Ten weeks ago, David Stanley took over The Elephants Head at Hook Green, Lamberhurst. With varied and extensive experience in a range of pubs across the country, he has turned a floundering business into a success, but he’s not resting on his laurels. Hannah Patterson catches up with his Head Chef Sarmite Pomerance – a major ingredient of the transformation
This beautiful pub is very old and Kentish, but you are from Latvia originally? Tell us about your journey to Lamberhurst…
I came here from Latvia when I was 36. Prior to the move, I had been working as a Head Chef in a restaurant back home, so there was a fair amount of experience under my belt when I began applying for work here. Although, I have to say I acquired all my cooking knowledge in my childhood. My grandmother deserves the credit for teaching me how to cook. Her focus was on rich and hearty recipes, and I spent a lot of time making pastries,soups, pies and all sorts from a young age. We had a farm nearby, so I learnt how to raise chickens and cows, too. When I arrived here I started working in a pub in Guildford. It was so quiet, though, and I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I later met David when we were both searching in the same library for jobs – it was a complete chance meeting. We found the same vacancy and went to the interview together – that was back in 2006. Apart from a short time when I returned to Latvia, and some time in a high-end restaurantnear Buckingham Palace, I’ve been working with David ever since. It was when I had returned to London when David called me to ask for my help for a few months in the pub he was in at the time – eight years later and here we are!
Considering it’s a Thursday afternoon in Lamberhurst, I can’t believe how busy it is…
Lunchtimes and evenings are always busy. On Burns night, there was an amazing atmosphere. We made such an evening of it, complete with
haggis and Scottish poems for people to enjoy!The pub has been under new management since December 12 now, and there’s not been a quiet
moment since. We’ve been focusing on growth and getting ourselves in a position where we can offer our customers more and more. In December, having just occupied the premises, we weren’t prepared for the sort of Christmas parties that people wanted, but I kept it small and started with a lunch menu and roast.The menu still offers pork, beef, and lamb, fish
or vegetarian Sunday lunches/dinners, which we just about had the capacity for at the time. A good thing, too, as they are now very popular.
Roast dinner orders after Christmas were up to 85 in one sitting from about half that number. This past Sunday, we served over 100 lunches, and that wasn’t including the desserts! I have to admit, I do enjoy the busy and hectic atmosphere, so I won’t complain.
According to the pub’s website, you change your menu daily?
Yes, and that suits me. David leaves the kitchen to me, and having that sort of flexibility allows me to fully explore my passion for cooking and
concocting recipes. David manages the beer, I manage the food. The relationship we have with our suppliers is a close one. I’m always up-to-date on what they can supply, so the menu is whatever is fresh that
day. I like to change it up, although I do keep traditional fish on the menu every Friday. For me, it’s an utter necessity that the produce I use is fresh. I use Kevin at Woodlands Farm butchers in Wadhurst for all our meat, and our vegetables come from Maidstone. I also always make sure I get local free-range eggs. I tested a few suppliers to start with, but it ultimately comes down to quality, friendliness and cost.
Well, the food looks incredible, and everyone here looks satisfied. If you were a customer here, what would you order?
If I were to dine here myself, I’d definitely start with the deep fried Brie – it’s my weakness! Then I’d go for whatever fish dish we have on the menu that day, no matter what type. Hake fillets are always nice. And, at the minute, I really love the panna cotta with all the fresh strawberries. Banoffee pie is extremely popular, though, as we are known for making all our own pies – be it dessert or otherwise. It takes a lot of prep and hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s my kitchen, and I want to put in the work to make it successful. We work long hours, especially on Saturdays, but seeing all the happy customers is the reward. There are regulars who travel many miles to eat here – it’s such a compliment.
It’s a lot of work. How many staff do you have?
We have five full-time members of staff – including my son, who is behind the bar. The Elephants Head feels more like home than work to me, so I don’t mind doing so much.
So, now the Elephants Head has found its feet, what comes next?
Speciality nights – they are in development at the moment. They will provide even more of an opportunity to expand on our ever-changing menu. The pies are so popular with our customers that I want to do pie night every Wednesday. I would like to keep it not too expensive, and have a variety of favourites, from steak and mushroom to ham and leek – whatever the supplier brings me on the day. A quiz night on a Thursday is
another idea, perhaps with a curry or chilli to accompany it. We will do a big BBQ at Easter. It’ll be burgers, sausages, coleslaw, hot sauces.
One thing’s forsure, I’m very excited about the future…
Hook Green, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells TN3 8LJ