Direct Seafoods takes the NCOTY team behind the scenes with Butcombe Brewery/Liberation Group

With 21 managed pubs on the Channel Islands and 19 in the Butcombe Brewery business in the South West of England, Liberation Group is, in the words of executive chef Alice Bowyer “surrounded by great seafood, and it’s a huge part of our menu offer.”

Alice and her team of chefs have been working with specialist fish and seafood supplier  Direct Seafoods to improve the sustainability of dishes served across the group’s eclectic  range of pubs. While the mainstay of the group is destination dining and gastro style pubs, the estate ranges from the Methuen Arms in Corsham, Wiltshire, a three rosette country house hotel, to pubs like the Pig & Fiddle in Bath, “which is very much a boozer where you have food that you can eat standing up,” says Alice, “so we could never have just one offer.”

Advising the group has been Theo Guy, national accounts manager at Direct Seafoods, the national business that includes a range of specialist regional fish supply businesses including Kingfisher Brixham. Alice says: “We work seasonally with everything we serve, but particularly with fish. We’ve done a lot of work to develop that over the past 18 months, and our menus are now very much driven by the fresh fish that is on offer.

“We acknowledge and understand what it takes to get good quality fresh fish into our kitchens, and as executive chef I have a huge respect for UK fishermen. We’ve worked with our chefs on understanding which fish and seafood is good, and when. We have a seafood calendar that our chefs follow, and we’ve done chef trips down to Kingfisher Brixham, and spent time with Theo and the team there.”

When used in season, fish and seafood have the advantage of being good quality and good value, as well as being a sustainable menu choice. “It works both ways. As a company, we have a commitment to sustainability and it also makes commercial sense.   

“We get a monthly market newsletter from Direct Seafoods, with a rundown of what’s going on in the market – what to avoid as well as what to buy. That’s really helpful to us in planning menus and specials.”

Menu changes implemented at the suggestion of Direct Seafoods include

  • Replacing salmon with farmed trout from ChalkStream in Hampshire: “Last year Theo told us about difficulties with salmon, including rising prices, as well as sustainability issues, and we replaced all salmon on our menus with this trout from an amazing stream in Hampshire. Customers absolutely love it, and in most cases, thought it was a better flavour. There are information sheets Direct Seafoods put together to tell customers about the trout, where it comes from and its sustainability.”

Chalk Trout Nicoise Salad

  • Serving calamari made with cuttlefish: “Cuttlefish is a fantastic fresh fish that we now use as an alternative to squid. We have a very popular calamari dish on most of our menus, and that’s gone down ever so well made with cuttlefish. With a species like cuttlefish, there may need to be a little more customer education, but it’s also about how we present it, and people like and understand calamari.”
  • Serving smoked whiting instead of haddock as a special: “We do a lot of pub snacks, and we worked with Kingfisher to develop our own smoked whiting, using fish caught by a Brixham dayboat, as an alternative to haddock. We made a scotch egg with it and also used it in a Welsh rarebit, both of which were great quality and very popular.”

Alice adds: “The Blue Planet movement has had a huge impact; customers definitely have an increased interest in sustainability issues and it’s also had an influence on our approach as a company. They want to know that they’re spending their money in a business that cares about the environment and uses sustainable fish. We have all our supplier info printed on the back of our menus, and because of the training we’ve done, our teams can talk to the customers about the fish we serve.

“Overall, being able to react to the market and change our fish dishes when we need to has made a big difference for us, and the support and advice from Direct Seafoods has been great.”  

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