Pub operator The Liberation Group says the return of indoor dining and roll-out of new menus developed during lockdown will serve as a true test of its kitchen flexibility.
The company, which owns Butcombe Brewery and runs 130 pubs in the South of England and Channel Islands, has used the last year to enhance its menus and introduce new concepts, including robata grills, open fire cooking and wood-fired pizza ovens.
Group executive chef, Alice Bowyer, says that having the right kitchen infrastructure in place is absolutely essential to achieving its menu goals, with her team spending a lot of time on equipment optimisation.
“We’ve been working at some pace in the last three or four years and I think we’ve taken this opportunity [during the pandemic] to just take a breath and really take our food offer to the next level. We’ve added a lot of menus, a lot of outside offers and we’re rolling all that out with loads of different things across all the islands.
“We have tried to use our kit as smartly as possible to be efficient, so it’s easy in service because we’re expecting to be really busy this summer.
“Obviously we use combi steamers a lot and there is an overnight cooking function on there, which we use for our ham and eggs. We do a whole ham on the hock, rolled and slow cooked overnight, and then served with eggs, chips and piccalilli. That’s the sort of thing we do to try and reimagine a pub classic.”
Given the labour challenges associated with the pub sector, not to mention the volume pressures during peak period, reliable equipment is worth its weight in gold.
“Without the right kit we’re absolutely stuck,” she said. “It allows us to work smarter and more efficiently. As a side note, we work quite a lot with The Burnt Chef Project and one of the things that I think creates poor mental health is bad kitchens – if they’re not working or you haven’t got the right tools to do the job.
“So we’re really hot on that and making sure that our kit works properly, it gets fixed and we’ve got good, sturdy equipment that can cope with the volume and demand that we have in the pub world, so it’s absolutely vital to us. We’re always looking at new ways that we can do stuff.”
While Bowyer describes combi steamers as the workhorses of the kitchen, she admits the business would be lost without great fryers.
“We’ve spent quite a lot of time finding the right fryers because you need ones that you can put quite low to part-cook chips and then something that can be really hot to fry them properly, but the main thing is their recovery time for when you are really busy and you’re just dunking potatoes in there all the time.
“Good quality blenders and food processors are also absolutely key. We try and spec the same kit as much as possible everywhere, which is difficult because I think over the years we’ve found it hard to upgrade kitchens because the electricity power isn’t right or because the kitchen might be very small. But 90% of the time they’re going to have as much of the same kit as possible.”