Food saved the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna, near Bristol, says chef-patron Josh Eggleton, at an exclusive dinner organised for gastropub chefs and owners in the region by Estrella Damm.
Eggleton, who runs the business with his sister, Holly, prepared a seven-course meal featuring Estrella Damm beer and food pairings and partridge supplied by butcher to the royal households Aubrey Allen.
The menu created by the chef – who has appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu and is a former Gordon Ramsay scholar – reflected his cooking, which he describes as “very British”.
Eggleton’s style of cooking is very different from what it was five years ago, and matured into its current form over the years. He explains: “When I first started cooking it wasn’t necessarily that way, but as I’ve been here and as we’ve put our roots down, we’ve started to learn all about the produce around here, which has a distinct British style. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take on influences from all over the world.
“What inspires me to cook is produce, but also the people I work with,” he continues. “We have a very collaborative approach to the way we cook at the Pony, we have a lot of very talented chefs and we talk about the dishes and everyone gets a project and we all talk about it, it’s not always me talking from the top saying ‘this is what we’re going to do’.”
As with almost all gastropubs, food is the lifeblood of the Pony & Trap and Eggleton firmly believes the pub would have long since died without a strong dry offering.
“The gastropub movement was a great thing,” he explains. “The gastropub is a fantastic thing. Pubs are changing to suit the environment because over the years we’ve had things like less people drinking and people drinking at home, so our pub has had to adapt.
“If this pub here hadn’t started to serve food, then it would be closed now – it was going to close in the ’50s. Food is a great thing and our gastropubs are rivalling the great brasseries of France.”
The chef maintains the gastropub – a name that some chefs do not like – is an establishment we should be proud of, as it showcases great British cooking.
As for the future of the segment, Eggleton believes they have become an intrinsic part of British heritage, saying the way forward for pubs is food. “But that doesn’t mean we need to take anything away from a good pint, because we have seen the rise of amazing craft breweries. Everything has its place, but I think we will still be eating in pubs years from now,” he adds.
The chef is now looking to make his food offering more personal in the near future, with plans to expand on the land dedicated to growing produce. “There’s quite a lot going on, with a few creative projects we’re working on,” he explains.
“We’re trying to learn more, but my main focus is here and we’re really working on the garden at the moment. We’ve just purchased the field next door and we’ll be looking to do something with that. Most definitely we’ll be doing more growing and I’d really like to try to get some shepherd’s huts or something like that.”
Eggleton, who has been at the pub for more than 11 years and held a Michelin star since 2011, also opened a stand-alone fish and chips restaurant called Salt & Malt on Chew Lake in 2015.
Following that, he launched the fried chicken shack – the Chicken Shed – on Bristol’s Wapping Wharf early this year.
“I’m happy with what we’re doing at the moment, I’m in Chew Valley and Bristol,” he says, adding “we’re also very busy”.
In a video for Top 50 Gastropubs, the chef lays out the style of cooking in his venue, where he gathers his inspiration from and what diners can expect to encounter when eating at the pub.
To hear what Eggleton has in store for the Pony & Trap in the near future, watch the video above.