Meals Man

Henry Harris, chef/director of London pub operator Holborn Leisure Group, offers insights on what makes great pub food

What should good pub food be about?

“Good food not messed around with, that doesn’t necessarily follow fashion but restores and satisfies people and is a perfect opportunity to enjoy friendship and good company across a table and is what most meals should be about.

Concepts exciting you:

The idea of concepts make me shudder. It should be about good food in the style you like doing it rather than reinventing yourself. Good cooking and good service in equal measure, a hearty welcome and smiling farewell. Those are the things that make you go to pubs and restaurants. Having opened my own business 15 years ago, the whole thing about looking after our customers is the most important thing.

What excites me are is to people not trying to show off but just cooking good food

Favourite ingredients:

Bread and butter – a nice piece of bread and some good butter is always rather nice.

At our pubs we are offering short menus of 4/5 starters, mains, desserts and nice cheeses. We also have a grill in each kitchen with a small grill section on the menu with good meats and good farmers and butchers.

Horseradish – I like this a lot. I like doing a smoked eel salad, with smoked bacon a little beurre blanc and fresh horseradish grated over it. Obviously it is great alongside Roast beef and is nice with a pork chop too.

Crimes against pub food:

Frozen meals reheated with a nice picture in the window of them.

Getting things wrong – cooking nice beef, great roasties and veg and serving bad horseradish sauce out of a jar.

Lazy cooking – a crime anywhere in a restaurant or pub.

Motivating chefs:

Making everyone involved and making it a family environment. Giving everyone a sense of ownership on the menu. Listening to people, sitting down and eating with them and listening to what contributions they would like to make. Paying them well and giving them a nice kitchen to work in. Kitchen filled with cheap equipment creates a difficult working environment for chefs and they won’t stay.

Places that inspire you:

St John (– restaurants that don’t follow fashion, but do what they enjoy doing and serve good cooked food.

Brackenbury, Shepherds Bush, London – ( A neighbourhood restaurant owned by chef/patron Humphrey Fletcher who is always there cooking. Everyone should have a Brackenbury in their own back yard.

Best business advice ever given:

It is all about the cash flow.

Desert island pub dish:

A pint of Harvey’s Sussex Best with a warm sausage roll and dollop of mustard and some English native oysters.

What do you love about British pubs:

Pubs are a bit like provincial French brasseries where you have got a bar where people just go for a drink and sit down or if they want to go for a meal they can do. Having had tablecloths and expensive glassware for the last 30 years of my life on tables, the idea of making it slightly informal and where people come in and don’t feel obligated to getting drawn in to have a three of four-course meal but they can just have a good plate of food if they want to.

I’m working with a team who are incredibly enthusiastic and we all listen to each other.”