“The pub world gives me a lot more freedom as a chef,” says Paul Merrett
Modern cooking equipment allows Paul Merrett to “learn”, “grow” and make “significant changes” to The Victoria’s menu
Located in South West London, near Richmond Park, The Victoria is a gasto-pub run by critically acclaimed chef and TV personality, Paul Merrett. Close to Heathrow Airport, it regularly accommodates travellers and commuters, offering seven bedrooms and a quality breakfast service for its hotel guests. While The Victoria is a popular drinking pub for the locals, offering a range of real ales along with quizzes and live music in the evening, its focus is on good quality food. It was recently voted Second Best Modern British Restaurant under £50 in the Hardens London Restaurant Guide (2013).
“The Victoria is really a culmination of my career to date,” says Paul. “I was born in a very spicy party of the world, East Africa, but I had a very European training. The Victoria reflects all of that.”
To get the best cooking results for the restaurant’s diverse menu, Paul looked into specialist modern cooking equipment, such as combi steamers and water baths. To help understand the range of new cooking equipment available to chefs, Paul Merrett approached Marlin Catering Solutions, a new company set up by ex-Chef Mike Joslin and kitchen design specialist Karl Marriott.
While there have been significant technological advances in the hospitality sector since Paul’s career began, it is the combination of modern and traditional equipment that has ultimately helped shape The Victoria’s menu. “We’ve seen a huge development in the range of cooking methods and mediums that are available to the chef, relatively unknown ten years earlier. We’ve bought various bits of kit that have allowed us to learn and grow and to make significant changes. We use water baths, we use hi-tech ovens, but we also use chargrills and solid-tops. It’s a real mix and match but that’s what I like and I think that’s reflected in the menu.”
With so many options available, choosing what to get can be the challenge.
“Buying equipment is a big investment, and obviously price matters. Mike from Marlin is an ex-chef. He very much understands what I need to run this sort of place, and that sort of ‘insider’ knowledge is invaluable.”
The accuracy and consistency of combi steamers made them the obvious choice for prime cooking. Paul looked at various models, but ultimately chose the Rational SelfCookingCenter 5 Senses.
“The Rational is an incredibly high-tech piece of kit,” says Paul Merrett. “We’d been using it a while before Mike said, ‘have you smoked anything in it yet?’ So we purchased the VarioSmoker and that’s taken us in a different direction.”
Like combi ovens, sous-vide has become increasingly popular in modern dining. Although The Victoria only recently purchased a water bath, it has since become integral to the restaurant’s menu.
“We are fully embraced in the water bath culture now – we use it a lot,” admits Paul Merrett. “But for the first fifteen years of my career I never used one.
“You can sit there reading manuals and watch online videos but actually what you really want is a human being, who has been trained in using the equipment, to come in and talk to your chefs and give them good advice. That is what we get with Marlin.”
Having worked previously in Michelin-starred restaurant The Greenhouse, Paul has welcomed the significant change of scene that the gastro-pub world offers.
“I think The Victoria is the sort of platform that allows me to be eclectic. When I was doing the Michelin stuff I felt quite entrapped in a certain style of plating and formal service. The pub world gives me a lot more freedom to explore food I haven’t previously,” he says.As well as The Victoria, Paul Merrett is looking into other projects, some of which do not have kitchens, let alone cooking equipment.
“One of the first calls we’re going to make once we sign that dotted line is for the guys at Marlin to come in and start sizing up the kitchen. I know they’ve got the kit and I know they can get it for a decent price and I know, crucially, when it’s all in there and running, they’re going to come back and show me how to use it.”
Marlin Catering Solutions delivers a complete kitchen design service, from consultation and advice to supply and installation. The company also offers maintenance contracts, training, demonstrations and deep cleaning. For more information check out www.marlin-cs.com.