My Pub: The Anchor at Walberswick

By Phil Mellows

- Last updated on GMT

Idyllic spot: We take a look at the Anchor at Walberswick
Idyllic spot: We take a look at the Anchor at Walberswick

Related tags: Beer, Adnams

The Anchor at Walberswick sits in an idyllic spot overlooking Suffolk’s coastal marshlands; its expansive gardens rolling down to the beach. Yet it wasn’t until Mark and Sophie Dorber took charge of the Adnams Brewery-owned outlet a dozen years ago that the business began to rise to its full potential.

The pub

Fact file

Pub:​ The Anchor

 Address: ​Walberswick, Suffolk

Tenure:​ Adnams leasehold

Licensees:​ Mark and Sophie Dorber

Staff:​ 22, full and part time

Annual turnover:​ £1.2m

Split:​ 50% food, 35% wet, 15% accommodation

Overall average GP: ​65%

Best-selling beers:​ Meantime Pilsner, Adnams Bitter, Adnams Ghost Ship

Before we came here, Adnams couldn’t make the Anchor work. It was considered a no-hoper and was closed, but we saw the potential. Funded by our previous well-paid jobs, we prettified the gardens, opened the bar up, added the outdoor terraces and renovated the barn, converting it into a function room. The pub opened its doors again on 5 November 2004.

The publicans

I was manager of the White Horse at Parsons Green, Fulham, for more than 20 years. The pub earned a worldwide reputation for its beers, and I went on to become a founding director of the Beer Academy. Sally is a chef and brings her expertise to the dry side of the business.

The trade

We have a loyal band of regulars from the village, including a number of artistic families and people who keep coming back to the area to relive family holidays.

Summer trade really gets going from April when we start up the pizza oven and open the outside bar. The garden is a lovely, safe place for children, they can go straight out of the back gate and onto the beach. In winter, we get lot of walkers off the marshes.

Our celebrity customers bring us a lot of publicity. Emma Freud and Richard Curtis are locals – the Freud family have been in the village a long time and they have a big circle of friends.

David and Samantha Cameron visited the pub last September, Tracey MacLeod, John Simpson and Lily Allen have been in.

The Latitude Festival last July brought in Ed Sheeran. We had Dumbledore and Voldemort here within six weeks of each other a few years ago!

The team

Luke Murphy is our manager. He’s worked at the pub for eight years and took over as manager six years ago.

We recently recruited a new head chef, Julian Lloyd, a former executive chef for Rick Stein, to lead the charge again and develop a fish-friendly menu, while Lynne Newman, who has experience in American hotels, is in charge of accommodation.

There are 22 staff in total at the Anchor, full and part time.

They include working mothers and students, and six are Romanian or Czech – I find they are people with hospitality at their fingertips, they actively want to be in this industry, they are prepared to train and learn and that helps to give us good restaurant standards in a pub setting.

Front-of-house people all get Beer Academy and Wine & Spirit Education Trust training, and a personal licence qualification that sets their responsibilities in a legal framework. We also offer cellar training and a couple of staff are training as beer sommeliers.

We have two apprentices in the kitchen and we work with a local college on their training.

Anchor 2

The food

Conditions changed in the pub industry with the smoking ban and the financial crisis. The drinking culture has just oozed away since then and food has become much more important. We have an 80-cover restaurant and the same menu is served in the bar. We have table service throughout.

We like to offer plenty of variety in the menu. As well as fish, game dishes are popular in season – we have a very active shoot locally. We sell a lot of oysters and our range of farmhouse cheeses go down well, too.

We grow some of our own vegetables in the garden, including courgettes, spinach and kale.

The drink

We are on a tied lease here so our cask ales are from Adnams, and we want to support the brewery by having as many of its craft keg beers as we can, such as Black Shore Stout. We have Meantime Brewery keg ales too, including Yakima Red at the moment.

Meantime Pilsner, Adnams Bitter and Ghost Ship are our three best-sellers, and Broadside is still a strong favourite with regulars.

From the beginning we’ve stocked at least 50 foreign beers in bottle, too – all Belgian, US and German classics.

Wine is a key draw here. The list includes wines from Forrest and Quinta Do Crasto, and Sangiovese wine from Tuscany.

Wines by the glass are good sellers and we have invested in an Enomatic wine dispenser, which replaces the air in the bottles with nitrogen and allows us to serve more wines that way.

Now that Adnams has its own micro distillery, we stock its spirits rather than mainstream brands, and as well as the gin and vodka we have its Triple Sec and Absinthe.

The accommodation

You have to take the innkeeping side of the business seriously. It’s a vocation, really, and it means we’re open from 8am till 11pm.

We have 10 rooms, four in the pub and six garden rooms that we have renewed and repaired, cladding them in cedar, improving the insulation and installing £500 heating pads under the bathroom floors.

The accommodation brings a different customer base to the people we get in the pub. Over the years we’ve built a database of 6,500 customers and we put together special offers for them to help fill gaps in occupancy and to reward their loyalty.

The events

The barn offers private dining for 30, or it can work well for business meetings and family get-togethers. It has a big screen, too, which we can show the rugby on.

It’s also home for the Anchor’s annual Beer & Oyster Festival, held every August. Last year, we sold 1,500 oysters and 12 firkins of beer in two days.

We put a marquee on the back lawn in the summer and host three weddings a year there, as well as open-air concerts and plays.

Future

We’ll keep on developing the Anchor. There are eight years left on the lease and you’ve got to keep going, keep innovating and improving levels of service and hospitality. We make sure we are listed in guides and have a good presence on social media, and try to win awards to keep us in the public eye.

In 2012, we bought a second pub, an ex-Punch Taverns house called the Swan, which is in Stratford St Mary on the Suffolk-Essex border. We already do some brewing there and, in a year’s time, I want to have a five or seven-barrel brewery up and running.

On the menu

■ Halloumi fries, chilli vinegar £7.25

■ Pan-fried scallops, pork belly, apple purée & black pudding mousse £10.95

■ Six West Mersea rock oysters, sherry & shallot vinegar £12

■ Crispy salt beef on stir-fried vegetables £15.95

■ Cromer crab linguini, chilli, garlic £15.75

■ Red Poll rib-eye steak, hand-cut chips, green peppercorn & tarragon butter £21

■ Frangipane tart with poached rhubarb £6.50

■ Chocolate fondant, salted caramel ice cream £6.75

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