“Evolution not revolution” is Stephen Smith’s motto. The chef and his team don’t want to reinvent the wheel with their cooking, they’re just curious to see if they can make it spin a bit faster.
Smith isn’t a fan of orthodoxy or the idea that a chef should have a signature dish, despite many of his creations being memorable enough to warrant the moniker should Smith so choose so.
Ambitious to his core, Smith will be pleased with his pub’s climb up from sixth to fourth place this year. He’s spoken explicitly of his desire to steal the top spot – and with this year’s ranking, it’s beginning to look like an increasingly likely prospect.
I’ve always worked in restaurants all my life and my parents ran a working man’s clubs. It’s somewhere where I’ve always felt comfortable. Rather than doing fine food in a sometimes-pretentious environment, I wanted to do it in a pub because it just feels right. It fits perfectly with me and my personality.
What do you enjoy most about the industry?
As hard as the job is, especially these days, there’s not so many jobs where you get gratification and see happy people every single day and every single service, you can’t knock that.
What or who inspires you?
The team, family, just having a sense of wanting to achieve. We never want to stand still; it’s about completing our own personal journeys.
Where’s your favourite place to eat, other than your own pub?
Round here, me and my Head Chef visit The Parkers Arms in Newton. I love getting on the train and going down to London for a couple of days to visit Bentley’s Oyster Bar, The Harwood Arms, I love getting a Guinness and a pie at The Guinea Grill. We go to quite a lot of the Top 50 places these days as over the years we’ve built relationships with everyone.
What do you think makes you a Top 50 Gastropub?
I think we have the complete package, everything from wine to the beer, to the service – my wife, Aga, is a previous Front of House Manager of the Year winner. Obviously, the food, which I think sits within the environment whilst still managing to stay a pub.
What advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
Don’t get carried away with yourself, young people, in general, are ambitious, and I would never knock that, but you have to earn your craft.
What does being a Top 50 Gastropub mean to you?
Its gratification for what you do, plus the fact it’s voted for by industry. We all want to be remembered for what we contributed to our industry and craft and being in the Top 50 Gastropubs is a big stamp towards that, it means that other people respect you and respect your venue for what you do.
What’s your signature dish and why?
It can only be the Lancashire Cheese Hot Dog. It’s super tasty, super fun, but also very refined and it’s original and unique. It’s now synonymous with Freemasons, everyone talks about it!
What do you think the future holds for Gastropubs?
I think there will be a massive boom in food pubs, that’s where people feel most comfortable. Wet led pubs will have to turn towards doing more food, so I think the future is big and bright for Gastropubs.