I have written before about how much we enjoy being associated with Hook Norton Brewery, and one of the lovely things they do every year is put on an awards ceremony for their whole tenanted estate.

Invariably held on a Monday, so everyone stands half a chance of getting there, we have all enjoyed a variety of days out, from rain soaked lunches at Stratford Racecourse, to witnessing the transformation of the Hooky visitor centre to accommodate us all.

It is a great chance for us weary landlords and landladies to let our hair down, especially the people with smaller pubs who never get a day out because they are always working.  Hooky never spare any expense and really spoil us.

This year, we went to Towcester Racecourse, somewhere I have never been before, and were lucky enough to get the most gorgeous sunny day which put us all in a great mood (the champagne helped a bit too!).

The ‘Hooky’s’ as they are known, have always been a happy hunting ground for us.  We had been at The Angel for a year, when we won ‘Best Newcomer’ and another five awards at the 2012 awards, which was a fantastic day!  Over the years we have had varying degrees of success in the Food Champion award, which is the one all us foody pubs want to win.  We have tussled over the years with Andy and Julz Judd from The Kings Head, Napton including sharing the award one year.  The standard of food in Hooky pubs has absolutely rocketed in recent years, the days of chicken in a basket have long gone.

To enter the Food Champion award, you have to give evidence of the provenance of your food, discuss your suppliers and the way you market your food offering, and then you have to prepare and cook a two course menu, matched with Hooky ale offerings and present it to the judges.  This part of the entry is obviously handed over to Head Chef Mike Burkert.  We opted for a starter of Smoked Haddock with Merula Stout Rarebit and Tomato and Shallot Chutney.  For mains, we did a Beer Braised Beef Cheek, Pearl Barley Risotto, Malted Onions and Hooky Ale Sauce.  The main course also went on our blackboard and was devoured by quite a few customers!


Smoked Haddock with Merula Stout Rarebit and Tomato and Shallot Chutney

As anyone who reads my social media feeds will know, this proved to be the winning dish.  Just SO thrilled to win this award.  There are plenty of hard times when running a pub, as our fellow tenants will know, and awards like this do give you a real boost.   We’ve been lucky over the last year to have received a few awards, and we have to give all credit to our team who work so hard.  Our kitchen team especially are working under difficult conditions at the moment, as we try and get our kitchen refurb/rejig scheduled in.  They are doing about 100 covers a day in a kitchen designed to do 25 covers which makes it even harder work than it already is.

Our new Manager, Martin has also already made a difference front of house and leads his team by example, which is a huge boost to us.

All that is left now is to find a place for the plaque on the wall, and of course….keep up the standards and keep pushing forward.