How to deal with awards

October 8, 2011

Awards day in mid Wales today. The Good Pub Guide 2012 names us Dining Pub of the Year in Wales for the second consecutive year. And the Michelin Guide finally seees fit to recognise one of the Eatdrinksleep stable with a Bib Gourmand, which recognises good cooking at unusually sensible prices.

How do we deal with awards in this industry?

In truth they can be a double-edged sword for those trying to develop a small business. Here are my rules:

– teams have worked hard to be in a position where we are in consideration for an award. Recognise their efforts and skill.

– we can all look at our shoes and pretend we don’t care about awards. But for a small business the PR opportunity is like a tank of oxygen half way up Everest. Tell the world, quickly and quietly, that you’ve been recognised.

– ultimately the decision of an award is a fairly subjective one and there are others who could equally well be singled out in any one year. Don’t believe the hype.

– the guidebook view is based on guests’ experience earlier in the year. A time that is simply not relevant any more. Focus on the next service.

– you sign a deal with the devil when you win an award. Your regular guests’ expectations soar. New ones come with a heightened sense of anticipation that can only be met by a better service. Meet the challenge.


After a week in Cornwall, back in Wales after a week to my favourite moment of the year: the first pod of garden peas from the Griffin’s garden. No taste is ever sweeter, no moment ever more satisfying that standing amongst the rows of Pisum Sativum and running ones finger down along the opened pod and scooping half a dozen fat, little peas into one’s mouth. Really, they should be going to the kitchen, but they won’t miss a few pods.

There are so many peas and broad beans, we are sending the surplus down to The Gurnard’s this afternoon. Along with a box of blackcurrants and some garlic, a small fraction of the 300 heads that sit drying in the barn.

Joe’s garden is truly at its very best at the moment. His tour and barbecue this Friday is fully subscribed, but do let us know by email to if you are interested in joining his 22 September tour, the last of the season.

Last weekend, twenty four hours of isolation from children and from the Vaio.

First stop: testing a seaside hotel behind Camber Sands ( A brave idea indeed, in a somewhat unpreposessing location. But Harry Cragoe and Tudor Hopkins have done a fine job, with the 18 rooms full on a Friday night in June and the restaurant buzzing to the noise of 50+. A recipe that seems to work and a few thoughts for own future.

The next morning, some shock therapy coffee at The George in Rye ( Another example of young British hoteliers revolutionising provincial British towns, putting the hotel at the heart of the community. This pair, Alex and Katie Clarke, were at University with me twenty odd years ago. What use our Arts degrees now, except in editing the menus?

I paused to reflect that the two and a half hours that it took us to get from London to Rye was the same as it takes me every week to get from London to The Griffin. Would that more from the south east understood how easy it is to make the leap across the Severn Bridge. I tried not to be too pleased also at how poorly the Kent sea compares to that which laps against our Cornish beaches. Another world.

On the way home, a brief stop at Chapeldown Vineyard near Tenterden. A fully booked restaurant. A restaurant named after the chef. I have never been a fan of that kind of self-regarding chakllege to the fates. Also a restaurant in a vineyard that doesn’t offer glass sizes of 125ml! But English (and Welsh) wines remain on the up. More thoughts on that anon.

Home to children and Vaio. Greeted in that order. I promise.

Ah… Here’s one.

We always said that the Brecon Beacons was “Scotland without the midges”. Well, 2011 may well now be the year when that means something.

A number of Scotland based bodies are forecasting that the midge invasion this year will be 800 times worse than usual. And the “usual” is not exactly agreeable.

It isn’t our style to spend too much time thinking about the travails of our competitors, but I can’t help but wonder if this might be the year when visitors begin to foresake Scotland for the equal merits of Wales.

Back to scratching my head. Though not as much as they will up north in the summer.

Hop it

March 3, 2011

Are we sure that a Head Chef is in the list of prescribed ingredients for this brew?

This Friday sees our inaugural British Drinks Producers dinner.

The scarcity of population in our part of world makes it difficult to attract many to our wine dinners, but this one has touched something in our guests and all our tickets were sold as of last week. A sensible price certainly helps. £39.50 for five courses matched with liquid refreshment from the best of British booze.

Three beers from our local Breconshire Brewery, including “One for the Road”, brewed especially for us to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. The team, led by Assistant Manager Rhodri Morgan, have played a big part in developing the beer, which includes a decent slug of apple juice from Talybont’s Aber Valley Fruits, and which will continue to be on sale at the Griffin for a few weeks after the drinks evening.

And to match the canapes and the starter, an Elderflower Champagne and a perry from Polgoon Vineyard, which is close neighbour to The Gurnard’s Head.

Please do sign up to our newsletters at and we will keep you in touch with any further evenings like this.

Squeezed Out

December 1, 2010

A member of the famous band Squeeze
Asked us “Could he stay, please?”
He went out for pee
And forgot his key
So slept with the birds and the bees


BBC Food & Farming Awards

November 24, 2010

In our part of the world, we are prone to fretting whether the metropolitan classes have our best interests at heart. Pesonally, I think this concern is sometimes overdone, although some of the media’s interest in rural affairs can verge on the patronising and misty-eyed.

However, it is good to report that the judging panel for the BBC Food & Farming awards have shortlisted two of our suppliers here in Border country for one of their much coveted awards.

Alex Gooch has been making sourdough bread for us for several years now. He is a true artisan, a food hero and dedicated utterly to the making of perfect bread. Wye Valley Brewery are one of the four breweries in the area that we are proud to buy from. The sheer variety of the products is a delight, using Herefordshire hops and setting themselves apart from the rest by using locally farmed barley as well. Congratulations to both of them just for being shortlisted. If either was to win…….

For more information on the awards, go to

Over the hills and far away

October 29, 2010

Julie hosts the Griffin. If you didn’t already know. Back in the Spring, before the concept of England winning a world cup had been exposed as a fraud, she decided she would cycle the Taff Trail, between Brecon and Cardiff some time in 2011. For the story of her heroic achievement, with her willing accomplice James Spencer, please read on.

“Oh, did I really say I’d do that…….

A number of months ago I signed up to a sponsored bicycle ride along the Taff Trail from Brecon to Cardiff. The day unexpectedly arrived last Monday, 25th October. I chose to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Go Pink campaign, even buying a very fetching bright pink cycling top… although the -4 degrees reading as we left Brecon precluded actually wearing it.

Winding our way from the Theatre at Brecon to Talybont Reservoir was breathtaking. The mist was rising over the reservoir and frankly looked ethereal and a bit spooky!

Leaving the reservoir and its faeries behind, we started the extremely long incline to the highest point of the ride at Torpantau. Whichever way you go this is where you begin to breathe again and go downhill. The trail then takes you through Taf Fechan Forest along Pentwyn Reservoir, Pontsticill Reservoir, through Pontsticall and on to Merthyr.

At this point you might think “Great, half way there!” Thanks to the charming locals defacing cycling signs in Merthyr this section can be a battle to stay on track though. Overcoming these challenges, we headed towards Pontypridd along some more lovely river views.

Our subsequent journey was only shortly interrupted by rather strange child who seemed to want to use a metal detector against James’ head as we rode past. Had I not been a bit out of breath I would have (a) dismounted and given him a clip around the ear with the same metal detector and asked him how he liked it or (b) shouted loudly at him (his mum was a bit scary but she seemed to feel that this was an acceptable way for her child to behave.)

We struggled on towards Cardiff with frozen knees and what seemed like frostbitten toes and fingers. As we approached Cardiff we were asked if we wanted to do the high level route around Castle Coch or the low level route. Not a difficult decision. Pushing on to Cardiff Bay we were slightly stunned to find that the end of the Taff Trail is actually in a pedestrianised (!) area of the Bay. We dismounted and were determined enough to take our starving bodies past a well known sandwich chain.

We found the end of the trail and I promptly called my mum to tell her that I’d just cycled 54.27 miles. Would I do it again….in a heartbeat but not on such a freezing cold day!

I’d like to pass my Thanks on to James & Simon Spencer for their help as my support team on the day as without them this would not have gone ahead!

To date I’ve raised nearly £700 and the just giving site is still active if you’d like to contribute.

We will also be raising money in a raffle to be held at the pub on Friday 5th November at our Guy Fawkes evening. Come along and join in the fun!”

A huge well done to both Julie and James. We are hoping that more of our team will participate in similar ventures over the next year or so. More anon.

Awards Season

October 7, 2010

Awards. Pesky things in this industry. It’s that time of year. Enough to cause some strange behaviour. And rashes. Or so I’m told.

You never seem to win them when you think you deserve them. You persuade the people you work with that they don’t matter. They sometimes go to the place you’ve just visited and thought quite the worst pub in the world. But when you are on the receiving end of them, the whole system suddenly seems the most just and appropriate in the world.

In sum, the awards season in this industry is a good time to observe the human condition. Envy, schadenfreude, ecstasy, anger, disappointment, frustration. Rarely humility, except the most forced kind.

The Griffin and Gurnard’s Head both won awards this morning. Dining Pubs of the Year in Wales and Cornwall respectively according to the Good Pub Guide 2011. These are awards worth having from a guide with integrity. We know from experience that it will throw out any establishments it thinks not worthy. So this is an achievement for our teams to be proud of. And for us to shout about a bit as the opportunity does not come along very often.

But should we be misguided enough to think that this makes us perfect? Definitely not. Going in the right direction: probably. An award is the perfect excuse to look again at what you do and think about how you improve it. Resting on those laurels is not an option. Communicating this message to a team is not easy. It can occasionally seem unfair. But it is so important.

Anyway, must start preparing that acceptance speech…..

Sue Vide? Never met her.

September 27, 2010

For a year or two our kitchen team awoke preposterously early every Sunday morning and prepared our Sunday roasts under a method known as sous vide. It involved cooking the meat at relatively low temperatures. The result was to preserve the flavour of the meat and make it unbelievably tender. We thought we were terribly sophisticated and waved aside the more than occasional criticism or unemptied plate as a refusal to keep up with the times.

Beware the restaurant that doesn’t listen to its guests. It took time but we realise that our guests were right all along. So WELCOME BACK TO THE ROAST. We now cook our lamb, beef and pork more traditionally at high temperature. The way you have grown up to love it. And the reason why it used to be difficult to secure a table at the Griffin on Sundays. Let’s see how it works out.