugh Fernley Whittingstall and Rick Stein do a much better job."

Although Tim still does consultancy work for Oliver Peyton's restaurants, he feels more at home in the pub.

"People are looking for better dining experiences in pubs and it's a great environment to offer them. You can use more produce and change the menu as often as you like. We change three to four dishes a week and it's still the same standard of food as in restaurants, but there's not all that 'waiters walking around with a poker up their arse'."

Improving the back of house

The Paradise is the start of a new foodie direction for the company and a makeover back of house was the first challenge.

"The biggest lesson I took from my life in restaurants is how efficiently they run. It was a new experience for the guys that own the pub. They were amazed at the amount of back-of-house work that goes into this kind of food operation."

Tim says a lot of pubs don't have a back of house system that can cope with the standard of food they want to produce: "A restaurant has a big kitchen and if you want to do a lot of fresh food, you need somewhere to put it all. The kitchen here is going to be altered to host a walk-in fridge and we've had to adapt a special area just to deal with bar snacks - we're doing around 50 a night. If you want to have a successful food pub, you need a decent back of house. In a pub, the menu has to evolve around the kitchen."

Tempting the punters

The next challenge for Tim was getting customers to order food he knows they will love but might not order: "People are open to trying new things and are certainly more foodie than 10 years ago. But you have to put dishes on the menu in an appetising way and not price yourself out of the market."

Dishes on the menu include starters of soup of mussels with spices (£5.50), potted ham hock and parsley with mustard dressing (£6.75) and Dorset crab and green apple cocktail with shiso salad (£8.50).

Mains feature roast wigeon, honey-roasted parsnips and thyme essence (£13.95) and beef Wellington, green beans and creamed potatoes for two (£44).

Desserts include warm banana tart (£5), knickerbocker glory (£5.95) and melon sorbet (£5).

The price is wrong

A frequently changing menu made up of largely British produce has become more costly for the Paradise since the outbreak of foot and mouth and the summer floods.

"The problem is that a lot of produce in the UK has been too cheap for far too long. With outbreaks of foot and mouth and the bad weather, we're really noticing prices soaring. A drum of vegetable oil is up £3, flour has nearly doubled in price and butter has gone up £20 a box," says Tim.

Incentivise the front of house

The pub, built in 1892, is more like a spacious London town house with upstairs rooms decked out for gigs and parties, nooks and crannies with open fires and comfy chairs, and a roof terrace to boot.

Tim's vision for the future includes training front-of-house staff to carve roasts at the table and he is thinking of ways to encourage people to take front of house more seriously.

"The waiting staff don't see this as a career. We train them here and have weekly tastings and briefings when new dishes are added, but we don't have the same attitude here as we do in countries like France.

"I think it's up to the bigger pubcos to incentivise front-of-house staff and create a management programme. The problem is, a lot of pub companies are just property developers. In countries like France, working front of house is seen as a real career."

Stars are not everything

Despite working for the Marco empire when he was awarded three Michelin stars in 1994, Tim doesn't see stars for Paradise.

"As long as the place is full and people are enjoying themselves, I'm not that bothered.

"The problem with stars is that they put tremendous pressure on you and absolutely everything that leaves the kitchen needs to be exactly the same. I'd need to be here all the time. A Bib Gourmand is a much better

achievement for a pub because it stands for quality and value."

It's inevitable that critics and guide inspectors will be knocking on the door at Paradise but Tim seems unfazed.

"Reviews are great, even if they aren't all positive. People still come because they are curious, though very negative reviews can be terrible for business.

"We find that reviews help to boost trade at the beginning of the week - this is when people know they are likely to get a table."

The number of covers is creeping up to 620 a week - despite the pub not opening for lunch at the moment. So Paradise is certainly by way of Kensal Green.

Tips for getting customers to try new dishes

1 Try out a new dish as a sample or as a special. Perhaps recommend it to a loyal customer whose feedback you can trust.

2 Make sure you use decent ingredients. Let the quality of ingredients dictate what's on the menu.

3 Keep it affordable. It's better to not make your percentages at first; just get it on there and introduce people to different things.

4 Avoid over-elaborate menu descriptions. We avoid using French menu descriptions - people won't order what they don't understand.

Pub facts

Best-selling dish: Best end of Swaledale lamb, crushed potatoes with tomatoes, olives and goats' cheese, tapenade sauce (£14.95)

Best-selling bar dishes: fresh scampi in a basket with home-made tartare sauce (£6.25); grilled courgettes and halloumi and tomato salsa (£3.85)

Staff: six full-time chefs, two porters

GP: about 63%, but hoping to increase it when the pub has been open longer

Tim's top pub dish: Lancashire hotpot

Average covers a week: 620 - not open for lunch Monday to Friday

Wet:dry split: 65:35

Tim's hot ingredients

Veal kidneys and liver: Tim says a lot of what you see on some menus is actually ox because the livers are too big to have come out of a baby animal. He has found a supplier that does milk-fed veal kidneys and liver. Game is in season and is very popular - partridge and hare in particular.

Quinces and baby watercress: Tim says they are b

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