In his own words, he was pioneering gastropub fare “…..before we even knew what gastropubs were”. Joining the late Denis Watkins’ Angel pub in Hetton, North Yorkshire as a young chef in the late 80s, he was suddenly aware of being part of a new movement in pub food.
“In those days, it really was stuff in a basket – the scampi and haddock was brought in frozen,” he chuckles. “I came from a restaurant background and started applying that to a pub setting. Denis had started going to the Manchester market and buying fish directly from there, which was really progressive at the time. We’d go in on a Thursday first thing, do the market run and fill a van plus bring back eight to ten salmon. It was amazing because we started selling all this stuff and it was so much fresher than people were used to. We were cutting out all the middle men and it was really quite radical back then.”
This ‘market to table’ approach, teamed with Watkins’ sense of culinary adventure, sparked gastronomic aspirations in Topham in terms of what he could achieve from a pub kitchen.
“Denis was a bon viveur and very ‘out there’ and we started going out for dinners and lunches and learning from all these great chefs. We had a trip to the Manoir in its first year and were blown away. I saw my challenge as “how do I put this standard of food into a pub environment doing the volume we’re doing.