Andy Clark and Lucy Townsend are progressing well in their ambition to serve classic, English fare with a rustic flavour in a pub setting, using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Joanna Wood discovers which dishes have hit the mark
When chefs Lucy Townsend and Andy Clark took over the Peat Spade Inn in Longstock last year it was only natural that they wanted to establish a reputation for food at the pub. Actually, it already had a name as a bit of a foodie destination thanks to the previous owners, but the menu and dining room were firmly in the restaurant camp.
However, Townsend and Clark were adamant that their business should celebrate good British food in a distinctly pub setting, so they started drawing up menus that reflected this ambition. "We don't want to be known for doing pretentious food, just English classics," says Clark.
As chefs, the duo complement each other, Clark's expertise being in the hot kitchen and Townsend's in the pastry section. However, with Townsend taking on a new front-of-house "hosting" role alongside their restaurant manager Clair Saunders, her input on the dessert menu is more like that of an executive chef. "It's really hard to get her in the kitchen, now - I have to beg and plead," jokes Clark.
Joking aside, the way the couple work together on the desserts at the Peat Spade is very straightforward. They look at what's in season in tandem with what's on offer on the main menu (Clark's domain) and then see what's complementary. Once dishes have been finalised, Townsend works on recipes, then spends a morning in the kitchen showing the brigade (Clark, plus his two-strong team) how to perfect them.
Everything is designed to be made fresh on a daily basis. The buzz words are "traditional", "simple," "easy". With a limited number of staff, this means there's no room to get too technical - besides, as they point out, you can't out put out a fancy dessert next to shepherd's pie or bangers and mash.
Not that the Peat Spade is a bangers and mash joint, full stop. The clientele are too sophisticated, and regular, for that. Customers, incidentally, include villagers, discerning locals from the Winchester and New Forest area, and guests staying in the inn's six bedrooms - usually visiting anglers and the shooting fraternity who come down to hunt for game on nearby Hampshire estates. There's no doubt they like comfort food, but they like it to be good, and they like variety.
Variety comes with the seasons, and Clark tweaks the menu constantly according to what his suppliers have for him. "We can print out the menu straight away here, so I adjust it sometimes between lunch and dinner if I need to," he tells me. There's also a daily specials board to accommodate dishes built around last-minute ingredient gluts. As we go gradually into the colder months, Clark has been introducing more braised and game dishes - braised beef cheeks with a parsnip purée, for instance, and game terrine with a Cumberland sauce - as well as showcasing of-the-moment wild mushrooms with toasted brioche.
From the word go, offal has always sold well, not only to the hunting fraternity but also - and rather surprisingly - to the Peat Spade's female customers. It means that Clark can give full rein to what Townsend refers to as his "Hannibal Lecter" tendencies: dishes like deep-fried lamb's tongue and devilled kidneys on toast were successful on the specials board recently.
Other regular best sellers include the rib-eye steak with chips, fish and chips with a pea purée (the variety of fish depends on the season), and the ubiquitous salmon fishcakes, which Clark puts out with a simple but zingy tartare sauce.
Among desserts, treacle tart with clotted cream, date and walnut pud with a caramel sauce and vanilla ice-cream, and rice pudding (currently served with poached pears, before that with a plum compote) go down well.
With simple rustic dishes, ingredient sourcing is always important, and Clark is gradually setting up a network of good local suppliers. Pork - "the best pork I've had for a long time" - comes from a local farmer five minutes away at Abbotts Ann (Greenfield Pork, 01264 359422) who also supplies sausages and faggots. Veal bones, calf's liver, and some lamb come from a butcher in nearby Romsey (Brown's, 01794 521225). Game comes through Clark's Andover-based fish supplier (the fish is sourced from Devon) and from the local game estates (Cooper's, 01264 337299).
One of the local rangers does a bit of mushroom foraging: "He brought us in some chicken in the wood - it's a big, yellow, earthy-tasting mushroom - the other day, and some cèpes," says Clark. "Sourcing locally at the beginning was difficult because we were busy setting up the business and I didn't have too much time, but people are beginning to come to me now and the butcher's just told me about a lamb farm near here that I need to check out."
The care that Clark and Townsend have put in to sourcing good ingredients and putting out simple, full-flavoured rustic food is paying off: feedback from customers has been unanimously positive, and the Peat Spade is generally full even on midweek lunches.
As a result, they can probably look forward to the Christmas season with well-placed confidence. They've decided to run with a set-price Christmas menu from 1 to 24 December in addition to the à la carte. The three-course menu plus coffee and mince pies is offered at £28.50 per person, with four choices available at each level: Parfait of foie gras and chicken liver with toasted sourdough, a classic prawn cocktail, seasonal soup or smoked salmon to kick off; followed by roast turkey "with all the trimmings", salmon fish cake with wilted spinach and a sorrel hollandaise, rib-eye steak with chips, or a vegetarian option; and finishing with Christmas pud, chocolate orange terrine, trifle or English Stilton with pickled walnuts and dates.
On Christmas Day the Peat Spade will open just for an hour "after church" for Longstock residents and then open with a light bar menu on Boxing Day before getting back to normal trading hours and menus. On Christmas Eve it will be open for dinner for locals only, with mulled wine and carol singers. All this means that the inn can be staffed by just Clark and Townsend for a couple of days - a double whammy which saves on staff wages for the business, but also gives their team a two-day break for Christmas.
Peat Spade Inn
What is it? 19th-century pub with six bedrooms, two function rooms
Where? Longstock, Hampshire
Bedroom rate £110 including B&B
Proprietors Andy Clark and Lucy Townsend
Investment to date (including purchase, refurbishment) £1.3m
USP British food, fishing
Turnover September and October £118,000
Projected annual turnover £750,000
Ask an expert
Award-winning chef-restaurateur Andrew Pern of the Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, has built a reputation for serving British classical food cooked with carefully sourced local produce. Among other accolades, it has won the Star Inn a Michelin star and, over the years, three Cateys.
"It's very important that you offer food that people are comfortable with and relate to in a pub," he says. "Food that's native to the area. That's how we began. You can add your own personal twist to classic dishes later to make them stand out from the crowd.
"You've got to think about the balance of the meal, too, when you're constructing a menu - and it sounds like these two know what they're about. You don't want to go off on an erratic tangent in desserts, in particular, with an assiette of this or that, when the rest of the à la carte is far more straightforward.
"A successful menu has to be about keeping balance and consistency throughout the meal - and that includes the wording of dish descriptions, actually, as well as the putting-together of the dishes. It makes good business sense to have the continuity."