Tom Kerridge’s sleek and modern bistro-style pub the Coach in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, was the centre of attention at last month’s Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs’ regional dinner.
The event, which was the second in a series of four regional functions aimed at celebrating exceptional pub cookery across the UK, brought together the very best gastropub chefs from the south-east of England.
Head chef Nick Beardshaw and his brigade showcased the pub’s unique selling point, which is small tapas-style dishes developed to share or pig out on alone.
The Coach was Kerridge’s second site and is in the same town as his first two-Michelin-starred gastropub the Hand & Flowers, where Beardshaw originally worked under the celebrity chef before taking the lead at the Coach.
Last year, the pub entered the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list as the highest new entry at number four – and was placed fifth on this year’s list.
Kerridge’s first site capped the Top 50 list for several years in a row before the celebrity chef retired it from entry to make way for other shining gastropubs.
Beardshaw has worked in hospitality since the age of 11, when he started out as a humble patio sweep at his local pub.
His sweeping duties were short-lived, however, and the youngster attained lots of kitchen experience at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset, as well as at Daniel Clifford’s double-Michelin-starred restaurant Midsummer House, in Cambridge, before moving to the Hand & Flowers in 2010.
For Beardshaw and his sous chef Tom De Keyser, the starting point for any dish at the Coach is taste. The pair take pride in abstaining from foams, gels and smears and instead rely on the quality of the ingredients they use.
“There are no potions and powders,” explains Beardshaw. “The style is always something that people can relate to and get enjoyment from and we won’t
deviate too much from that in terms of modernising.”
Though the head chef has free rein over the menu design, he is aware any dishes that come from the kitchen must not move away from Kerridge’s style.
He has worked with Kerridge for almost seven years and, luckily, his style has made a big impression on Beardshaw.
“That does have its boundaries – I couldn’t do something so alien to Tom’s style,” he adds.
The Coach’s dishes are, as Beardshaw says, accessible as a result of the ingredients used to create them. It is easy to create plates of complicated food that have more style than substance, whereas the head chef and his team relish the challenge of coming up with simple dishes that just taste great.
“Simplicity is always key, using top-quality ingredients and doing very little to them,” he explains.
The informality of the environment also helps with the food style, he adds. The Coach is a laid-back, no-bookings-necessary venue where customers can sit down with a beer, watch some sport and eat some great-tasting food. Only the best products are used in the pub and not only because they are local, according to De Keyser.
“If their product is the best, we use them, but not just for the sake that they’re local. We use our local butcher and a guy called Chris Webb who grows his own veg and herbs and he comes along with a box of whatever he has that week and he’s just down the road.”
Every ounce of Beardshaw’s, De Keyser’s and Kerridge’s skills were displayed in an 11-course menu at the exclusive regional dinner. Those present had the pleasure of tasting, among other things, duck liver parfait with fig and cherry chutney; potted crab with smoked paprika butter and cucumber chutney; and mussels marinère with warm stout and brown bread.
“The format of the dishes is very simple on the plate, but they also have to suit the environment and people want comfort and deliciousness in a refined way, but not over the top,” explains Beardshaw. “The customers have to be able to understand it and it can’t be over the top.”