Top 50 Gastropubs

Scott Law

Cooking British and European modern and classic dishes at The Duncombe Arms

What got you into cooking?

While my parents were at work, I’d cook for my younger sister. This was when TV shows like Boiling Point, Ready Steady Cook, Naked Chef were on and this piqued my interest, as the academic stuff at school was dull. Then, after an open day at my eventual college, Merton in South London, I was hooked.

Why did you choose the gastropub route?

As a young man, and even now, I’d always loved the buzz and characters in a pub. I took my first head chef role in a pub, and it allowed me to grow as a chef without necessarily the formal structure of a restaurant or a club where I’d worked previously. As time has gone on, and food has become a bigger driving force for most pubs, and are seen as dining destinations, I grew as a chef along with it.

What does being a Top 50 Gastropubs mean to you?

The Top 50 list is a wonderful snapshot of what I consider to be one of the best and unique things to this nation, the Great British Pub. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a fair few on the list, and to be named alongside them is a huge honour. It is a massive boost to the team, who’s hard work has been recognised as one of the top pubs in the country, among other chefs and pubs we look up to and admire. This helps us to push harder to be the best version of the Duncombe Arms we can be.

What makes a great gastropub?

The people who run it. A pub with great food, service, beer, beautiful setting, are all worth nothing without someone to make you feel welcome, bring you in, make you comfortable and allow you to enjoy. Pubs, more now than ever, should be beacons of hospitality, where all walks of life come through the door, and we value each and every person that comes in. A great pub should also reflect where you are in the world, whether is through the food and produce, the people, the décor, the vibe. They are called locals for a reason.

What do you enjoy most about your industry?

It’s probably cliché, but you can’t beat a fully dining room, busy service, and the buzz you get from sending your guests great food and the feeling of a job well done, and I’m lucky I get to do that every day. Also exceeding expectations of diners over the years. The Top50 not only has the best dining pubs in the country, but some of the best restaurants too. We are no longer JUST pubs, but a special meal, a birthday, a celebration, anniversary. I love serving the classics, sausage and mash, fish and chips etc, but also being able to design menus that draw people in that are after a top dining experience too.

Where’s your favourite place to eat in the UK?

Growing up in Southwest London, I’ve always loved Chez Bruce. Service is exceptional, never a bad meal, so consistently very good. Then there is The Star Inn in Harome, the gold standard of gastropubs, with Andrew Pern as the godfather. Beautiful food and setting, undeniably Yorkshire. Also, my favourite meal of last year was at The Royal Oak in Whatcote. What Richard Craven and his wife Solange have is a very special pub in a tiny village. But the use of local and foraged produce that is elevated to some of the best I’ve eaten, and the warmth and generosity of the service, its simply outstanding and should be tried by everyone and shouted about more.

Who’s your biggest influence?

Jason Strutt, an old head chef of mine at Belgo’s. More how to conduct myself as a chef and a man, than cooking. As we forage more at the Duncombe, I find myself looking at what Tommy Banks and Simon Rogan do to get the best out of their surroundings and how to best get it on the plate.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Absorb as much as you can. Read everything, and when the internet comes along, use that too. It opened the culinary globe as a tool for learning and inspiration. Maybe, occasionally, don’t pick up all those extra shifts, work on yourself, and ask for help when it was needed, it was always there.

What do you think the future holds for Gastropubs?

Without sounding to doom and gloom, times are difficult in the trade right now with rates, costs, staffing and various other factors. Some help from the government would be hugely important. The reason I say this is that the pub is ingrained in our culture, for better more than worse these days and in this generation. They are huge parts of communities, meeting spots, family gatherings, a cheeky lunch pint, post work debrief. This is because the passion of the people behind them has never wavered. They are a labour of love, a place to welcome you. I’ve seen it first hand with the fantastic people I met at the Top50 awards, that as long as that fire burns bright, the future of the Gastropub is in great hands.

Cooking Style

British and European modern/classic

Accolades

Michelin Bib Gourmand 2024

2 AA rosette

Enjoy Staffordshire tourism pub of the year