The formal restaurant scene has changed. Those hushed dining rooms where you could hear the clink and clunk of cutlery and glasses, where everybody whispers, have gone. They are a lot more accessible, a lot more entertaining, a lot more vocal, and they’re very proud to sing about their produce. It’s not all about buying hugely expensive bottles of Claret, it’s now about ‘well this is a really interesting cider’ or ‘this is a really interesting Greek wine’. It’s not about expense, it’s about experience, and that’s great.
I’ve always felt most comfortable in a pub environment and the perfect pub comes down to the atmosphere. It will take itself incredibly seriously in terms of what it’s offering and it’s professionalism but it will be completely relaxed, informal and accessible for everybody. Pub is short for public house – members of the public – so it shouldn’t matter who you are or what the environment. A pub should welcome everyone.
Pubs have evolved hugely. They started off centuries ago as coaching inns, where people would stop as a place to eat and rest, then they grew to be viewed as a male drinking environment, now they are completely family orientated, user-friendly social spaces. The lines between ‘a pub is a place for drinking’, ‘a restaurant is a place for eating’, and ‘a coffee shop is a place for coffee’ are blurring. Pubs are more accessible across the board.
Fine dining restaurants, where the chef has put on pieces of cress on the plate with tweezers are like London Fashion Week: you see amazing designs but you wouldn’t necessarily wear those outfits everyday of the week. Those sorts of restaurants are hugely driven in terms of fashion, trends, science, new ideas and forward thinking, but remove all of that and it always comes down to the basic produce. Those places are important to the international food scene – those chefs are dynamic, diverse and leading the way. But in my pubs we look at top-end produce and make it accessible for everyone.
Sunday lunch for me has got to be a full rib of beef with Yorkshire puddings, and creamed horseradish – amazing. Who would be there? Liam Gallagher. He’s been for lunch at the Hand and Flowers and he was incredibly good company. Chris Evans – he’s a good friend and a brilliant entertainer around the table. Eric Cantona would be pretty interesting. It would be amazing to have Paul Bocuse, who must be 90 years old by now (for over 50 of those he’s had three Michelin stars) – I bet he could tell a right old story! And, if you could bring him back from the dead, Oliver Reed would be a good lunch guest wouldn’t he? He’d have some great stories about movies and behind-the-scenes kind of stuff. That would be a good table.
Opening a restaurant is about following your heart and soul, not a fashion or fad. At the same time, an understanding of people’s allergies or what they can or can’t eat is very important: it is about understanding people’s right to be able to eat stuff. I have a shellfish allergy, so understanding allergies is something that we are big on at the Hand and Flowers. You don’t want people to turn up at a place and not feel comfortable. We actually don’t have a vegetarian option on the menu because if we put a vegetarian option on, it’s not an option then, it’s a dictatorship, it’s one dish! If somebody comes in and has issues with things, we have conversations with them through the front of house team and there are loads of options that are available.
I hate the term beer pairing, it is absolutely ridiculous. Any brewer or pub that thinks that pairing beer with food is the way forward is wrong. The flavour of beer is different to wine, which has so many flavour profiles and different complex areas of taste that go, or don’t go, with different dishes. Beer on the other hand is about the flavour of the beer, and the flavour of food should be about the flavour of food. It takes you down a road, which is just not sustainable because people are not interested. People go to the pub to get away from the pretentiousness of having to order red wine with meat and white wine with fish, with expensive bottles and navigating different grape varieties. You go to the pub because you want to have a pint of beer and you want to have something to eat: it doesn’t matter if they pair or match. Don’t over complicate it. Keep it simple.
Tom’s Table is my third book: these are the dishes that we think, from the first two books, that people will cook, that they want to eat and be a part of. They’re dishes that you will probably already know, like chilli and roast chicken. There are quite a few more desserts in there, too. It’s food that you know, so you’re not going to be scared off by it, but there are slightly different cooking methods, slightly different twists – brining, curing, drying, marinating, and rubbing, to enhance something that you already do. It could also be seen as a skills book. The processes aren’t as heavy as Best Ever Dishes where there was a lot of chef-driven ideas that take three days. The more complicated recipes might take just two days!
I consider myself a fairly accessible bloke. If I weren’t a chef I’d probably be driving a white van! I’m very aware and conscious of my roots, where I’m from and the sort of person that I am, and I think a lot of people buy into that and the food that I want to eat. I’m very fortunate in that the books that I write have always been the food that I’ll cook at home. I’m not writing to a fad or a style, it’s just food that I want to eat and every single recipe is handwritten by me. I sit there and I write until five in the morning, it’s actually my best writing time, between 11pm and 5am in the office, because it’s clear – the phone’s not ringing, there’s nothing on and it allows you to focus and write. Every recipe is photographed in a three-week period where we lock ourselves away in the studio. I’m there for 95% of the whole shoot. We know the recipe works, and how we want it to look. I’m hugely proud of that. There are a lot of people who are involved in the making of the book, but I like to lead it from the front, it’s very personal to me.
The Tom’s Table pop-up at Harrods (until 8 November) is in conjunction with the book and a food range that I’ve launched there. We wanted to make a ready meal for what is arguably the most well-known British shop in the world. The Harrods team makes our recipes, which you can then buy to reheat at home (until 5 January). Every day we have photographs sent to us, with people testing and tasting, just to make sure it’s the same as we designed and made fresh. The pop-up is taking place in the food hall. It’s an amazing space: you can’t help but walk around it with your jaw open – I still do that now as a 40-year-old bloke – it’s absolutely stunning. There are recipes from the book, the Hand and Flowers, and The Coach. Members of my team from both pubs are cooking, so the food is of a high standard and a reflection of what we are as a group.
We’re filming two things between now and Christmas but they haven’t been signed off as titles yet so I can’t really tell you what they are: I wish I could! We’re also doing a gig in New York with British Airways, which will be amazing. It’s showcasing brilliant British produce and everything that’s great about Great Britain, for two days in New York.
Tom Kerridge hosted the first ever Hoppodrome event with Greene King IPA at The Crabtree in London. Guests were treated to servings of recipes from his new book, Tom’s Table, including mushroom risotto and mackerel burgers alongside pints of Greene King IPA as part of the brewery’s To the Pub campaign.