Chef Focus

Urban insights - James Browne

By PubFood

- Last updated on GMT

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Chef James Browne outside ULG's latest venture Ask for Janice in Farringdon, London
Chef James Browne outside ULG's latest venture Ask for Janice in Farringdon, London
PubFood talks to James Browne, executive chef at bar group Urban Leisure Group, which operates seven London sites about menu trends and rated concepts.  The group’s newest opening is Ask for Janice in Farringdon.

What food concepts most inspire you?

The kind of venues that most inspire me are pubs offering fresh, seasonal exciting menus.

There are so many soulless pubs opening at the moment so it’s nice to see passionate, exciting operators really caring about the products they offer to the customers.

Most recently the Camberwell Arms in South London has opened not far from my house.

The menu is always seasonal, executed well & fairly priced.

They also offer a great range of craft beers & cocktails.

A perfect local!

No gimmicks, just a well thought out, quality offering from start to finish.

We also have a very similar ethos at ULG, Quality products executed well.

What trend is having the most influence of pub menus?

This year has seen the end of the Scotch egg thankfully as was done to death.

Sooner or later Poutine (Canada’s national dish) will feature on every pub menu.

Fresh cows curds, French fries & gravy - the perfect dish with beer.

It’s already huge in the states so only a matter of time before it’s huge in the UK.

Still featuring on every pub menu and also the number one seller is the Burger.

Pub burgers vary massively from pub to pub.

We at ULG take great care putting our burgers together.

We use 100% matured scotch rump, cream cheese buns, homemade pickles, artisan cheese & hand cut chips.

We take our burgers seriously.

What are the biggest crimes against pub food?

One thing that really drives me made is badly thought out, unseasonal menus.

It’s mainly the larger, mainstream operators that are guilty of this.

Asparagus at Christmas! Strawberries in February!! Ridiculous.

They also tend to jump on any food trend, execute it badly and in doing so badly dilute a great idea.

Bad service seriously gets under my skin.

If pubs want to charge restaurant prices they also need to ensure the service is up to speed.

Too many are meals are ruined by bad service which can be easily solved by staff training.

All ULG staff are first inducted and trained before serving customers.

Constant on the job training is also very important to keep the staff best informed.

I also hate discounted 241 food offerings as I believe is truly detrimental to the pub industry and is not sustainable for the pubs offering these deals.

I would much rather pay a fair price for a well thought out meal rather than two badly executed cheap meals.

Plus once you’ve eaten at one of these venues for half price it will never taste as good when paying the full price.

Good for short term footfall but bad for long term growth and profitability.

What is the key to keeping kitchen staff motivated?

Keeping chefs motivated is key to delivering a great product.

Happy chefs produce produce great food.

Keeping the offering interesting not only keeps the customers happy but also the chefs.

Good chefs are a hard commodity to come by at the moment so keeping them happy is very important.

What suppliers do you recommend?

My favourite supplier at the moment is Mash fruit and Veg Company based in Covent Garden.

Their produce is second to none.

Not cheap, but ultimately you get what you pay for.

I’m also a big fan of Select meat and poultry.

Consistently great meat.

What would be your desert island pub  dishes?

  • A great burger (everybody loves burgers)
  • A great healthy option (to keep everyone happy)
  • An awesome steak (is a sign of a good pub)

What is your idea of a perfect pub menu?

My idea of a good pub menu must be seasonal. It must also include well sourced produce. Six starters, eight mains, three desserts and a cheese board.

Menus which are too large are hard to maintain both profit & quality.

Classics are classics for a reason so should never be tampered with.

Best left alone!

Best dish you have eaten in a pub recently?

At the Camberwell Arms in South London I had crispy quail and romesco to start, Barnsley chop with chard, gratan potatoes and pan juices. Delicious! Simple ingredients, but cooked to perfection.

Just wish there were more pubs like this in London.

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