Interview with an Innovator

The Pony and Trap’s Josh Eggleton: ‘We’re just taking simple things and elevating them’

The chef behind gluten-free fish and chippie Salt and Malt on cooking with unripe strawberries, flavoured oils and offal – but maybe not pig’s spleen.

9 March 2018
chefsrestaurantspubsingredientsvegetables

Eggleton on Paper – CV

Opened The Pony and Trap in Chew Magna in Somerset at the age of 22. The pub has possessed a Michelin star since 2011

Founded Salt and Malt in Bristol in 2014, selling gluten-free fish and chips. A second branch opened last year

Sustainability is a key part of his ethos, leading him in 2017 to open Root, a vegetables-first concept that serves meat and fish as sides

How do you balance the traditional pub atmosphere with more experimental food? It’s a question Josh Eggleton still isn’t sure he knows how to answer. “My brain is always in conflict with it,” says the owner of Michelin-starred The Pony and Trap, a pub in the village of Chew Magna, Somerset, that he has run with his sister since 2006.

The Pony and Trap dishes up subtly elevated takes on pub grub like the Scotch egg – made here with a soft-boiled quail egg – and the ploughman’s, which is served with homemade pickles, homemade sourdough and homemade butter. It also offers a tasting menu with wine pairings. “Sometimes I’m like, we should get rid of the a la carte, we should only do shellfish tasting, normal tasting and vegetarian tasting – but then that wouldn’t be a pub anymore would it?” Eggleton muses. “Now if I could do a shellfish tasting, vegetarian tasting, a normal tasting and an a la carte menu at the same time, I would… But it’s difficult to be able to offer all of those things.”

He’s certainly got enough cooking already. Last year saw him experimenting with vegetarian small plates at Root. At the same time, he opened a second Salt and Malt, a take on the classic fish and chip shop that incorporates locally sourced ingredients and gluten-free batter.

The young chef gets inspiration from everywhere, from trade magazines, to television shows, to his immediate environment – just this morning he had a conversation with a friend who rears chickens about whether the soy-based feed could be replaced with spent brewery grains.

And forget crossushi and tacros, because last week Eggleton may have invented the pasty calzone (the palzone?), as he tells Food Spark…

 

We had this pizza dough and we had this Cornish pasty filling, so I’m like, hold on, why don’t we try and make a calzone but filled with Cornish pasty? And we started messing around, doing that in the middle of this trade show when we were supposed to be making pizzas, but we were making pizza pasties. It’s a bit of fun and a bit of inspiration, and it was just about what’s in front of you at the time, what’s in your environment.

I want to do a pasty at The Pony and Trap – and we ain’t done it yet, it’s going to go on the menu soon…. I’ve got it in my head that it’s going to be a smoked eel and girolle pasty.

What I really like is cooking with an ingredient that’s in its prime. And that could be a diver-caught scallop from Salcombe, a lovely locally shot pigeon or it could be some amazing salad leaves that are grown in a polytunnel just round the corner.

We’re using a lot more flavoured oils, like a chive oil or a parsley oil; we’re marinating more things, we’re using more vinaigrettes, lightening things up. Butter and dairy, we are using it a lot less.

We’re marinating scallops in an oil made from blackberry leaf – that’s delicious. We grow the blackberry leaves in our garden at The Pony and Trap. The best thing about the blackberry bush is the leaf for me, not the berry. Sometimes we’ll even make that into an ice cream, but if you make it into an oil and marinate a raw scallop in it it’s delicious. It tastes like the inside of a greenhouse when it’s absolutely packed full of cucumbers and tomatoes.

I will read as many trade magazines as possible. I won’t throw them away till I’ve read them, because I want to read about what people are doing and what they are interested in, because that will inspire me in turn. So looking at what everyone else does is a big inspiration.

I watch those wonderful Chef’s Table programs and look at the ingredients that are coming through the door. Also, we work with a lot of chefs, we do lots of guest chef series at Pony and Trap; we’ve got a guest chef series at Root tonight… You get inspired by the people just talking shop, talking about food and going to restaurants. It’s a way of life.

Anything that comes out of our garden at the moment is exciting for me, and we’re really on the precipice of that. We’ve got a polytunnel going, we’ve planted 35 trees in an orchard, we’ve got lots of herbs coming out of there, and we’ve bought the field next door. And we really want to start ramping it up.

Last year we were taking green strawberries, unripe strawberries, and marinating them in a bit of elderflower, which was great, and then just serving those on some raw seafood as well. So things like that are great, stuff that we can say that we’ve entirely produced here in the pub. For me, that’s what I get really excited about.

We’ve grown kales and chards, and there’s turnips and stuff like that. But then in the polytunnel we’ve got quite a lot of micro stuff being grown, so we grew a lot of chillies last year, which was really interesting. And then cucamelons.

We’ve good physalises. And first when [our gardener Tim] said he was growing physalis, I was like, fucking hell, physalis – that’s what every pub chain sticks on a bloody dessert with a bit of icing sugar and they’re awful to eat. Well, we grew this physalis, and when they ripened up they were delicious, they were almost like an overripe tomato with lovely acidity level. So we’re just slicing that and dressing some raw fish with that and it’s amazing.

We’re just taking those simple things and elevating them and doing everything ourselves. We have hand-cut chips, we have buttered cabbage but we butter it and dress it in seaweed butter.

We make a homemade HP Fruity Sauce… a nice fruity sauce with loads of apples, prunes, sugar and vinegar. Blend it up, set it up and you’ve got a nice HP Fruity Sauce – well, it’s not HP, because that’s a brand fruity sauce isn’t it?

Don’t make ketchup because I just don’t think you can beat Heinz.

Offal, you should use everything, the whole animal. We try to do a lot of that. Stuff that’s underused: the tripe and the spleen.

I was trying to cook a pig’s spleen once. Fergus Henderson says you should roll it in pancetta and braise it, but it wasn’t very nice.

We do get a lot of lamb and hogget from the farmer next door to us. The field I bought next-door, I let him use the field because I’ve not done anything with it yet. I’m waiting on planning, I want to build this market garden… We went through 15 [hoggets] last year, and we used everything. And especially the lungs. We’d mince the lungs and put them into lamb faggots and it’s delicious.

Of all the things we’ve created and all the things we want to do, The Pony and Trap is the one I feel is less finished, but it’s the one we’ve been doing for the longest. There’s so much to do here: I want to make the restaurant bigger; I want it to have like a glass restaurant overlooking the garden so it feels like you’re sat in the garden but it’s still nice and warm; log-burning fires; big cheeseboards in the middle of it, and maybe a tart of the day, and six types of bread – we’re up to about three different types of bread already.

Crazy, amazing, delicious vegetarian burgers – we were talking about that the other day. I think that’s going to be a big thing.

Seaweed continues to be a big thing, and I’ve used seaweed for years, it’s delicious… The best stuff, my favourite, is sea lettuce. It’s got this amazing truffle scent to it, it’s really subtle, and you can dry it or fry it or put it into butter sauces, or you can cure stuff in it. It’s delicious, really, really good.

A big thing that I would like to explore is fish that is not mainstream. Bycatch. Things people don’t normally eat or don’t consider that you can eat it, like jellyfish for example. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a bloody jellyfish for six months – one out of British waters – to see what it’s like.

I just think, what about these little crabs that are running around, can we eat those? Yeah, we probably can, why do people tell us we can’t eat them? I question everything.

Make sure you are completely confident in your product before you open – this is something we didn’t quite get right with Chicken Shed. So test it, test it, test it again. And make sure it’s consistent. Consistency is key.

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