Firstly, how did you come to run a pub?
I grew up in Scotland but eventually escaped to chase the sun around Europe whilst working as a holiday rep. Fast forward a few years and I was living with a real ale enthusiast who was bored of home-brewing and yearned to run his own pub. We took on a Young’s tenancy in Wandsworth, parted ways and, after a spell at The Halfway House in Earlsfield, I moved back north to the Spread Eagle in Camden Town. And now I’m taking on the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town.
Talk us through a typical day as manager.
It can start at 6am with a beer delivery and end at 1am counting the last of the night’s takings. In between, I’ll help someone arrange a surprise birthday party, put together a tasting menu for a wine-matching evening, promote our business both online and in the pub, say, drumming up interest for a butchery masterclass we may be running. I’ll hire a new staff member and train them on our service style, I’ll make sure we’ve got enough beer and bar fruit to see us though the weekend. I’ll arrange a plumber to fix a leak that’s sprung up in the loos, make sure the staff get paid, and do a stock take.
Phew. What’s been your most memorable experience on the job?
I had a hen do in our private hire space at the Eagle and some customers came in and wanted to take a look at the space. I took them upstairs – just as the life model they’d organized was stripping off and doing his big reveal. Fortunately everyone found it funny – but it made me blush.
Who were your regulars in Camden?
They were so wide ranging, from the group of men that liked to sit in the same chair, and drink the same drink each day, to architects, dentists and shopkeepers. Plus we had plenty of staff from the big names in and around Camden such as MTV and Getty Images. And finally, lots of tourists coming to visit London Zoo and the “famous” Camden Market, who always ask what a Yorkshire pudding is.
So, on to the Bull & Gate. What can readers expect?
We’ve lovingly restored the pub, uncovering its fine Victorian features, and totally transformed the old music room into a stunning dining room serving seasonal British food. The real showstopper is our decadent new upstairs cocktail bar, the Boulogne Bar, with rich velvet armchairs, grand fireplaces and live music every week, Wednesday through to Saturday. It’s pretty special.
Has the refurb gone smoothly?
It’s been a long process that started with Young’s buying the pub around two years ago, but it’s all coming together now. There’s been a hiccup or two along the way – most notably surrounding the suppliers of our new staircase, who unfortunately went bust a few weeks ago, but we’re lucky to have a great team of contractors who’ve worked around the clock to source and fit a replacement staircase in time for opening.
So, what’s on the menu?
At lunchtime, sandwiches, salads and bar snacks will be available through the pub, and in the evening classics like fish and chips and burgers; but in the main dining room, it’s all quite foodie with our head chef Luca Mattia at the helm: things like treacle-cured salmon with spring pickles and kohlrabi remoulade, smoked lamb shoulder, black Angus sirloin with roasted shallots, and seaweed poached hake, with razor clams and cauliflower. Drinks-wise, there are lots of options on draft, including three from Camden Town Brewery, as well as bottled beer, wines and cocktails.
Is the rise of craft beer a good thing?
Absolutely. Craft beer has shaken off the socks-and-sandals image that real ale once had. Gordon Brown helped by introducing the Progressive Beer Duty in 2002 which gave tax breaks to small brewers, and now these independents have introduced choice and innovation. We may go to the pub less these days as a nation, but we’re mostly prepared to pay for a truly exciting and great tasting product. Brewing in the UK is the highest it’s been since the 1940s.
All in all, you must be very excited?
Yes! Opening the doors and meeting our new locals will be brilliant. There’s lots of anticipation about the pub and I’m really keen to show it off.
All Hail Our Boozers is a weekly series celebrating the brilliantly varied pubs across NW1 and NW5, from locals to destination venues. Read more from the column here.