Too often pub chains give the impression of having an homogeneous, identikit approach to their service and their food.
Uniformity might bring consistency but it robs a community of a venue of real character, relevant to the tastes of those who live there.
Pub company Peach - which runs The Richard Onslow in Cranleigh - has proved that it is the exception to the rule.
It puts its own training at the heart of every aspect of the business, wants its pubs run by genuine hosts, and believes that it is individuality in the kitchen and behind the bar that is its unique hallmark.
And it’s a formula that has many admirers across the industry.
It’s just been named winner Pubs & Bars Category 2015 at the Best Employers in Hospitality Awards 2015 in London, organised by Caterer.com, marking five consecutive years of taking the trophy home.
Not that Peach would ever think of itself as a ‘chain’. It believes it is a group of like-minded enthusiasts. And it wants to help its employees fulfil their potential.
John Taylor, Peach partner who runs The Richard Onslow said: “We know that people are central to our success and set great store by looking after them and giving everyone great training so they stay and grow with us.
“We develop a lot of our own training, for instance with Peach Pathway programmes which help the people who work behind our bars or cook in our kitchens develop from when they first start out to becoming a partner in our business. We now have six partners who have done just this, using our training to become stake-holders in the company and win awards of their own.”
Peach invited the County Times to put them to the test.
So although we reviewed a meal at their request, we arrived the same day with virtually no warning to see how good the Richard Onslow is.
Not that the Richard Onslow is simply a pub. It has an excellent restaurant and offers accommodation too.
We were welcomed by general manager Terri Dell.
As we chatted to her, it was clear she knows the industry inside out, but she wanted to work for a pub with Peach’s ethos and one that also sets the highest standards with the quality of the food and produce used in the kitchens.
Everyone can feel justifiably proud of every plate that we serve and that makes a huge difference, she said.
She was supported in the restaurant by Annabel and a young guy called Jay. It was his first day but you would never have guessed it.
The food was great. So were they.
There was a strong choice on the menu and a few specials too - and the dishes all achieved that unique balance of being a little different but not so unexpected that they would offend the naturally conservative tastes of Cranleigh.
The Tidenham duck breast with autumn fruit and potato rosti (£21) was a prize dish. It was the fruit itself which gave the plate its vital sweetness and the duck was cooked perfectly pink as requested.
The roast Cornish lamb rack (£18) was packed with succulent flavour but may have been a hint too pink in places to suit everyone.
The king scallops were a winner. Served with a smoked free-range bacon and mushroom fricassee they can be enjoyed as a starter - as I did - or a main (£7.50/£15). The scallops, so easily spoilt, were cooked to the ideal.
And the apple and blackberry iced parfait, with poached fruits (£5.50) was a sublime way to round off the meal.
The prices are higher than you might see in all pubs, reflecting the investment in the produce. There was also a very slight sense of deja vu between the poached fruits in the dessert and those that accompanied the duck - but we chose the dishes knowing they shared a similar theme.
Overall, this was a peach of a meal; and Terri and her team bring a real warmth and a sense of genuine welcome to The Richard Onslow.
It’s no surprise that they’ve scooped this coveted award for five consecutive years.
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