A chef whose earned his merit – The Wordrobe gets the dish on Paul Merrett, proprietor of the Fox & Grapes in Wimbledon and frequent guest chef on Saturday Kitchen
What inspired you to open the Fox & Grapes?
The Fox & Grapes is a unique site. Set back on the green in Wimbledon village alongside the Common it remains the only independent pub in the area. The pub has a lot of very discerning loyal locals…it’s their pub not mine!
I’m just minding it on their behalf! The great thing is they demand and appreciate great food, wine and beer and thats exactly what we enjoy cooking and providing.
Talk interiors to us…
No point in great food and boutique wine if the interior isn’t up to scratch. Gone are the days when food quality alone was enough to pull in the crowds. Recognising this I decided to give the place a bit of a makeover. I love how its looking now.
Great fabrics adorn the walls, new banquettes, a smart new bar, a gloriously retreated parque floor and some fabulous art work – Patrick Steel is a friend and photographer who lives in Wimbledon. Every picture is a scene so local you could walk there in 5 minutes.
Do you have any culinary heroes? Who are your role models?
I’m 50…they are called inspirations not heroes these days! Gary Rhodes remains my closest culinary ally in terms of influence. What I learned in his kitchen I pass on daily to my chefs.
What does ‘hospitality’ mean to you?
Hospitality simply means welcoming customers like friends into ‘our house’ and making sure they have a great time.
Tell us more about your business background? How did you get into the industry?
Oh I made a glorious entry into hospitality….I failed every exam Surrey County Council could throw at me and in despair my mum dispatched me to culinary college.
Thankfully it proved my lucky break. I loved it. From there I did a 3 year apprenticeship at The Ritz before going off and working for as many great chefs as I could.
What can guests expect from the menu?
I work very closely with my head chef John Stanyer. The longer we know each other the more I admire him as a chef. He has my full trust and writes much of the menu. We then taste and tweak before going live.
A great gastro pub needs its classics so expect a home made burger, ale battered fish and chips…even a pie. But alongside that we have some really innovative dishes using the best of seasonal ingredients.
Name us three of your favourite restaurants
Oh no! depends on my mood…right now….Kitty Fishers for what I would call glamorous but honest cooking, Ceviche in Soho for amazing Peruvian cuisine and my favourite close-to-home local is Albertine owned and run by mate Allegra in Shephard’s Bush.
Describe your ultimate midnight snack.
A raspberry jam & cheddar cheese sandwich…My mum used to make them though not at midnight! Might sound weird but I love them…I think its a South African thing….
What’s next on the cards?
I’m currently approving plans to refurb The Malt House in Fulham. We have just done Best Independent Gastro Pub at The Casual Dining Awards for the second year in a row! So I reckon its earned a lick of paint!
Now try Paul’s dishes for yourself
9 Camp Rd, Wimbledon, London SW19 4UN