When chefs Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram decided to take over The Marksman in Bethnal Green they were determined not to crush the character of the East End boozer.
They spent a year raising the funds for the project and transformed the basement into a kitchen and the upstairs into a quirky, modern dining room. The bar area was spruced up but left mostly unchanged and the regular punters now sip beers alongside diners from far and wide.
Their efforts have now landed them the title of Michelin Pub of the Year 2017 with judges saying The Marksman is a “proper neighbourhood pub”.
Tom, who grew up in Wembley, but now lives locally, said: “We are very pleased. It came as quite a surprise as we weren’t expecting it.
“We worked so hard to keep it mostly as it was and looking always as it had. Stripping it out would have ruined it.
“You see other places where chefs have taken over and opening restaurants in what used to be pubs and disregarding what was there.
“That is OK with derelict pubs but this one was already a busy pub that was at the heart of this community so it was our avowed intent to keep that as a part of the business.”
They serve the same food upstairs as in the pub, with a choice of “uncomplicated” dishes such as devilled mussels on toast, skate with shrimps and turnip tops, and pheasant and trotter pie. And the menu also saw The Marksman receive a Michelin Bib Gourmand, awarded to places which offer good value, good quality cooking.
After hearing the news of their two wins it was straight back in to the kitchen for the duo who both worked at St John in Smithfield.
“Running a pub is harder than a restaurant,” said Tom. “That is hard enough but them throw a lot more alcohol into the mix and you have cellars to run and you are open all day. And you have a different crowd. So things happen here that would never happen in a restaurant.”
You will find City workers, art students and five-a-side footballers from Haggerston mingling at bar – and sometime even dancing on it – and Tom said being a landlord is just as much fun as its sounds.
“This is a beautiful pub with lots of history and character and the people within it are what make it.
“It’s a lot of hard work but there is a lovely thing about coming into a bar where people are enjoying themselves.
“Sometimes you do feel like a school teacher though, telling people to get off chairs.”
Tom said London pubs had to diversify to survive and the challenge was to create somewhere where regulars and visitors feel comfortable.
“It does get quite rowdy,” said Tom. ”Although it was more so when we started. We have quite strong rules about drunkenness as we do have diners in here. So it has to be a careful balance.
“Some people have come quite a long way to try our food and then others have come here to drink and you have to make sure no one is being deferred. But that makes for a much more exciting and dynamic space.”
So have they had to pull a ‘Peggy Mitchell’ – “Get out of my pub!”?
“We have done it a few times, probably not with her grace,” he said with a chuckle.
“Sometimes you have to turf people out for them to come back the next day and apologies for their behaviour. Everyone gets two chances, no more.”
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