Food Lyrics

18/03/2016 - 09:19
Award winning Maida Vale pub The Truscott Arms has become one of London’s finest food and drink hot spots. Maria Bracken met up with owner Andrew Fishwick, former theatre producer, to find out why he swapped plays for pubs

Having previously run bars and restaurants for leading chains including Pitcher & Piano, run by Marston’s and Slug and Lettuce, operated by Stonegate Pub Company, back in the 90’s, Fishwick was well equipped to take on the running of a pub. But prior to this, he forged a successful career as a Theatre Producer in the West End and on Broadway producing shows including Three Days of Rain, Spring Awakening and Addams Family. However, it was it was his love of food, wine and restaurants that drew him back.

Fishwick, along with his wife Mary Jane Roberts-Fishwick took over the Truscott Arms, which was formerly the Idlewild pub, almost three years ago. Since then, business has been booming.

The Truscott has won a string of awards including the Best Newcomer, Highest Place New Entry and Top London Gastropub in The Top 50 Gastropub Awards 2015, Best Roast Dinner in Great Britain in 2014 and Sustainable Pub of the Year 2015 from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

And it doesn’t end there. Working with head chef Aidan McGee, The Truscott Arms has also been named in the Michelin Guide, Good Food Guide, Harden’s Guide and Square Meal.

The Victorian 1886 corner pub is split over three floors. The ground floor operates as a pub, whilst the first floor is set up as a restaurant offering fine dining. The second floor of the building features three rooms for private and corporate events hosting anything from baby yoga to kid’s drama sessions. They host a monthly wine club and are hosting an Easter BBQ in its garden on Easter Monday. Twice a year they also host an Eating Sound event whereby music is composed around a five course tasting menu to see if sound affects food.

Fishwick believes that if you have additional space in your pub or restaurant, you have to figure out a way to utilise that space. “It is crucial that you keep the traffic coming through your doors. Your rent and business rates are the same. It’s a no brainer.”

He says pubs have to offer more than just a good pint these days. “You can be anything you want, under the pub name,” he says “whether that be a Michelin starred restaurant, a great community centre, a business pub, you name it! And I love that. I love the freedom it gives you. There are no confines to what you can do in a pub, and that’s what excites me.

“Pubs have often being referred to as ‘the new coffee shops’, and I totally agree with that. A pub offers far more than it ever used to, but it’s important that we as operators continue to evolve with that.

 “Pubs have been historically terrible at their business because they have never gone out and looked at where the market is. Hopefully this is changing.”

Fishwick believes BrewDog is leading the way in terms of change: “These guys are geniuses. I love that they upset people and are making headlines. They have shaken the whole model up. Anyone that can do that is a genius. They saw what was out there but have done it completely different. I admire that.”

In terms of menu items, he says the bar food offers everything you would expect, but with a few twists. Dishes include a crispy pig board which consists of pigs head, crispy belly scratchings and pigs ear (£8), along with firm favourites such as battered Cornish cod and chunky chips with pea puree (£14). He described the beef chips with Truscott brown sauce (£7) as “addictive”. Gluten free is also a big deal at Truscott. Chef McGee, formerly at both the Mandarin Oriental and Launceston Place, has come up with a batter that has gluten free flour and beer in it. All fries served at the site are also gluten free.

Fishwick says Sundays are the busiest days for them. “Whatever your aspirations, a pub must do a bloody good Sunday roast. We offer a family sharing platter style and serve over 550 covers of roasts.”

Going forward, he says pubs need to continue with what they are doing, but take it even further. “Pubs are increasingly placing themselves at the heart of the community, but they need to be doing that more. We need to be running these places like five star hotels whilst maintaining what is wonderful about a pub, which is its democracy. Democratic spaces – that is what is utterly unique about pubs. You can buy a beer or a 120 bottle of wine. Either way, you will be treated the same by my staff. Pubs need to see outward.”

Truscott Arms Wine Cellar

In September 2015, Truscott secured its second London site in Belsize Park called the Truscott Cellar. The site is split over two floors, with 68 covers, serving British small plates and sharing plates. Fishwick felt London was crying out for a small neighbourhood wine bar..with that came the Wine Cellar.

The Living Wage issue

 “We are a founding member of the London Living Wage Foundation. We were one of the first 200 companies to join. We have paid the London Living Wage or more since opening. When I first got into the industry I always thought our industry is rubbish at paying and training people. But then we are quick enough to throw our hands up and say it’s hard to retain staff, there’s a chef shortage, for example. We then wonder why people won’t stay in the industry. I believe this is a fantastic industry to be part of. But, you can’t tell people it is a one of the best industries to be involved in and then pay them £12,000 a year. I’ve always believed that the living wage is a hard nosed business decision. If I pay my staff a little bit more, I can keep them for longer. I can also attract better people and I can be more demanding as a boss. We sell more products because our staff have been with us for so long. They know our products inside out. The Living Wage is a no brainer and I hope our industry will embrace it.”

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