Brewery Tap in Furneux Pelham: Another jewel in the gastropub crown encircling Stortford
Indie food writer Saira Hamilton, a 2013 MasterChef finalist, visits the refurbished, family-owned Brewery Tap in Furneux Pelham to see what it has to offer...
It’s a relatively modern word, gastropub. First uses of this portmanteau can be traced back to the 1990s when the worlds of gastronomy and pubs collided in a happy trend to introduce a new breed of eating establishment to the UK.
The idea is quite simple really. A gastropub is a pub where you will also find really good food, prepared fresh on site using high-quality, preferably local ingredients.
It’s very welcome in my view. My children don’t really believe me when I tell them that in my day, pubs were just places to drink, smoke and talk with your friends, with the odd game of pool or darts thrown in. No TVs, no food. If you were lucky you would get a packet of crisps and, if it was a high-end establishment, maybe some scampi fries.
One of the things I like about gastropubs is the décor – either full-on, old-fashioned country charm or, more often than not, the open, airy Farrow & Ball palette of grey-greens or duck egg blues, with scrubbed pine tables and reclaimed oak floors.
They are inviting and welcoming, not too intimidating, with starched cloths, multiple layers of cutlery and glassware, and that relaxes you as soon as you walk in.
The next thing that defines a gastropub is, of course, having a really good menu. It should have some of the classic pub staples: a pie, fish and chips and probably a burger, alongside some imaginative salads, a good hearty meat, potato and veg option (lamb shanks, anyone?) and a couple of exotic dishes for the more adventurous. Throw in a couple of good guest ales and a good, but not extensive, wine list and you're on to a winner.
The gastropub is the British answer to the brasserie – and in my humble opinion, I think we do it better than our French cousins.
When Indie editor Paul Winspear asked me along to visit the newly refurbished and reopened Brewery Tap in Furneux Pelham and told me it was a gastropub, I quickly rearranged my diary to make sure I could.
On arrival we were greeted first by Lucy Bonner (the co-owner with her mum Elizabeth, known as Ebe), then Mike Coe, the bar manager, and shortly after by Trigger, the pub dog.
Trigger, a two-year-old beautiful brunette cocker spaniel, was very keen to show me his prowess with a tennis ball, which he thought was far more important than finding out about the refurbishment, the menu or anything else really.
Lucy had taken on this project, which employs 12 people, with her mum and had turned it around in an eye-wateringly short time, deciding only last October to go for it, opening in December and then appointing a chef in January. I could absolutely believe it when she said the paint was still a bit damp on their opening night. The result is really lovely. The décor is absolutely spot on and the space is open, bright and welcoming.
I then went into the kitchen to meet Jude Kelly, the head chef, who comes up with the menu with input from Lucy, he told me with a twinkle in his eye. Apparently, Lucy is a great one for sharing Instagram pictures with Jude of lovely meals she’s had and suggesting he put something similar on the menu! Jude has a long and illustrious history in gastropubs, with rosettes and rising star awards to his name, so we knew we were in good hands.
However they come up with the menu, it’s definitely working. It was pretty difficult for me to choose just one dish, but in the end I opted for the native blueshell mussels in a Thai green coconut curry broth. More accurately, I actually got Jude to choose for me – it’s always best to go with the chef’s choice, I find.
The mussels were so good, the green curry sauce was obviously freshly made, with bashed-up lemongrass, ginger and coconut, and the perfect level of chilli kick. Dressed with sea vegetables – such as dulse, which has a citrus, almost perfumed lime flavour – the whole bowl was magical. So much so that Paul ended up having a fair few himself, and then drinking the leftover broth!
Paul had the fish and chips, a perfectly flaky, gorgeously fresh fillet of haddock in a lighter-than-light crunchy batter served with thrice-cooked chips and a zingy, sharp caper mayonnaise (even better than tartare sauce imho).
What was even more difficult to choose was dessert. Normally I’m a cheese girl, but my head was turned by the sticky toffee pudding (as it so often is) while Paul’s choice was the chocolate brownie.
Perfectly light, with a fat crumb and drowning in rich, shiny and sweet butterscotch sauce, topped with melting real vanilla ice-cream, the STP was a triumph. I was more than happy to shake Jude’s hand and thank him for a really delicious lunch.
The Sunday roast menu looks even better, so I’ll be over for that next. And for all you yummy mummies and anyone free on a Friday morning, the Brewery Tap opens for tea/coffee, cake and sausage or bacon butties from 9am – and I can confirm they have a very good coffee machine.
So I am pleased to report yet another jewel in the gastropub crown encircling Bishop’s Stortford. There are so many for us to choose from, and each is the pride and joy of dedicated owners, leaseholders, bar managers and chefs, so let’s show them some support.
We’ve all got our favourites, I’m sure, so get booking and order that pub favourite from the menu, along with a half-pint of something hoppy. Sit back and enjoy.
* The Brewery Tap's food service hours are: Wed, Thu & Fri 12pm-2.30pm & 6.30-9.30pm; Sat 12pm-9.30pm; Sun 12pm-5pm.