Hard work paying off for joint Northamptonshire food pub of the year - with more to come
Despite being named the joint Northamptonshire food pub of the year for the second time in five years, it has been far from easy for the team at The Plough at Shutlanger.
The chef has been unable to work since being injured in a bicycle crash and a difficulty to attract staff to a rural pub means they have been hamstrung in their busiest period.
But owner Jim Kay believes their commitment to the best ingredients and maintaining very high standards for every plate of food they produce has kept them on their game.
"A lot of the time we focus on the quality of the food rather than trying to be too fancy," he says.
"For me, it's all about the flavours and locally-sourced ingredients.
"Attention to detail is important too and we try to treat everyone as a food reviewer so we make sure the food is always of a high standard."
Jim was shocked to win the Booker food pub of the year gong at the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards in November.
But all he and his partner Jessie King have known in the five years they have run the pub are accolades, having won the same prize in 2016 and been either a finalist or runner-up in the years they have been eligible.
Jim smiled: "We're really happy and it's already having an effect on trade as we're getting more and more people calling up for bookings, which is great."
Chef Charlie Garrett was up for young chef of the year at the food and drink awards but will not be back in the kitchen until springtime after his accident in October.
Trying to find a replacement has been compounded by the issues with recruitment in the villages, for chefs and waitresses in particular, according to Jim.
"Struggling for staff is our main concern," he admits, adding he has had to pull in a lot of favours from friends recently to get by.
"We only ever advertise for staff as we struggle for chefs and waitresses and we're in the countryside and I think a lot of people don't know we're out here."
Nevertheless, they continue to cater for the 50 covers they can manage with their staff numbers and space in the classic country pub.
At the minute, the menu is all about Christmas - with turkey, duck, bass and vegetarian options available, as well as a new-since-the-summer snack menu offering burgers and ciabattas.
"I don't like to have a big menu as things can go off and you get a lot of wastage, so I usually have five starters, five mains and five desserts," Jim says.
Behind the bar, the pub specialises in fine wines and gins thanks to Jessie's expertise as a level two sommelier.
Jim believes their relationship works well, with Jessie being in charge of front-of-house and him looking after the kitchen.
They also lived above the pub for four and a half years before moving to nearby Blisworth: "We're always here so we can keep an eye on things and if anything goes wrong we can sort it out."
Even with the issues they have to worry about, Jim is full of ideas for the future, with some closer to fruition than others.
The new year will hopefully bring their own lager and IPA, as well as a shop full of chutneys, soups, sauces and veg - 'like a farm shop without the farm'.
Jim also wants to extend the pub to make more room for seats, but for now he is bracing himself for the busy Christmas period.
"We've got a lot of things in the pipeline it's just finding the time to do it all."