Operator and celebrity chef Kerridge defended his Valentine’s Day meal kit, which includes Cornish Lobster Tartlette, Beef Wellington and Traditional Toffee pudding, after it came under fire for its £185 price-tag.
The Michelin-starred chef said while the package was expensive compared to your average supermarket meal deal, when considering the quality of ingredients and man-hours the food took to assemble, it actually offered huge value for money.
“Yes, it is expensive compared to a lot of things, but it depends what you count as expensive,” he said. “People say an Aston Martin is expensive, but it’s an exceptionally well-built and beautifully made product.”
For Kerridge, the same principle applied to his Valentine’s package. “The ingredients are the same that we use at the Hand and Flowers, and the cost includes packaging and pricing.
“That’s reflected in the fact we sell out very quickly. We sold out last year, and we’ve sold out again.”
While Kerridge often ignored online articles, and hadn’t looked at TripAdvisor in 12 years, it was a different case on site. “At the time of the complaint, we will operate to make sure that the guest leaves in a really happy headspace, having had a lovely time, and feeling that we'd dealt with the issue,” he said.
If a customer was unhappy with the way a piece of meat had been cooked, for instance, the chefs were always happy to redo the dish.
There’s an infrastructure that applies to menus across Tom Kerridge’s sites, from his gastropubs, to the Bull and Bear in Manchester: each venue always offered a white meat, game dish, steak dish, poultry dish and fish dish, to cater to all kinds of customers.
The goal was to concentrate on the classics, and always put things on the menu that people understood and knew. For desserts, this included a hot pudding, crumble, a set-custard pudding and something chocolatey.
The menus are structured on food-type rather than dish-type. “From the outside, the menu may look incredibly diverse, but actually it's quite easy to manipulate,” said Kerridge.
He added: “At the minute, the game dish is venison, but at some point it would have been partridge, pheasant or grouse. There’s a duck dish on at the minute, but that previously could have been swapped with guinea fowl. It just changes with what’s available.”
However, at the Coach, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, head chef Sarah Hayward has more freedom to chop and change dishes due to her expertise and trusted history with the Tom Kerridge Group. She talked about the creative process behind some of the gastropub’s dishes.
“The duck lamb parfait with chicken cherry chutney is a descendant from a Hand and Flowers dish, and we’ve just changed the garnish on it ever so slightly, that's definitely one of the inspirations for that dish,” she said.
She continued: “Another classic dish is the mushroom risotto, which came from an idea we took from Claude Bosi’s cooking. He originally did the dish with celeriac, so it’s a rice risotto, whereas we use just mushrooms and mushroom puree as the base, and then jazz it up with parmesan and mozzarella.”
For the Hand and Flower’s head chef Tom De Keyser, tweaking pop classics with clever twists sparked inspiration in the kitchen. This was the case for an old pork loin dish, which was inspired by a hotdog’s flavours of pork, bread, mustard and pickled cabbage.
What’s more, new ideas for desserts came about when the chefs toyed with flavours. “For instance,” said De Keyser, “we’ve got the faded custard ice cream and the blackberry soufflé, and the different flavours work well to create that balance.”
However, Kerridge made clear that it was not all about creating premium food, and the teams also worked to make sure the “whole package of hospitality” was top-notch, starting from when someone makes a reservation and ending when they bid goodbye after finishing dinner.
Kerridge and De Keyser were both “very confident” that the teams continued to meet those high standards. “We have a lot of faith in our performance. We know where we are, and whether we’re doing well or not so well,” said De Keyser. “Every day we aim to work a little bit harder and do a little bit better.”