Food & Drink Sunday, December 27th Words by: Mark Bowen, pictures by: Mark Bowen

Simon Rogers: From kitchen hand to head chef

Food & Drink Sunday, December 27th

Simon Rogers: From kitchen hand to head chef

Many rural pubs face an uphill struggle to stay afloat but in the right hands it’s possible for them to thrive.

The Oak in Staplow, near Ledbury, is a great illustration of how trade can be boosted by offering great pub food alongside an insistence on using quality local ingredients.

The pub itself dates back to the 1600s and includes log burning stoves, flagstone floors, and oak beams.

IMG 9435

Simon Rogers at work in the kitchen.

It’s certainly cosy and we received a warm welcome from a good number of regulars drinking there on a Friday afternoon.

Since the arrival of Simon Rogers a few months ago its menu has been reinvigorated.

Simon, who has moved back to the area from Norfolk, has been supported in their culinary vision by licensees Hylton Haylett and Julie Woollard.

IMG 9427

Ledbury gold battered market fish seasoned with Weston's cider vinegar and Maldon sea salt, hand cut chips, garden peas, and tartare sauce.

“We are a couple of miles out of town so we have to serve good food to bring people out here,” Hylton tells me.

Simon said: “I’m originally from this area so I am aware of the quality of the produce available here and I had been to The Oak before so I knew about its reputation for excellent food so I was delighted to move back.

“My food philosophy is very similar to Hylton and Julie’s and that is to use ingredients that are as local as possible and to find the best quality we can.”

IMG 9399single

 Smoked Grimsby haddock scotch egg, watercress and salsa verde.

These suppliers include Pershore Produce and Knightwick Butchers. Plans are in place to visit as many suppliers as possible to see their work at close quarters.

Fresh sea fish, which let’s face it is impossible to source in landlocked Herefordshire, comes via a former fisherman who travels early in the morning from Grimsby to Ledbury.

“He gets the pick before it goes to market so we get the best quality,” says Julie. “It’s much easier to cook using good ingredients.”

IMG 9402

Oven roasted loin of local venison and slow cooked ‘hunters’ pie topped with garlic and sage mash, and seasonal winter greens.

Simon adds: “We tend to use ingredients that are in season. We use winter greens such as kale which is readily available in the area. 

“We serve good quality pub food matching the environment we are in. We are a rustic rural pub and we reflect that.”

Like a lot of chefs Simon started working in a kitchen when he was in his early teens.

IMG 9417

Smoked duck, fig and buffalo mozzarella salad, orange and cranberry vinaigrette.

“It’s something you do as a part-time job and if you have a passion for it it’s something you move into,” he says.
A visit to The Oak does have an exciting aspect for those food lovers keen to see how their meals are cooked. 

The kitchen is in full view of the tables so it is possible to see your meal being plated up. 

“Working in an open kitchen adds another dimension to the job as we can see everybody eating and they can see us cooking,” said Simon.

“It’s a statement saying we are proud of our food and where it comes from.”

Julie adds: “Couples will choose to go in the restaurant as it’s nice to sit and watch and it’s something of a conversation piece.”

IMG 9421

Honey and sesame seed glazed confit leg of duck, mashed potato, spiced red cabbage, seasonal greens, and red current gravy.

It’s not altogether surprising if people are talking about the food. It is very good - wholesome fare with a twist as my thorough taste test informed me.

Who would have thought that a scotch egg containing mackerel and potato would have worked? I was very dubious about this combination but it was a delightful surprise for the palette. 

The chef’s take on fish and chips was sensational - beating any I had tasted before. I simply could not stop eating it and I can give no better recommendation than that.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say