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"Old world" British Hotel enters new gastropub era

The Forager

As concern simmers for O’Connell Street’s struggling food and beverage scene, the new owner of the historic British Hotel in North Adelaide is hoping his “gastropub” vision will draw a growing clientele to the area.

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Guy Vandepeer purchased the circa-1838 Finniss Street pub in November last year and has since enlisted the help of up-and-coming chef Chester Cheung – a former protégé of the Mayfair Hotel’s Bethany Finn – to head the kitchen.

“I was looking at freehold investment properties rather than leaseholds and then I saw the British come up on the market,” says the first-time hotel owner.

“It just seemed to me that it was a unique opportunity because there’s nothing else really like this as far as I’ve seen.”

Vandepeer’s foray into the North Adelaide hospitality scene has come at a contentious time, with long-established O’Connell Street venues the Archer Hotel and Paesano Cucina both entering administration in the past two months.

The loss of the two mainstays has sparked fears for the future of North Adelaide’s food and beverage scene, but Vandepeer says a strong repeat customer base and a reworked menu has helped the British Hotel thrive.

“It’s got that old-world charm and it’s tucked away from O’Connell and Melbourne Street, which makes it unique from other venues in the area,” he says.

“I know O’Connell Street is having problems at the moment, but where we are is not quite affected and we do have a lot of repeat customers.

“Quality in our food is also very important – we don’t skimp on the quality of the products or the size of the meals and we are focussing on a seasonal menu using fresh local products.”

The British Hotel’s signature dish: beef and mushroom pie with pea mash, tomato chutney and red wine jus. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

To achieve his vision for a more high-end style of pub dining, Vandepeer enlisted the help of head chef Cheung, who had previously worked at the British Hotel under its former owner.

“We wanted to do something that was a bit more gentrified than the traditional pub food – I guess you could call it more gastro-pub,” Vandepeer says.

“I knew that Chester was a very talented chef and was familiar with the business.

“He also had such a depth of experience working at the Mayfair and I knew that he could bring some new things to the table in terms of what he learnt during his time there.”

Cheung says the British Hotel’s new menu was shaped by the two years he spent working as a sous chef under Mayfair Hotel executive chef Bethany Finn – a prominent Adelaide chef known for her revival of classic hotel cuisine at the hotel’s Mayflower Restaurant.

“Bethany influenced me a lot in all the techniques of the classical meals – for example, the pie that we do here is how she did the presentation in the old style, but the filling we try to keep more in the English style with beef and Guinness,” he says.

“She also taught me about how to use pastry – she really loves to use French techniques with a lot of butter, truffle oil [and] pastry with milk.

“After working with her I try to just keep the meals standard – a nice piece of protein or meat and then we add flavour with a simple garnish and what is seasonal.”

Grilled octopus with almond tarator, rocket and lime relish. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

The new menu features a mix of small tapas-style dishes as well as modern Australian and Asian-inspired mains – including grilled octopus with almond tarator (sauce), rocket and lime relish; gin-cured kingfish sashimi with ginger soy dressing, avocado yoghurt, salmon roe and sorrels and horseradish furikake, and chargrilled kangaroo fillet with roasted broccolini, chestnuts and chimichurri sauce.

“We’ve got quite an extensive wine list, too, with about 90 wines, which, for a pub, is a big list,” Vandepeer says.

“We’re really lucky in South Australia to have so much choice and quality and we really wanted to honour that in the wine list.”

Along with the menu revamp, Vandepeer has also conducted minor renovations, including updating the pub’s interior design (with the help of his interior designer wife, Josie Vandepeer), re-fitting the kitchen and removing the hotel’s beer garden barbecue to create more room for diners.

The overall intention, he says, was to “keep the charm and the old-world feel of the pub but bring it a little bit more up to date”.

Guy Vandepeer enlisted the help of his wife, Josie Vandepeer, to help with the interior design. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“We tried very much to be very sympathetic to the building’s history.

“There’s a new pressed-tin feature wall that’s been built and I’ve reinstated the old signs out the front as well.”

Cheung says the British has become “a lot more gentrified” from when he previously worked there.

“You can see the customer is changing,” he says. “When people came here [before], they just wanted quick bar meals; people also always thought of it [the hotel] as a steak house.

“This year I think people have stared to want more of the dining meals; they are wanting to try the whole menu”.

Vandepeer is also hoping a more upmarket dining experience will attract a loyal customer base.

“I think running a business anywhere in Adelaide at the moment is pretty challenging,” he says.

“We do get the advantage of the proximity to Adelaide Oval, but obviously that’s predominately only when it’s football season.

“We just want to keep the quality up and keep the menu changing and that way people will want to keep coming back.”

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