The Reservoir Menu, Charlton Kings
At last, a chef who acknowledges one of life's great truisms - no-one makes ketchup as well as Heinz do!<br/><br/>By Mark Taylor
For a chef who once held two Michelin stars and whose admirers include Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, Martin Blunos has a refreshingly down-to-earth approach to pub food.
"Basically, it's just stuff I like to eat," he says, scanning the short menu he has created at The Reservoir in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. It includes simple pub classics such as ham, fried egg and chips, beer battered fish with mushy peas and chips and half a roast chicken flavoured with wild garlic from the pub's garden.
There is also a separate bar snack menu featuring ham hock and pork fingers, beef and pork meatballs and cheesy fries.
For a chef once known for intricate French cuisine at his two Michelin star Lettonie restaurant in Bath, it comes as something of a surprise to find Blunos serving pigs in blankets and bacon sandwiches, but he says he's just happy to be going back to basics.
"The food we are doing here is food you like to eat at home and it's food you can eat on a regular basis, rather than food so rich and filling that you only want it once in a while.
"I think there are too many chefs creating dishes that look good on the hotplate but they don't actually sit down with a glass of wine or a pint and discuss whether they are too rich, too heavy or even appropriate for a pub setting."
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Blunos has a "small share" in The Reservoir with his friends Andy and Susan Proctor, who took on the Greene King lease of the pub earlier this year.
Only the small pile of sand bags by the back door gives away the fact that The Reservoir was closed for four months last year due to heavy flooding.
Situated in Charlton Kings, on the outskirts of Cheltenham, the former Waterside Inn has been given a gentle refurbishment by the new owners.
Located on the busy A40, opposite the reservoir that lends its name, the pub had been through a succession of owners over the past few years and had an unenviable reputation.
The Proctors ripped out the carvery, removed the pool tables and dart board, giving the place a lick of paint and a new carpet before reopening the pub in March.
The couple are no novices when it comes to the catering business. They previously ran celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal's Hind's Head pub in Bray and their association with Blunos goes back to the 1990s, when Andy worked front-of-house at Lettonie.
Using as many local suppliers as possible - including Foxbury Farm at nearby Brize Norton and Martin's Meats, which specialises in meat from farm-assured traditional and rare-breed animals - Blunos has created a short and simply-described menu.
Starters at The Reservoir are around �4.50, main courses peak at �12.50 and desserts are �4.95. Sandwiches are priced between �4.50 and �5.50, with bar snacks starting at 95p for pigs in blankets and rising to �3.50 for a bowl of triple-cooked chips.
Susan says: "The clever thing about Martin's menu is that the dishes are designed to be reproduced by the other chefs when he isn't here. There aren't any twiddly foams or fancy presentation."
"It's all about logistics," says Blunos. "As soon as you put steaks on the menu that have to be cooked to the 'nth' degree, it's asking for trouble. By putting a braised piece of blade of beef on the menu instead, the degree of cooking isn't the issue - it's all about getting it hot and out to the customer.
"It's also about good housekeeping. Every dish is a derivative of something else on the menu."
And it's not just the food that is simple and unpretentious. Blunos wanted The Reservoir to feel like a proper pub, down to the condiments on the table.
"I've always thought 'gastro' and 'pub' are two words that have never gone together. A pub is a pub. We purposely don't have tablecloths and we have bottles of ketchup on the table.
"We have the Heinz ketchup and HP Sauce in bottles for two reasons. One is because if you put it in a dish and somebody has a spoonful, you've got to bin it and it's just a waste.
"Also, you can't make ketchup like Heinz do, you can't make HP sauce and why use Champagne vinegar when you have Sarson's?
"The fear is that people don't see beyond the simplicity of it and just think 'is that it?'. Well, yes, that is it, but there is a lot of good sourcing and care going into that piece of fish and we can offer it at a terrific price because we are using sustainable fish such as hake or ling rather than getting cod loin and charging �20 for fish and chips.
"I'm even planning to introduce a set three-course dinner of prawn cocktail, steak and chips and Black Forest gateaux. It worked for Mr Berni all those years ago and, let's be honest, it's all food that we love, as long as it's done well."
The Reservoir, London Road, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL54 4HG