Facts ’n’ stats
Name: The Ship Inn
Address: Gonvena Hill, Wadebridge, Cornwall, PL27 6DF
Tenure: 10-year tenancy with Punch
Licensee: Rupert Wilson
Annual turnover: £525,000
Wet:dry split: 42:58
Before we took the Ship on in June 2013 it had been closed for about a year. It had 1970s swirly, sticky pub carpets and it had been completely run down by the previous tenants who had left it in pretty ropey condition.
We did a complete five-week refurbishment and opened for the August bank holiday – which is significant because not only was it a busy weekend, but there was a folk festival that the pub used to be a focal point of before the previous tenant drove everyone away.
The Ship has a lot of history and character so the refurbishment was sympathetic to that. We’ve decorated with nautical-themed memorabilia but not in an in-your-face way. Going back to the 1700s, there was a shipping line called the Landers line in Wadebridge that had a commercial reputation for stone and agriculture. When Mr Landers died, his wife and daughter didn’t want to continue running his shipping line so they sold it and bought the Ship Inn with the proceeds.
We couldn’t change it too much because everybody’s got fond memories of the Ship – the pub’s next door neighbour proposed to his wife in there, for example. Having been a pub for a long time, everybody in the local area has a story about it.
I was general manager for Rick and Jill Stein for more than 10 years, running their businesses across Cornwall. I’d lived in Wadebridge for a number of years and seen that the Ship had always been one of the more popular pubs in the town.
I’d had a bit of experience in pubs before the Ship because I’d worked in hotels and restaurants since I was 18. When I was running Stein’s, we took over the Cornish Arms in St Merryn. At first it was doing around 100 covers per night and by the time I left that number was up to 700 or 800.
The Ship was a really interesting property that had fallen on hard times. Hopefully, we’ve brought it back for the community to use again.
It’s such a challenging marketplace with cheap alcohol from supermarkets and economic pressures – just opening the doors and hoping that people
come in just doesn’t work anymore.
Very quickly after refurbishment, we started getting into the guides – we’re in the Michelin Guide, The Good Pub Guide, the Good Beer Guide and The AA Pub Guide – due to quality across food, wine, service and just wanting to look after people.
We were a regional winner and national finalist for Best Turnaround Pub in the Great British Pub Awards in 2014, and were the best foodie pub as voted for by the readers of south-west Food Magazine in 2015.
In 2016, we were Cornish Tourism Awards’ pub of the year and in that same year we were voted South West Tourism pub of the year. We were also finalists in the Great British Pub Awards 2017 for best wine pub.
We don’t go chasing awards but it’s nice to have that stamp of approval to show what you’re doing is of good quality.
In peak summer season, it’s been important to work with independent small B&Bs in and around Wadebridge.
When we first opened, I invited them all in to have a drink and got the head of Visit Cornwall to come in and talk about tourism in the region.
I encouraged everyone to set up a Twitter group so they could tell each other about vacancies so that if one was full they could refer to another down the road.
Hopefully, because we’ve been doing things like that and because of what we offer, we’ll be the pub they want to send their guests to.
They know what we do is of high quality and they’re confident that if they send someone down they’re going to have a good time.
We’ve got six staff in the kitchen – a split between chefs and kitchen hands – a couple of whom have been with us for a number of years, starting off as kitchen porters and developed into being able to help out with the prep and the service.
Then out front, depending on the season, we have a number locals and students who work for us.
We have a relatively small wine list: eight whites, eight reds, a rosé and a couple of Proseccos. We like lesser-known wines, we’ve got a Sardinian spicy red, for example, and we’re relatively knowledgeable about it. It helps that Tamsin, one of our managers, is very well versed in wine. We encourage customers to have a slurp of it beforehand – we feel that a bit of generosity goes a long way.
Our wine club comes along on the first Tuesday of each month, and has a growing local following. Tamsin will host her six favourite wines, or drinks, of the moment – it can be beers, rums or wine – and have a very informal sit around the fireplace tasting with a bit of cheese and bread.
We tend to have Devon and Cornish beers on as well. We have a free-of-tie tap on the bar and, given Cornwall has about 35 breweries now, we have the opportunity to sample the local beer market.
If you buy one of the guest ales we give you a crown bottle top so you can then choose the next beer – like with supermarkets and charity containers – so at the end of a week we’ll tot up the bottle caps in each container and pick the beers accordingly.
We give the keys of the asylum to the lunatics! It’s a little bit of fun which gives them a bit of input into what goes on.
On the menu
- The Ship Inn Ploughman’s: Cornish crumbly cheese, pork pie, piccalilli, chutney, celery, apple, pickles and bread - £8.50
- Beef burger, rarebit cheese, streaky bacon, gem lettuce and chipotle relish - £12
- Cornish crab, curried mayonnaise, pickled carrot and coriander - £8.75
- Beer-battered halloumi, fat chips, minted peas and chipotle relish - £12.50
- Spiced lamb rump, chickpea purée, tempura courgette flower, goats’ cheese dressing - £16.75
- John Dory fillets, Dauphinoise potato, spinach with a lobster and chive sauce - £17.50
We have quite a diverse offer featuring a main menu – of bar snacks, starters, main courses and desserts – and specials of two or three starters, three or four main courses and a dessert.
Local produce features a lot on the menu. We’re lucky being in Cornwall, it’s the hamper of the UK. I used to be chair of the Cornwall food and drink group, and I always used to get on my soapbox and say I’d challenge anywhere of similar geographic size to have such diversity in its offering.
We get fish and shellfish from Newlyn, meat from Philip Warren butcher’s in Launceston, which is about half-an-hour drive away on the Cornwall-Devon border; he provides lots of the top
chefs in London.
We’ve got asparagus farms near us, Cornish new potatoes, ice cream, cream; there’s a wealth of produce. We’re lucky that behind the pub is Gonvena Hill that has some woods on
it where we get wild garlic and forage for samphire along the river bank.
Our special dishes change seasonally. We have lamb with elderflower and Dauphinoise potatoes on in the spring, a Goan curry that is quite popular at the moment, and Cornish fish stew during the winter with different pies.
Back in January, our chef was in the last four of the Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year Awards and went up to London for a cook off between the four finalists.
We try to support the local community as much as possible, so we’ve done things like casino nights and a monthly folk club that we’ve set up to build on the pub’s musical background which regularly has 20 or 30 people come along.
Our programme is mainly based around food. We do a burger night on a Tuesday, steak night on a Thursday, and have had pie nights but, as mentioned, we also have a wine club that meets on the first Tuesday of every month.
We do a lot in local schools. Every September, one of the primary schools has a healthy lifestyle fortnight so I go in and make some mocktails with the kids and talk to them about lifestyle and health. We support another primary school in healthy eating by holding a competition for them to design a healthy dish to go on our kids’ menu.
As I’m a director of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen down in Cornwall as well, we had a chef from there, one from Stein’s and our chef cook some mussels, which are grown at Porthilly, for 250 school kids and talk to them about the sort of stuff you can get from rivers such as samphire and different fish.
More of the same. We’re not resting on any laurels so we’ll be looking at our menus. We also have a couple of plans to give the outside decking area and outdoor courtyard a bit of attention with planting and lighting.
Because the pub was refurbished quite recently there’s not a lot besides a bit of TLC and decoration that’s needed. We’re not going to go for a new interior design scheme because the current one is fit for purpose. We’re going to concentrate on keeping up the standards in what we do.