My Pub: The Bickley, Chislehurst

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

My Pub: The Bickley, Chislehurst

Related tags: Steak, Public house

When Bickley Pub & Restaurant general manager Garry Wood noticed Wednesday steak night was proving a real success, he opted to go more premium by focusing on steaks at the Redcomb Pubs site yet still maintaining a community feel.

The pub

Redcomb Pubs purchased the site in 2013, and there was a major refurb then of around £3.5m.

The site was constructed in 1870, when they were building the railway and it was called the Station Master and used to be a hotel.

The name changed in 1892 to the Bickley Arms, then years later to the Bickley, and is now the Bickley Pub & Steakhouse.

Since 2013, the company has invested twice, the latest being an investment of £200,000 in May, when the steakhouse concept came in.

We also offer more premium products on our menus, which is slightly different from the rest of the Redcomb outlets.

We have 50 covers upstairs, 55 downstairs, a bar that holds up to 100, and a function room with 70 standing and 30 sitting down.

The Bickley is metro-chic, I suppose, but is still very much a pub – that’s really important.

We not only work for our Chislehurst guests, but the rest of our guests throughout Bromley.

We are very versatile. We are not just a dining room, or just a steakhouse. We wanted to be a community pub with lots of different things on offer all the time.

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The general manager

I have been with Redcomb two years, and came here a year and a half ago. Redcomb as a company started in 2009 with two best friends Dan Shotton and Mark Draper, who wanted to have local pubs with a passion around excellent food, fantastic hospitality, with great drinks at affordable prices.

I am a foodie, I love proper hospitality, and I like being on the floor with my guests. I am not an office person. So what I have brought to the pub is me, and my mad character about being here all the time.

It needs good old hospitality. And, if it is going to be premium, it has to be premium. Nice glasses, tablecloths, wine, it’s really important.

The team

I have 52 members of staff, six of those are chefs. My management team have worked for me before. One of whom has gone on to the Coach & Horses [in Greenwich Market (another Redcomb branch)] to run that pub. I have two assistant managers, who are very hands on. My chef comes from a very fine-dining background and that is why I brought him here along with the other team.

We have a training scheme we do within Redcomb, but we also outsource training. For instance, we have our beer quality ABCQ course that is done at Fuller’s brewery for our entire senior bar staff. And, they can do the online training when they come into the business.

The trade

The Bickley has a very big and strong regular following. Monday through to Wednesday/Thursday daytime will mainly be locals and mums. We host a baby group on a Wednesday that has about 40 to 60 mothers with their children, who have a class booked upstairs. Then in the evening time, it switches to people coming home from the station, popping in for dinner and drinks.

The age group on a Friday is between 21 and 30, who come out to drink, while Saturday has an older clientele. They are very discerning guests who don’t mind spending good money on wine and food, and will spend all evening here.

Sundays are massive at the Bickley – you need to book at least two weeks in advance. It’s very much families and big groups – tables of eights, 10s, 12s, rather than tables of twos or fours.

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The food

We are primarily a steakhouse. This happened after we used to do a steak night, which some of the other Redcomb businesses still do, on a Wednesday night.

That worked tremendously well, we were always booked on that Wednesday. When we were brainstorming about what concept we were going to have, we all then thought ‘why don’t we do something around our steak?’

That led nicely on to what we do currently, and the reaction has been very good.

All our food here is freshly prepared on site, barring chips. We have really looked into provenance of the food, we see suppliers very frequently. Fish is also a big focus here on our menu, including on our Sunday menu and specials over the weekends. We tend to go for more premium fish, such as monkfish, turbot, halibut and lobster in the summer. We have a lot of influence around our menu, and we really spend a lot of time with our suppliers to make sure it’s right, especially with our steaks.

My favourite item on the menu in terms of starters has to be the squid, we use fresh squid and our own tempura batter. That and chowder are our best-sellers currently. On the mains, I have to say the fillet steak. We were all shocked as a company that we put on all these steaks, and we thought the fillet steak would be the one that people least went for, but in actual fact its proved the opposite. The more expensive the cuts, more expensive steaks, the premium products, have had more uplift.

We also have a lunch menu that incorporates small plates that start at £5.95, such as fish pie, sausage and mash, which have been popular mainly with the mums or people who pop out for a quick lunch.

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The drink

I feel strongly that, although we do premium wines and spirits, we do a lot of real ales. We have five handpulls on. We are tied here, but one of our pumps is free of tie, which we rotate weekly. We have a real-ale following here and are Cask Marque-accredited.

Our wine list has some of the more premium products on compared to other pubs in the company but, at the moment, we are focusing on our gins and whiskies.

Gin over the summer proved phenomenal, we had a huge uplift compared to last year. Across the company, it was excellent.

We decided to continue with that and incorporate whiskies and our winter cocktails to the menu, which are proving very popular. The girls are liking them a lot. They are very sweet, but really nice and indulgent. They’re lovely either pre or after dinner.

The future

There’s always investment – Mark and Dan are always wanting to put money in their pubs. They are passionate about being the best in their area and category, so we are having further investment in the next financial year. More so towards the garden. There was a huge investment out there in the first major refurb, but we now need to make the garden usable in winter. So, it will be an outdoor space project for us.

Going forward, there are many exciting things going on at the moment, and Redcomb is always looking for new places to buy.

What makes the pub special?

What makes it special for me is that I have had so much involvement, and I get so much autonomy on how I can run and achieve our budgeted goals.

I also feel I have really got into the community. I love being here. I go shooting with the guys sometimes, and I am very involved with charitable organisations around the area. So for me, I treat this like my own pub, it’s like my home. I love it.

What makes it special to my guests is they come in and feel like they are in their home away from home. It’s vital for me that it has comfortable surroundings. We have done a lot more for our female market and we are now finding they are a lot more comfortable in here. The pub will be full of women on a Friday night, a year ago it would be the opposite. It’s all about the great environment here.

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