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Launch of News & Mail's Best Bites contest

Following the popularity of the Pub of the Year 2013 competition, we are now on the hunt for the top food outlets in the area with the Best Bites contest.

The Wheatsheaf is the first Best Bites contender

When it comes to nominating the Wheatsheaf’s flagship dish, head chef Jay Williams doesn’t hesitate.

“Brined and braised belly of pork with celeriac puree, sautéed greens, bacon and hazy hog jus,” he says.

“The four main flavours work together really well.”

The head chef of the Farnham eatery added: “We want our menu to be built around classic British dishes and ingredients, and to reflect the building’s history as a proper pub.

“When coming up with a dish, I choose one or two seasonal flavours that marry well with the main ingredient.

“It’s also essential to make sure there is a balance of texture on the plate and to try to make the dish interesting while avoiding the danger of being gimmicky.”

Armed with the slogan ‘fresh, local, seasonal’ and invigorated by the theatre of cooking in an open-plan kitchen visible to customers, the chefs at the West Street pub have built up a healthy following since it re-opened last November after a six-week refurbishment that cost £500,000.

Although the pork belly is something of a favourite child, Mr Williams also can’t help being proud of the ‘rave’ response to his new Wheatsheaf burger, which comes with chargrilled pancetta, old Sussex cheddar, caramelised onions, pickles and the house 'beefonaise'.

 

Aged 28 and originally from Farnham, he has worked in several respected independent restaurants and pubs in Hampshire and Surrey, including a stint as sous chef at the Duke of Cambridge in Tilford, which is owned by the same trio of entrepreneurs as the Wheatsheaf.

Friends Mark Robson, Julian Clark and Mark Williams, all in their 30s, have been in the pub business for more than 10 years, and bought the Wheatsheaf in 2013 after eyeing it up for several years.

The autumn refurbishment has lightened the pub’s interior, freeing it from its previous ‘old man’ feel.

Polished wooden floor boards have replace tired carpets, and bi-fold doors now lead to an intimate courtyard with external heaters and winter blankets.

A new Peter Pan private dining room has also been installed, with Neverland maps on the wall celebrating Farnham’s connection with the enduring fictional favourite, written in the town by J M Barrie.

Stressing its commitment to home-made food, the tables nearest the open kitchen have a large, farmhouse look, and nearby on the walls are painted butchers charts of a pig, cow and sheep, showing the different cuts.

The current menu includes hot smoked salmon paté with crostini and a pea velout and wild mushroom and truffle risotto for starters, several types of burger for main courses along with a variety of steaks, Bloody Mary mussels and a chicken supreme. Those with a sweet tooth will be tempted by dark chocolate delice with strawberry ice cream and popping candy or gin and tonic jelly with juniper berry mousse.

The Wheatsheaf has struck up partnerships with luxury brands which have local connections in order to live up to Mr Robson’s ‘local but trendy’ aspiration, including specialist coffee maker Mozzo and Martin Miller’s gin.

Champagne Thursdays, when there are 20% discounts on all bottles of Lanson champagne, have become an institution at the pub, and this initiative is supported by a voucher scheme which gets customers 10% off any bill which includes a minimum of two main meals.

Co-owner Mr Clark, who planted a sapling tree in the new-look courtyard before the pub re-opened, said: “Farnham is a nice community to be part of. We want this pub to grow.”

To make a booking at the Wheatsheaf, call 01252 717 135.

Readers can vote for winners in three categories – fine dining, pub grub, and takeaways/cafes – and a different contender will be featured each week. To vote, pick up a copy of the News & Mail, out now.

 
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