How we got here
We have had the Richmond Arms for four and a half years. Having spent my early childhood in Australia, I moved to West Ashling, near Chichester, when I was 11 and went on to study hotel management before side-stepping into catering. I landed my first head chef job at the age of 23 but spent much of my early 20s moving between Australia and the UK, trying to decide where I felt most at home, before taking a job as personal chef to Jacques Villeneuve, the Formula One racing driver, which took me to the South of France. Working for Jacques gave me the opportunity to travel all over Europe and heavily influenced how I cook today, exposing me to many different ingredients and allowing me to source my own produce from the markets.
While I was working in France I met my wife, Emma, who also has a background in hotel management, and together we went on to manage TV producer Simon Fuller’s estate, based both in the South of France and Los Angeles, setting up various hotel retreats around the world and the renovation of Tanners Manor, in East Sussex.
The Richmond Arms was a Greene King tenancy. It was small, which was what we wanted, but we could see within the infrastructure that there was potential to offer a multi-faceted business. In 2010, we managed to buy the freehold at the right price.
We closed the pub for four months and the renovation cost us around £80,000. We opened our doors in January 2011.
How we grew the business
We knew that it would be a destination pub as West Ashling has no major road and no through traffic. Pubs in the UK tend to have a set formula which we have avoided. Instead, we wanted our offering to be vibrant, fun and market-driven, evolving daily. We decided right from the start that we didn’t want to flog ourselves to death running the business. We open four and a half days a week and close for three weeks over Christmas and for a week or so every three months. This has become harder to do as we’ve got bigger, as it takes longer to recoup losses, but it’s something that’s important to us. We didn’t want to shout about ourselves. We wanted to keep things small and grow gradually, particularly as I hadn’t been cooking as a professional chef for almost 10 years.
Our aim was to appeal to the local market initially and to rely on word of mouth. Word spread and people came, but what helped enormously was an amazing review by Carol Godsmark in The Portsmouth News during our first year, followed by another by Giles Coren in The Times, which really sealed things for us.
Our pizza restaurant
While working up in the hills in Italy, we came across a pizza van which would park up on the roundabout with a mobile phone. People would ring through their orders and then pick their pizzas up.
We loved this idea and it provided us with the inspiration for our pizza restaurant, called WoodFired which we opened in 2013. The concept won Business Innovation of the Year in the PMA’s Top 50 Gastropub Awards 2015.
At the time, we didn’t have a holding area for customers and the restaurant was over-run. The pub had an old skittle alley which we had originally planned to use for self-catering accommodation but, instead, we converted it into a 60-cover pizza restaurant and bar. Knowing that we would not get planning permission for another kitchen and that our existing kitchen was too small to service both restaurants, we decided to convert a Citroen H van, installing a wood fired oven which cooks pizzas within 60 seconds in a 500 degree heat. WoodFired and the Alley bar were born!
The pizzas are served on Friday and Saturday evenings or during the week for pre-booked parties. They have an incredibly light base and are built around one key local ingredient. Not everyone got it to start with, but now, during summer, hundreds of people flock here and we have to turn many away.
Lager-wise, we offer Budweiser Budvar Original and Budvar Dark as well as lighter organic bottled lagers from nearby Goodwood Home Farm on the Goodwood Estate.
We have two hand-pulls, with Harveys’ real ales on both. Harveys is a Sussex institution. They were really helpful to us when we first started out and we still have a very good relationship with them now. Hadlow is our best seller but we are also stocking Olympia, which is lighter for the summer. We also stock regularly changing local microbrewery beers.
Our wine list consists of a lot of European wines, particularly French, with a large number of wines by the glass. We are big fans of natural wines and have a great supplier, Les Caves de Pyrene, which is now the go-to place for those seeking natural wines.
In the know
We bought a 1955 Morris J van about a year ago and have renovated it to offer a street kitchen serving local seafood tapas and small plates. We were on the verge of taking over the lease of a deli in Bosham harbour, to create a pop-up dining area in which to serve the food cooked in the van and were really excited about our new venture, advertising it on our website and talking to people about it.
But the freeholder withdrew, putting paid to our idea for the time being. We are continuing to look for another site for our Morris J kitchen and are in talks with Chichester District Council who are keen for us to offer a street-food pop-up in the town centre.
We have won a number of awards, including best new entry in the Good Food Guide’s Editors’ Awards 2014, and feel that we are at our peak. Our reservation book looks after itself now, but we will continue to strive to keep things fresh and our standards high.
On the menu
Our menu is fun, interesting and unpretentious. We didn’t want to serve food that you can eat anywhere; instead we cook in unconventional ways – Sunday roasts are cooked on a rotisserie and meats and seafood are grilled over local wild wood charcoal. Drawing on our previous experiences, the menu is multi-cultural with Asian influences. We avoid sauces and prefer the natural flavours to shine through.
All the small plates, pizzas and desserts offered to WoodFired customers can
be prepared in the van and
the concept was created to extend the number of covers the pub could offer, but without putting pressure on the small kitchen.
Starters: sticky melting pig’s cheek, coconut treacle, spicy Pomelo and peanut salad (£7.95); fries with eyes — hazelnut dukkah-rolled south-coast sprats, harissa aioli (£6.95).
Mains: hot, molten fresh Selsey crab Kiev, Granny Smith apple and celeriac salad (£17.50); grilled crispy skin local bass, spicy wood roast marinated peppers, sweet potato, coconut sambal (£17.95).
Desserts: coconut rice pudding ‘doughnuts’, coconut sorbet, smoky coconut treacle (£6.95); hot sugared banana and chocolate ‘ spring roll’ with lavender ice cream (£6.95).
Small plates: feta, golden raisins and cashews wrapped in fragrant fig leaves and wood roasted (£6.95); gremolata-crumbled halloumi fries with tartare (£6.95); crunchy, smokey sardine fillets with chilli mayo (£6.95).