My Pub

My Pub: Jolly Gardeners, Earlsfield, London

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Dhruv Baker: "We really wanted to make it a local hub and make people proud of having this lovely pub on their doorstep."
Dhruv Baker: "We really wanted to make it a local hub and make people proud of having this lovely pub on their doorstep."

Related tags: Pub, Idea

MasterChef 2010 winner Dhruv Baker talks to Daniel Woolfson about how he and business partners Adam Pomaro, Luke Pomaro and Stephen Robb took the helm at the Jolly Gardeners, in Earlsfield, south London, restoring it to its former glory. 
Facts ’n’ stats

Owners:​ Dhruv Baker, Adam Pomaro, Stephen Robb and Luke Pomaro.

Tenure:​ Enterprise lease

Wet:dry split:​ Roughly 56:44

Staff:​ 11 (mix of full and part time)

Covers:​ 160 to 170

Average meals per week:​ 200

Best-selling drinks:​ Heineken and Sagres

How we got here

Adam [Pomaro] and I had a catering business for about four years and we went out one evening to have a chat about how we wanted to expand it. We ended up in the Jolly Gardeners, which was my local for 10 years and I adore the place. We realised it was on the market and it dawned on us that it would be amazing to do something more permanent than just run a catering company — to take on a lovely pub. Before we knew it were holding on to the keys.

How we turned the business around

[The site] was doing all right — it wasn’t breaking any records but it was ticking along. We really wanted to make it a local hub and make people proud of having this lovely pub on their doorstep. We knew from the start we weren’t going to do anything too dramatic — after all, the pub’s been around longer than we have. We decided to strip back all the paint and try and bring it back to how it would have originally looked and restore it to its former glory. On top of that, Enterprise Inns has a really fantastic training programme. It supported us in-house and by helping and guiding us through the kind of processes that can be a bit of a minefield. We have a good working relationship and they’ve been very supportive, considering it was our first pub. It would have been infinitely more challenging without that support.

How we grew the business

First of all we decided to lighten up the whole pub and use lighting to enhance its natural features. We restored the original wood and polished it, as well as painting the ceiling. We removed a lot of the big and heavy furniture to de-clutter the place and then continued that theme into the dining room. We wanted to keep our drinks offer really local — we’ve got such a wealth of brilliant local beers so, because we were setting up, we wanted to make a bit of noise about the breweries.

How we stand out from the crowd

You only need to sit in a pub in the afternoon to see that it’s got a wonderful feel. We’ve got an outdoor space which I think is one of our strongest assets. After all, you really can’t beat having an outdoor space in London and it’s perfect for alfresco dining. We’ve also worked very closely to build up an interesting but not overly complicated wine list. The food is my passion — my expertise.

Where do you start with a menu?

It began with dishes I love to eat and serve friends. We change the menu as the seasons change. Through the winter we had lots of rich hearty food and heavy dishes but now that we’re coming into spring the menu’s beginning to reflect that with fish, seafood and lighter dishes.

Aims for the next year

There’s only one aim — to carry on building on the start we’ve made with no advertising or PR. We just want to attract a local customer base — first and foremost we are a neighbourhood local. That, and build a reputation for honest food — there’ll be no fussy fine dining. And we plan on building an outdoor kitchen.

In the know

Best piece of business advice

Adam looks after the finances and has run his own businesses for 20 years — a lot of the crucial learning came from him. I’d say definitely go into business with someone you trust.

Biggest mistake and what you learned

I think we initially underestimated the challenge of maintaining the number and level of staffing required running the pub. We have four business partners but it turns out however good a team of four owners is, we are very much reliant on having a very strong team overall. Now we’ve got some fantastically talented chefs and front-of-house staff that are all really enthusiastic.

Staff and training

A lot of it is down to them — you can’t teach enthusiasm. People must want to be there. A large part is their attitude and approach to work. As is the case with any relationship, there has to be chemistry. The rest is just educating them in terms of wine and food. We’ve got to go for 100% customer satisfaction. For instance, we had some diners who weren’t 100% happy a while ago. Adam was adamant that we invite them back and get to what the problem was.

Bar talk

Coming into the summer people want something different — beyond the traditional rosé and Pimms. We’re going to take it a step further and put on some drinks that scream ‘summer’. We’re really excited about some of the ideas we have for that.

Smart marketing

We really just wanted to utilise word of mouth so we spoke to residents. All we wanted to do was get that local network. And luckily it spread, from friends to their friends, to their neighbours and local businesses. We are building up that reputation by having people come in and eat rather than read reviews. When we took over, we also decided to keep the pub open while we made small changes. The feedback we got was that people really enjoyed seeing the pub coming back to life bit by bit. There are a few bits and pieces on Twitter but there’s never been a big cohesive market strategy. Undoubtedly, winning MasterChef​ helped. It’s a really loved show with a huge following and people are always curious to see what winners go on to do and taste their food. They watch the show for six weeks and instead of having to rely on John and Greg [Torode and Wallace, show presenters] they can now come and try it for themselves. And we’re proud of the level of repeat customers.

Couldn’t live without

Our primary chiller! It exploded once on a Saturday morning and very early on we had to tell people we had no draught beer, which is not a great thing to happen. We’re still convinced there’s a ghost in the pub that turns things off and hides things. Really though, we couldn’t do without our staff — it doesn’t matter how good your equipment is if you don’t have good people.

One idea that didn’t work

There’s really nothing that’s gone disastrously wrong. I’m sure in the future we might come up with a dish that we think is brilliant but isn’t that well received, but touch wood…

Best ideas
  • I think the best idea we had was trying to just strip back the bar area and bring it back to its former glory. That, and reworking the toilets — we spent a lot of money on it and its one of the best things we’ve done.
  • Making the most of what we’ve got — tidying up the garden, putting in furniture but making sure it doesn’t feel cramped.
  • Moving towards local beers — when we took on the pub there weren’t any local ones on draught. We thought ‘let’s see how it goes’ and our decision has been really well received by our customers.
  • Take time and allow for word to spread — some dishes we didn’t think were popular are now best-sellers. If we’d taken them off in a knee-jerk reaction we’d have lost some of our best-loved dishes.

On the menu:​ 

It’s all about honesty and making the most of the ingredients. We use some outstanding suppliers, getting the very best produce. I’m a firm believer that if you have good produce, you shouldn’t mess around with it too much. Just make food people want to eat.

Sample dishes

Watercress velouté and blue cheese scone (£6.50); mushroom and truffle fregola risotto (£7-£12); pork belly with carrot and cardamom purée, cavalo nero and chimichurri (£16); dark chocolate mousse, hazelnut powder, orange gel and honeycomb (£7.50).

Best-selling dishes

Spiced crab cake, shaved fennel and tamarind yoghurt (£8), pork terrine, pickled vegetables, honey and mustard dressing (£7). And the specials — quite often one of our chefs might have a great idea in the morning and we’ll have it on that evening.

Best new menu items

Peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and banana tart.

Related topics: Chefs

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