Under new management
An inn near Nailsea has a new star chef.
Andy Pavey has worked in high class catering establishments for more than 20 years including time served at Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant at Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, famous for its three Michelin star French cuisine.
So, what made a top cook who once headed Michael Caines’ (the tv celebrity chef not the film star) kitchen at the Royal Clarence, Exeter, make the move to The Star Inn at Stoney Batch?
“I was asked,” he said.
Fellow journalist Heather Pickstock and I met Andy at Nailsea Micropub and he invited us to sample his cooking at Tickenham – an invitation we couldn’t refuse.
The current menu is mostly good ‘pub grub’ which hasn’t been pinged in a microwave with new additions promised soon including more vegetarian, vegan and low-calorie count options.
The ‘star’ of his tasting menu was his homemade bread rolls and Andy’s fantastic sugar-coated fried doughnuts served with several ‘dippers’ including chocolate and caramel sauce.
Heather chose the ‘warm salad of aromatic duck and blood orange’ as a starter and I went for the prawn and crayfish cocktail, both delicious revival appetisers.
But it was the main course where we stumbled.
Under the headings ‘sharers’, ‘pub classic’ or ‘comfort food’ it was a problematic choice if you didn’t want to be stuffed to the gills eating lots of starchy carbohydrates.
I was full up just looking at the pies, buns, pasta and chips on the menu.
In the end Heather pumped for a rump steak with peppercorn sauce and I went for sausage and mash.
Heather said: “The steak was really, really good but the sauce lacked consistency, but all round it was very good.
“The real winner for me was the homemade bread rolls and the pork and five spice jus which we were told takes more than two days to prepare and cook.
“The menu is nice, but I think more fish, vegetarian and vegan options are needed, the presentation was ace.”
For me the skin of the pork sausage supplied by Bakers the Nailsea Butchers was a little tough and I gave up chewing, politely removing it from my mouth and rather than complain I hid it under the wonderfully creamy mash potato which had been piped onto the plate.
There is one ‘special’ per day but no blackboard, so you reply on staff to tell you as it isn’t written anywhere.
We finished our meal by ordering one hot chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream and poached pear in port syrup followed by an Irish coffee – faultless.
I would give top marks for food presentation, competitive prices – including the wine list - and the friendly and attentive front-of-house staff.
We did think the 36oz Tomahawk steak priced at £48 was a bit steep but learned later it was a sharing dish for four.
Part of the £1 million spent this year on the latest refurbishment went on a huge new timber play structure and spruced up pub garden which during the summer school holidays was heaving with parents and their offspring.
Andy said: “We were doing close on 200 covers daily.”
The Star is a three-gabled 19th century building with spacious beer garden, large car park, cavernous sports bar and restaurant with décor similar to an industrial Little Chef, spotlessly clean and painted throughout in trendy grey.
The sports bar was once home to a skittles alley, rifle range and indoor bowling rink. There is a full-size pool table in the room and a team meets weekly as do the dart players.
It reminds me of the sports bar and restaurant at Center Parcs where they live stream matches on big screens and sell footballs.
The best area is in the main bar in front of the inglenook open log fire surrounded by cosy leather sofas.
In the 1970s through to the 1990s The Star was the place for families to go for Sunday lunch as it had an indoor play area for small children and highchairs galore. It was always fully booked.
So how in the winter months to attract family and friends to the countryside pub?
The Star is a destination waterhole with ramblers on route to the nearby Bronze Age Cadbury Camp but the lack of footpaths from Nailsea makes it a difficult choice for the welly brigade walking their dogs who once favoured the informality of The Barn at Wraxall.
Newly appointed general manager Joe Pollard said he has lots of ideas for moving the business forward including promoting its beautiful B&B upstairs rooms and launching an updated website.
The Star has a rich and varied history and a hostelry has stood on the site since the 17th century.
It sits on the bend of a rural B-road at the edge of civilisation with a badly lit bus stop nearby served by the infrequent X6 or X7 to Clevedon.
This means having a designated driver or taxi to the pub if you want to drink and eat.
In times gone by the Clevedon-Bristol-Bath horse-drawn coach service used to pull up outside.
In those days the inn was popular with travellers and the mining community.
The Trip Advisor reviews and word-of-mouth reports which have filtered back to Nailsea People have been mostly favourable but for me it wasn’t somewhere to put on your posh frock, and I prefer to dine out a little more upmarket.
It was the credentials of the chef which threw me as I was expecting nouvelle cuisine and while there were elements of French delight in the food it is mostly large portions of, be it delicious, pub nosh.
The hospitality trade is going through a difficult time and this rural free house needs to fully recover from its recent chequered past caused, in part, by a rapid succession of owners.
The new business partnership which has taken over consists of Steven and Ryan Williams and Steve Fionda.
Steven has a vast experience in the Bristol pub trade and lives nearby on Tickenham Hill.
He said: “We have spent a lot of money on refurbishing and we are still doing improvements but at a more gradual pace now.”
We suggested that The Star needs to find its niche and perhaps introduce bands or themed nights.
Andy is definitely a ‘professional plus’ on the catering side and we hope to return soon to sample how The Star is faring once the Christmas decorations are up adding a festive atmosphere.
Sampling Sunday lunch is a must on our ‘to do’ list.