Eileen Leahy finds out how the former BBC Masterchef The Professionals star Bobby Brown is stirring things up…
When it comes to good country pubs we’re certainly spoilt for choice given the amount we have on our doorstep, but as soon as you step over the ancient threshold of The George & Dragon in Speldhurst you genuinely feel like you’ve entered into somewhere very special indeed.
It certainly comes into its own during the winter months thanks to the cosy fires crackling away in each bar area which certainly ensure there is warmest of welcomes.
But life wasn’t always this harmonious at the hostelry which dates back to the 13th Century. Over recent years the former coaching inn has changed hands a number of times and lost its way a little as a result – and that made some of its loyal customers pretty sad.
But instead of sitting back and watching someone else take it over – and gamble with its future yet again – a group of locals which included Speldhurst resident and business entrepreneur Becky Moran decided to take the matter into their own hands.
“We wanted to reclaim our village pub and give it the TLC it deserves,” explains Becky who along with her partner Ian helped set up a new enterprise: The Country Pub Collection.
“We live in Speldhurst and really missed The George & Dragon when it was closed after the previous owner left so we decided to do something about it.”
They exchanged just before the first lockdown and suddenly found themselves with a big old pub on their hands and no customers to support it due to Covid.
But despite the odds being stacked against them Becky says this didn’t deter them. The collective decided to keep going with their revival plans and therefore used the months of coronavirus closure to their advantage. The ultimate aim was to breathe new life into the pub – not just into the building itself but also into the menu and overall hospitality offering too.
That involved lots of work and passion – and engaging the services of local interior designer Joss Miller who took over the brief to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the inn.
Meanwhile former Masterchef The Professionals 2016 star Bobby, who is a personal friend of Becky and her partner, was charged with ‘finessing’ The George & Dragon’s menu.
The Gordon Ramsay trained chef, who spent five years at The Kentish Hare under the Tanner brothers – was initially consulting on The George & Dragon before he came on board as Chef Patron earlier last year.
“I’ve known those guys for years and was therefore keen to help them but I was happy working at Bank House in Chislehurst for Stuart Gillies at the time. Stuart is the former CEO of Gordon Ramsay Holdings and I learnt a lot from him while I was there so I wasn’t looking to leave but then over lockdown I started to think about things and decided that I wanted to put myself out there again. I wanted to do my own thing; create my own menu and have that freedom.”
Bobby was offered the role of Chef Patron and duly accepted.
“We have the same vision. The pub wasn’t getting the time and effort it needed so I came in and changed a lot of things. Some people liked it, some didn’t but if things aren’t being done well then you have to change that.”
“I want a good gastro country pub with great food and staff who I’m confident about leaving in charge when I’m not here. The way I work is everyone is a commis chef – whatever your role. You have to do what needs to be done. Consistency is key. And we’re certainly getting there.”
Of the food Bobby says: “We’ve simplified a lot, it’s still tasty and fresh. And everyone’s loving it. I’d describe it as being somewhere between British and French that’s got finesse yet is still hearty. I think only the halloumi burger survived from the original menu – I got rid of everything else! When I took over, the meat burgers were more meatball so I’ve given my recipe to Stuart at Southborough Butchers and he makes them properly and consistently and I now know the provenance of them too.”
Bobby, whose idol is the legendary Raymond Blanc, says he also uses Seasons by Nature for fresh produce and Sankey’s for fish. He adds they are doing 50% more covers since he came on board and the front of house team have really stepped up – even polishing plates as you would in a restaurant.
“We want people to stay here, to feel comfortable and so having excellent service is part of all that. We’re here more than we are at home so you need to be enjoying it. I guess I want to do is bring a level of higher-end cooking and service to the pub as it’s a beautiful place to be.”
Richard Maher is The George & Dragon’s new manager. The former manager at The Lyle says that taking over the pub is not about revolution, but evolution instead.
“The pub belongs to the people who use it so my job is connecting with them, with the staff and owners to see how we can work together. It’s about learning the direction of where Bobby is taking the cuisine.
“We want to make The George & Dragon top of people’s list to visit.”