Five minutes with Tom Peake, gastropub owner

Hot Dinners caught up recently with Renaissance Pubs’ Tom Peake at the reopening of the group’s Abbeville gastropub in Clapham to discover a few cunning tricks to think of if you’re considering following in their footsteps.

abbeville-featureYou’ve just reopened the Abbeville – wasn’t this the first gastropub you took on?

Yes.  I have two partners, Mark who is solely operations and Nick who is solely finance. I do all the set up and deal with the PR, maintenance and management.  We started at Cinnamon Cay ten years ago, which we sold last year and [The Abbeville] opened seven years ago.  I started up as a barman and Mark ran places.  Over the years you learn a lot.

You concentrated your market around South London, does that mean you’ll always stick with that?

No – although people do think we’re focused on this area. I grew up a mile from here so I know this part of London very well, but we always look everywhere from Notting Hill, through West London and further south east from here towards Camberwell.

What makes a pub worthy of your notice?

It’s a combination of things.  Obviously it needs to be the right size, which is something we learned with our restaurant.  Cinnamon Cay was a 45 cover restaurant. That’s perfect for family set-up where you have the husband in the kitchen and wife up front or vice versa. But there are three of us in business together – so for us it needs to be a certain size. We’ve looked very seriously at a number of pubs which we haven’t taken on.

It’s size, it’s feel, it’s potential.  Ideally it also needs an outside space, but it’s just got to fit with the area, so you need to have a sense of that.  I guess that’s why we’ve always loved places in this neck of the woods.

Do you have any cunning tips that you could pass on to anyone thinking of going into this business?

One of the things I do is that I go and sit outside the nearest tube station in rush hour, especially if I don’t know the area particularly well. Then you can see who it is that lives there.  It’s a simple little trick – you get a really good feel, seeing how they dress, whether they’re young professionals or artistic, and you get a sense of money.  You just have to soak up the local area.

Now that the Abbeville has reopened, are you working on anything else?

Not at the moment, because the Avalon, about half a mile up the road – our biggest with a very big garden – was a huge investment.  After opening that in October last year, we decided to leave it at that.  But having said that, there are a lot of more interesting pubs coming up.  So I think we’re keeping an eye out but we’re not planning. We’ll just go with the opportunities.

Where’s the best meal you’ve had recently?

Probably Mark Hix.  I find what he’s done quite inspiring, and I also went to his place in Lyme Regis a couple of months ago.  Very simple, very classic and very good.  I’m always drawn to simplicity, not tablecloths or Michelin Stars.

Where would you recommend if you wanted to give someone a sense of London dining if they were looking for a high-end dining experience?

I ate at Gordon Ramsay’s place on Hospital Road, a couple of weeks ago – with all the grief he’s got, it was still a knockout meal.  So it’s probably more the classic places, like Scott’s, which I would also recommend. That’s one of those places where you walk through the door and you’re quite excited.  Sometimes it’s hard to say how much you’re seduced by the status of the place.  Quo Vadis too – those classic places as opposed to the sexy new restaurants, which says probably more about me.

Find out more information about the gastropubs owned by Renaissance pubs.