While the White Hart in Fyfield has been closed during lockdown, Kay and Mark Chandler haven’t sat still for an instant and have been preparing the pub and its gardens to re-open in a socially distanced world.
Hence the additions of the new outdoor wood fired Bushman oven, recently constructed and commissioned gazebo dining areas complete with individual wooden pagodas and cream sail shades, and your own personal fire pit and blankets.
The four new pagodas seat 2-8 people, so are very flexible, and divided up with planters full of beautiful herbs, social distance markers if you like.
“We knew we needed to diversify to re-open, and develop the garden properly, but we wanted to make sure that we weren’t just buying things for the sake of it, that they would be things we could use long after the pandemic,” Kay explains.
“We didn’t want to waste money on things that wouldn’t last, or need long-term, something to throw away in a year’s time,” Kay adds, who runs the pub with her husband and head chef Mark.
“We wanted something that would enhance what we had, while being realistic – because it does get cold in the evenings in England,” Kay says.
Meanwhile Mark has been experimenting with pizzas, seafood, miso roasted corn on the cob, slow-cooked meats, and lots of other recipes to introduce to the menu from his outdoor kitchen.
The Chandlers also grow a lot of their own produce. They have tended a huge vegetable plot next to the pub for the past 15 years – Mark’s volunteer gardeners help out in exchange for meals.
“We can’t grow everything we need but we have enough herbs, rhubarb, figs, Cavolo Nero….. about half of the produce we use in the restaurant comes from our plot next doors,” Kay says proudly.
But while it all sounds very exciting, of course lockdown has been crippling for the hospitality industry, so how the Chandlers weathered the storm? “Well up until then we were having a record year and were well in profit, which means we’ve been able to keep on all our staff and even employ a new chef,” Kay says.
“What has really stood out though is how supportive our whole team has been, and the messages of support from our customers and community has reminded us what a loyal following we have.”
Now looking to the future, Kay said that from July 4 (tomorrow) not only would The White Hart, which won Best Gastro Pub in the Ox In A Box Food Awards, be reopening but will also launch a new pizza takeaway service.
“We have got a lot of bookings already, even though all the tables will be 1.5m-2m apart, so with our new outdoor capacity we will be at 70-80% of our usual numbers which is great.
“What will make a difference is people can’t come in for a meal and prop up the bar while they wait for a table. We can’t do that now, but the pub has lots of alcoves and space upstairs for people to eat, socially distanced of course.”
So how is Kay feeling on the eve of the re-opening? “We don’t know whether to be confident or excited or both, but either way we will be ready on Saturday to welcome our customers back.”
From where I’m standing, people will be queueing round the block to try out the new look White Hart, a metre apart of course!
Go to https://www.whitehart-fyfield.com for more information of to book a table or new pagoda!