Turning the corner onto Boot Hill in Repton, the self-proclaimed capital of Mercia, I immediately thought “I should have arrived on a horse!” Everything seemed to be linked to the past and, in all honesty, I love that. The Boot, a 17th Century coaching Inn, is owned, managed and run by people with a fierce passion for what they do… and they’re very good at it.
Rewarded for their success with a second AA Rosette in two years is testament to Chef Rob Taylor’s passion for food supported by his highly trained kitchen team who maintain that standard when he isn’t around. At front of house is Manager Rick Graham, who exudes the same enthusiasm for customer care. Drinking a cup of coffee chatting with Rob and Rick I could see that both are keen to keep pushing ‘The Boot’ forward with expansion of the team, more training and menu development. Chef Rob has his own allotment where he grows various things to take home and experiment with, creating new recipes and dishes which he can then introduce to the restaurant when he is satisfied. He is proud to be sourcing food from local suppliers including dry aged beef from Tori and Ben’s Farm Butchery in Melbourne where their sister business ‘Harpurs’ is situated.
Rob and Rick have thoroughly enjoyed their three and a half year journey working in tandem and they have a good sense of humour too which I enjoyed. When you book a table it’s yours for the evening should you so wish. They both were quite adamant at this point that those who visit ‘The Boot’ should enjoy the experience from the high quality accommodation to their award -winning food.
In for a pint at ‘The Boot’.
A highlight too of my visit was to enjoy a pint of beer produced from their own, on site brewery.
As creatures of habit, a beer drinker will generally stick to what he knows. When faced with a bar full of pumps with beer names never seen before the mind gets very confused. Various areas of the country sport their own particular ales and tucked behind the ‘The Boot’ is the Boot Micro Brewery from which flows thousands of pints of the finest quality beers which are on sale at ‘The Boot’ Repton, ‘Harpur’s of Melbourne and The Dragon at Willington.
Head Brewer Jon Archer took over the brewing just over a year ago. I asked Jon what his background was. He replied “33 years in IT”, I wasn’t expecting that. There’s obviously more to this tale and it transpired that he was an avid home brewer, a skill he developed to replicate brewing at a small commercial level. So, when the offer came from the owners of ‘The Boot’ at Repton, to manage and develop their micro brewery, it was an unmissable opportunity. Home brewing is an art this author never perfected and after two failed attempts and two bouts of illness after drinking it(!) I decided to leave it to the experts and stay firmly on the customer side of the bar.
Jon explained the ins and outs of brewing to me and it’s a pretty straightforward process which becomes very complicated when trying to maintain consistency. I was taken aback by the control exercised over brewing a popular beer to maintain consistency and satisfy the regular ‘same pint’ drinker. Asking anyone how they like their beer will elicit numerous replies ‘hoppy, malty, fruity, strong, dark, pale” are among many of the responses, but how do you cater for that on the bar.
Much can depend on type of hop, where it comes from, yeast used etc. John selects the finest hops from around the country and from abroad to blend them into great tasting beer.
The latest brew ‘Willow’ was launched in April and, as a low alcohol light ale, is harder to brew because low alcohol beers can feel too thin so need building up, but to his credit it has gone really well and is proving extremely popular.
I watched as Jon checked the progress of fermentation in stage for the latest batch of ‘Clod Hopper’ which gave me an insight to the accurate records needed to maintain consistency. Ten percent of this, so much of that, this specific temperature and much more. (The exact details are a secret though and not for my eyes!) This is recorded ready for the next batch. Jon shared with me his knowledge of how life works in the Boot brewery, from designing to creating a beer influenced by Jon’s skilled palette which is suitable for production.
I smiled as he took me to see and taste a drink in its early stages of creation, of which the base ingredient was rhubarb. I love rhubarb crumble, but I’ve never drunk it! The first taste was quite pleasant and I thought maybe a good drink but then came the next tasting made with a different yeast which took it to a whole different level on the taste buds. And that, as they say is the crux of the matter, the master brewer, in this case Jon, is using his skills and taste buds to create something everyone will love. Some of his great creations haven’t made it to front of house yet as they are still being developed. Passion and creativity rules everywhere at ‘The Boot’.
By now it was time for lunch and, having been shown the brewery I needed to sample some of the 13 ales! Obviously, that’s not practical so Jon just let me select one that I fancied from the bar. At this point I wished I had come on a horse because I could just have jumped on and said, “Home Trigger”.
It seems to me that whatever your passion, you’re going to be very spoilt at ‘The Boot’, the gastronomic hidden gem capital of Mercia.