LAUREL PUB Company has put an increased focus on food in its 460-strong town-centre pubs and bars over the past two years, through a major upgrading exercise.
The menus at both ha ha bar and grill and Slug and Lettuce have been refreshed and expanded. Perry Huntley, Laurel's head of food, says the biggest kitchen challenge is speed. Customers want a wide choice of typical pub food on the menu, but don't want to have to wait for it to be served.
Microwaves from Merrychef have proven to be part of the solution. "It enables us to put innovative products on the menu in a way that's manageable," says Perry. "At ha ha, accelerated cooking technology has broadened the menu. Chefs can cook high-quality baked and roasted products from scratch within minutes."
Perhaps inevitably, Laurel's chefs were a little dubious about the installation of microwaves in pubs with a reputation for high-quality food - but their fears have been allayed. "Our chefs are amazed at the flexibility of accelerated cooking. Previously happy with a grill and a range, they were initially impressed with the flexibility of the oven. Working with it has definitely changed a few sceptical attitudes as they have benefited from working with Merrychef technology for scratch cooking and finishing products such as a rack of lamb."
"With Merrychef the relationship doesn't stop once an oven is commissioned. The team work closely with our brands from food development and staff training and are always on hand with helpful advice."
Both ha ha and Slug and Lettuce have recently opened at the O2 Arena in London. "Customers arrive without much time to spare before an event and want a decent meal in minutes. The Merrychef 501 is an essential part of our kitchen armoury. We'd be hard pushed to deliver our own high standards without them."
Merrychef's latest innovation in ventless accelerated cooking technology is the 402S model, which can deliver cooked foods at speeds of up to 15 times faster than a conventional oven. A combination of convection heat, impingement pressure and electromagnetic energy allows typical cooking times from 15 seconds to 90 seconds.
Merrychef managing director Graham Veal says: "The 402s can rapidly produce high-quality menu items from hot toasted sandwiches to perfectly cooked salmon fillets or a full English breakfast in a matter of seconds."