Jennifer Meredith talks to Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford and head chef Danny Gill about their pub venture, The Flitch of Bacon
The journey through the countryside to Little Dunmow, home to Daniel Clifford’s and Danny Gill’s new eatery, is a nostalgic one; my granddad played cricket here when he was a boy, and my father stayed nearby during school holidays. This tiny village is the kind of place you went to as a child to visit family friends or your grandparents, spending long, lazy summer days climbing trees in the surrounding fields, catching butterflies or making mud pies by the stream until it got late and you were called in for tea. It’s a place that stands still in time, one that’s forever entrenched in your family history. Well, mine anyway.
Talking of history, you may or may not have heard of an old English custom called the ‘flitch trials’. In a celebration that is said to have first taken place in the 13th century, couples are awarded a flitch (side) of bacon if they are able to swear to not having regretted their marriage for a year and a day. A strange tradition, you may think, but a tradition all the same – and significant enough to lend its name to the village public house.
The Flitch of Bacon existed on The Street in Little Dunmow as a traditional pub until its closure in November 2014. Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford lived just a walk away from the property and had driven by many times before realising that it would become his next culinary project: a quiet country pub just under an hour’s drive away from his two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of bustling Cambridge, Midsummer House – often referred to as the best restaurant in the city, and one of the best in the UK.
With a technically brilliant ten course fine dining menu prepared by a highly experienced and passionate team, accompanied by a magnificent wine list, Midsummer House is the ultimate luxury destination for refined urban gastronomes. But, Daniel tells me, ‘Flitch of Bacon is different. This is a warm and friendly pub where you can bring along your family, experience good, local food and enjoy great company’. The Flitch doesn’t compromise on food quality in comparison to Midsummer House, but the atmosphere is on a completely different scale; walk into the pub and the first thing you’ll see is a round, wooden bar displaying a variety of spirits and draught beers, in the midst of an open plan dining area arrayed with warm, neutral colours. On a busy evening the pub is humming with activity; as Danny Gill, Chef Patron of the Flitch, explains, ‘you’ll look around the room and there’ll be a family at one table with their kids running around, a young couple at another, a group of people who like they’re from a reality TV program – but no one looks round and questions their company. It’s a very friendly place to eat’.
With a name such as Daniel Clifford’s attached to the Flitch, there is no doubt that the pub would easily draw in a crowd. However, the factor that keeps the customers walking through the doors is, unquestionably, the food. The seasonal menu is the benefit of close relationships with local suppliers, and includes mouth-watering produce such as pot roasted Norfolk black chicken and slow roast loin chop of Great Garnett pork – enough to turn a one off trip to a pub in the countryside into a regular dining experience. As Daniel explains, ‘I’ve had guests come to eat three times a week, and tell me that the pub feels like home. That’s what I was aiming for when we opened up’.
As we’re talking, I hear laughter coming from the back of the restaurant. ‘How long has that table been here?’ Daniel asks a staff member who is tinkering away with a coffee machine behind the bar. ‘Five hours,’ he replies, ‘they’re now on their Tia Marias’. I gasp inwardly. The last time I spent five hours in a pub during the daytime was when I got stuck waiting for a train in Settle, Yorkshire; needless to say it wasn’t the most enjoyable five hours of my life, but it sounded as if this table was having a whale of a time.
The prices might also have something to do with this. After discovering the £105 per head menu at Midsummer House, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Flitch of Bacon is of a similar price range; however, this isn’t the case. Mains range between £14.50 for a beer battered pollock and chips, and £28.00 for a 36-day aged ribeye, whilst starters and desserts start from £7.00 – a pleasant surprise, and a compelling reason to order more wine.
Having changed hands three times in the last ten years, it’s clear that the Flitch has not experienced the level of commitment that the villagers believe it so rightly deserves, especially with a name that possesses such strong links to village tradition. Daniel, however, guarantees me of his time and efforts regarding the pub: ‘I’m one hundred percent committed – I’ve invested a huge amount of money and time in this. We’ll be here for another 25 years or longer’.
We look forward to excellent food from the Flitch of Bacon for decades to come!
To book a table, call 01371 821660 or visit the website at www.flitchofbacon.co.uk