The Fox & Hounds, located in Barley, has been named in the Michelin Guide for three years running. We chat to Head Chef Brett Barnes to find out how they revamped an iconic building with 350 years of history behind it
For starters, what can you tell me about the history of the site?
The site is approximately 350 years old. Its original name was the Swan, and was renamed in 1820. The original thatched inn burned down in 1950, and in 1955 the Waggon & Horses changed its name and the license and signage were transferred. The gallows style signage that spans the road to Chishill is one of only a handful in the country.
Why did you want to join Robin and Colin in taking over the Fox & Hounds?
Robin is a good friend from University and we had talked of opening a restaurant together for several years. We’d almost given up trying to find a suitable site when Colin approached us with the idea of taking over the Fox & Hounds… the rest, as they say, is history.
How much work went into the refurbishment?
The refurbishment was very extensive, the place had been rather neglected. Not to mention the fact that an organised criminal gang had broken in and used the premises to grow marijuana! The works cost a seven figure sum, and took about a year to complete.
What atmosphere today do you look to offer?
We look to offer a casual, family friendly atmosphere. Although some of the food is fairly high end, we’ve always wanted the pub to be as inclusive as possible, and we try to cater to all demographics and tastes.
Pre-Fox & Hounds, what was your background in the food industry?
I’ve been a chef nigh on 20 years now. In that time I’ve worked in pubs, restaurants and hotels, cooking in a truly diverse range of establishments. These range from a small organic wine bar in a Soho basement, to a 2 Michelin star restaurant in Sweden 600km north of the arctic circle!
Can you sum up your cooking style?
The food at the Fox & Hounds has a very British feel to it, using as much local produce as we can get our hands on. I always wanted the food to reflect the building, and this is the sort of food I’d like to eat if I visited a pub in the countryside.
How have you approached the menus at Fox & Hounds?
Menus are determined by seasonality first. We always offer a balance of meat, fish and vegetarian meals and these change weekly depending on what’s in season. If a dish doesn’t work or isn’t popular, we have the flexibility to change it straight away.
Are you keen on using as many local suppliers as possible?
Absolutely. Most of our fruit & veg comes from Fisher Woods in Saffron Walden. Fish is sourced by Stickleback in St Albans, which they source from the East Coast and Cornwall. Meat comes from The Rare Breed Meat Company 40 miles away in Essex, and sourdough is baked down the road at Hot Numbers in Shepreth.
Could you suggest 2-3 dishes that really highlight your approach to the food offering at Fox & Hounds?
Cromer crab on toast, wild garlic mayonnaise, Bloody Mary vinaigrette… Rabbit & bacon pie, suet crust, champ potatoes & grain mustard sauce.
Is there one dish in particular you are loving right now?
My sous chef Charlie came up with a duck dish that is delicious and very popular. It’s Barbary duck breast with potato terrine, spiced carrot puree and a crisp little pastilla made with the duck’s leg and livers.
How do you feel things have gone since you, Robin and Colin took over?
On the whole very well. Covid was, of course, a huge challenge. But aside from that we are busy, have been listed in the Michelin guide three years in a row, and were nominated as “Best Newcomer” in the Estrella top 50 gastropub awards.
Do you feel a part of the local community?
Yes and that’s very important. We do coffee mornings for the local school committee. We also sponsor the Barley cricket team, and offer a Happy Hour every Friday evening which the locals seem to love!
What are your hopes for the future?
If we are busy and the doors stay open, I’m happy! One day I’d like to possibly see some Fox & Hounds offspring, but for now we are happy to just focus on our pub in Barley and make it as good as we possibly can.