Sitwell, who hosted the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs awards ceremony at Andrew Pern’s the Star in the City, York, at the beginning of this year (January) was interviewed by Claudia Winkleman on BBC Radio 2 last month.
Winkleman quizzed Sitwell on what makes a gastropub and why they are so important as well as the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastopubs list.
Sitwell said: “There are a lot of people out there, running gastropubs, who are proud of what are, I suppose, boozers where the food is up a notch.
“A don’t think a gastropub would want to stop being a boozer, it wouldn’t want to alienate locals. [Gastropubs] also adhere to some of the food trends.
“So occasionally, you get some froths, a smear and a square plate, but more than usually, it is a bit more solid, British food, but at the high end, and the service is much better.”
Winkleman said a pie was the key factor in what a gastropub was.
However, Sitwell said it was the finer details that made all the difference. He added: “A gastropub has got to get the fundamental things [right].
“If you’re going to get a plate of chips, you need to have the thrice-cooked ones, they need to be fluffy in the middle, they have got to get all those things right.”
Sitwell described the pubs on the list and made reference to the top three pubs, specifically and mentioned dishes the pubs serve.
He said: “If you look at the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list, what’s interesting, in the top three you have got Stephen Harris, who is one of the great legends of our food world and he has got this place, the Sportsman down near Whitstable, Kent.
“He is literally a guy who wanted to open up a grubby old boozer, but he has the most beautifully, straightforward menu. He goes and picks seaweed from the shore.”
“[Harris] is a complete legend and a lot of people opening pubs dream of being like him. There’s a slip sole, which is drizzled in seaweed butter.
“He also does wonderful things like roast lamb but local lamb, like local razor clams. You have got to probably produce some sort of chocolate pudding, chocolate fondant, probably with some salted caramel ice cream.”
But, although the food is an important part of the offer, the service is something else that stands gastropubs apart from the rest, according to Sitwell.
He added: “Gastropubs have to do that but the other thing is service. When I presented these awards, I sat with these guys who run a place called the Oxford Blue [in Windsor, Berkshire], which is one of the rising stars.
“The key thing is they are fantastic when it comes to service. They make you feel welcome and that is something that we are still, around the country, lagging behind in, so that you go into a pub and you really feel incredibly welcome.”
The duo then went on the discuss the pub at number two on the list – the Pony and Trap in Chew Magna, near Bristol.
Doing it all
Sitwell said: “It is run by a brother and sister, Josh and Holly Eggleton. They grow a lot of their ingredients in their own garden and they do things like stuffed savoy cabbage with puy lentils.”
Winkleman said: “Number three is the Star Inn at Harome, York. All of these places, the thing they have in common is great food or does all of it?
Sitwell replied: “They do have all of it. Andrew Pern [chef-patron] is a great example. In fact he is, he has got a few pubs now.
“He is searing foie gras and serving it along with black pudding and he does a sticky cider reduction.”
Winkleman also mentioned the Freemasons at Wiswell in Clitheroe, Lancashire, as well as Tom Kerridge’s the Coach in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
She added: “Gastropubs, that’s where we should all be going, right?”
Sitwell replied: “The big risk is when we go out, not knowing whether or not we are going to get a decent meal and the good thing about the gastropub list is that actually, you can rely on them and there’s 50, so you probably can find one near you.”