A large part of the Appletree Country Inn's success has been chef TJ Drew's food. Sara Guild talks about fresh veg, being the boss and finally getting help in the kitchen.
Chef TJ Drew may be the quieter of the two managers at the Appletree Country Inn, but his food is speaking volumes, as takings hit a record £28,568 in March with food sales contributing 70%.
Drew's food is best described as modern British. He cites Gary Rhodes as a key inspiration and still peruses the latest Rhodes cookbooks for new ideas. However, he is equally happy with a recent comment that his menu was eclectic. "I think it makes it interesting for people who come out to see us. They know that when they come it will be different food," he says.
The lunch and specials menus sometimes change daily, and Drew changes the evening menu once a month in tune with what is in season and what he has experimented with on the specials or luncheon menu.
The new May menu starts tomorrow (3 May) and Drew is excited about a new fruit and vegetable supplier he has found, Streets, based in Leeds. "They've got a whole variety of really top quality vegetables that would be hard to get elsewhere - red chicory, yellow courgettes, that sort of thing," he says.
However, even Streets will have a hard time competing with the fresh lettuce leaves that the Appletree's gardeners Alf Cass and Clive Wood plan to grow in the nearly completed polytunnel in the field behind the pub's orchard. "I'm not even sure what I'm getting," Drew jokes. "I just gave them a list last year and left them to get on with it."
There will be a proper herb garden, although at present the orchard is providing a crop of wild garlic, which Drew admits he is putting in most of the dishes because he loves the flavour and the freshness.
Having worked for a variety of owners at previous restaurants, including the Rockingham Arms in Lockington, Humberside; Melton's Restaurant, York, and 19 Grape Lane in York, Drew now enjoys the freedom of controlling his menu. Having just himself and sous chef Iain McGrain in the kitchen has meant a tight control on costs, and Drew says that while the gross profit target is 65%, they regularly achieve 73%.
At long last the pair are no longer alone, as kitchen assistant Joe Beckett and a part-time helper, Jo Bell, are now on the team. As Caterer went to press, Claire Hadden was joining as a part-time chef as well. One more chef is being recruited and then Drew hopes the kitchen will begin to run like a well-oiled machine with breaks during the day for himself and McGrain.
While the food has attracted attention, it was partner Melanie Thornton's control of the front of house that won recognition when the Publican newspaper awarded the Appletree Inn Customer Service Pub of the Year in March. Thornton admits that for the first time in a long time, she was speechless - and that takes some doing.
Last visit to Appletree Inn: 13 June
Marton, North Yorkshire
Tel: 01751 431457
Owner: Orchard Inns
Managers: Melanie Thornton and TJ Drew
Food sales: £20,166
Wet sales: £8,402
Total costs: £8,718
Average spend per head: £23
Sweet red pepper tart with basil pesto and aged balsamic, £5
Crab cheesecake and Parmesan crisp with tomato and pimento salsa, £5
Crispy duck and bacon salad with garlic croutons and wholegrain mustard dressing, £5
Roast halibut steak with a mustard crust on spring greens and garden pea froth, £13.50
Griddled haunch of venison on peppercorn crushed potatoes and chocolate, red wine sauce, £13
Herbed escalopes of veal and roast vine tomatoes with lavender gravy, £12.50
Miniature crème caramel with baked apple ice-cream, £4.50
Strawberry and tarragon soft meringue roulade with lemon curd cream, £4.50
Roast rhubarb on walnut and ginger bread-and-butter pudding, £4.50