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Food & Drink: The Running Horse, Mayfair

Wednesday 11 December 2013

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Words Lizzie

The Running Horse is far from your average pub. You won’t get a dried bit of lemon in your drink, be palmed off with cheap spirits or offered a substandard microwavable meal. James Chase and Dominic Jacob have refurbished a Mayfair Gem, providing unusual, tasty cocktails and traditional British food. With the Whip (an exclusive cocktail bar) opening above The Running Horse soon, what better place to escape the havoc of Christmas Shopping on Bond Street.

Drinkswise, The Running Horse has Chase Gin and Vodka on tap. Combine this with Dom’s experience at Harvey Nic’s and Sketch and you get innovative, seasonal cocktails that you will not find anywhere else. Oh, and I forgot to mention they have a previous master chef contestant (CHEF JUSTICE) in the Kitchen.

I arrived at the Running Horse at 6.30 – after work drinks were in full swing but I was still easily able to get a drink. Being a bit overwhelmed by the options (quince fizz, marmalade mule, Beetroot Lemon Balm Sours – the list goes on), I settled for a Blackberry and IPA Tankard. Fresh Blackberries, Stem Ginger, Chase RhubarbVodka, Pressed Lemon and IPA. LOOK AT THE SIZE OF IT.

Blackberry and IPA Tankard

I then went full throttle and tried the Beetroot Lemon Balm Sours – apparently beetroot is in season. Mixing gin, beetroot juice, pressed lemon, lemon balm, egg white and honey, I was apprehensive. Who knew beetroot could taste so good?! If you aren’t into cocktails and beer is more your thing, there are numerous unusual craft beers to try, from the Beavertown Black Betty (at 7.4% it packs a punch) to Hardknott Cool Fusion.

Foodwise, bar snacks go a bit further than a bag of pork scratchings. Wild Boar sausages in Cider, Cornish native crab fritters and venison scotch eggs to name our favourites.  If you are in it for the long haul, feast on a chopped burger – juicy, seasoned and it comes with Jockey’s whips (nice bit of cockney rhyming there). And finally, if you are still not full then tuck into a sweet Plum crumble.

Running Horse Sharing Platter (the beer unfortunately doesn't come with it)

Running Horse Sharing Platter (the beer unfortunately doesn’t come with it)

Chopped Burger with Jockey's Whips

Chopped Burger with Jockey’s Whips

We chatted to James and Dominic after our feast of cocktails and British, Seasonal Food about the Running Horse and some of their frustrations with British pub culture.

How did you both meet and when did you realise you wanted to own a bar/restaurant?
I met James on the first Distillery tour that Chase organised whilst I ran a bar in Leeds. We began looking for sites in 2011 when we realized we had a very similar approach and business and outlook on the Hospitality industry. We were both very focused on the perfect site so held out until we found it in The Running Horse.

Is there a particular pub or experience that inspired you to own a Public House?
We were both very driven by the amount of openings we saw in London during the ‘recession’.  When you operate bars to a senior level, you can’t help but want to open your own place. James has had the opportunity to visit places all over the world as well as London so has one of the most rounded views of the drinking industry you will see. We both saw the likes of Russell Norman as very inspirational in creating hospitality brands. Not that many independent pubs are founded from a drinks background and we found a very exciting gap in the market there. Visiting Dead Rabbit in New York confirmed this for us. We always asked ourselves how people would react to a high end cocktail bar above a pub and seeing effectively just that in the Dead Rabbit secured our thoughts to open up a cocktail bar above the Running Horse.

What do you both believe makes a good pub and why is The Running Horse unique?
In our opinion a pub should form a big part of the local community, offering something for everyone. I see so much press about the decline of pubs in the UK, but the amount of times you go to pubs and have awful wine, dried up lemon wedges or dreadful coffee, it is not surprising they close down. We believe that a pub should make all feel content and happy whether they choose to have a cask ale, draft lager, cosmopolitan or cappuccino. This is why we have invested time and money in our selection to keep everyone happy. That paired with a food selection created with care and attention, not as an afterthought creates a good pub.

 Do you both have a lot of involvement in the cocktail menu/making?
We are both very involved. We are at the Pub everyday from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. We don’t find this a chore, we really enjoy it. We will both always be heavily involved in all of those decisions. We never want a bog standard menu which is roled out lots of sites. Each drink is carefully thought through to appeal to the local audience and fit the venue. These change regularly to reflect the seasons.

The current menu involves a lot of beetroot (including a DELICIOUS cocktail) – is there a reason behind?
Beetroot was in season and it is a great product. We always look for flavours which are in season and reflect our UK heritage. It is also nice to include ingredients in drinks in a way they might not be expected. Our beetroot sour is a fantastic drink which customers love!

The Whip (cocktail bar)  is situated above The Running Horse – what are customers likely to expect and where did you source the incredible Kentucky Derby inspired interior?
The Whip is going to be a fantastic new addition to the Mayfair drinking scene. We wanted to offer a bar which is lively, not pretentious and a true drinking experience in an area which is renowned for hotel bars. We have always wanted to combine superb quality drinks with a fun, lively atmosphere, something which always seams to be one or the other in most London bars. Horse racing is one of the most exciting things you can experience and we wanted to capture that excitement in a cocktail bar.

The Whip will focus on The Julep style cocktail which is renowned as the drink of the Kentucky Derby. We will of course be putting our English twist on this drink as well as serving the original Mint Julep. Our drinks will be very seasonal and we will work closely with our kitchen to deliver this seasonality in a sustainable manor. The interior was all designed by James and I.

We do not have any budgets to bring people in for it so everything has been designed and picked from us. We took inspiration from the images you associate with a racecourse. In the most beautiful green setting, you have injections of wacky colours from the Jockeys Silks. Theming your bar around jockeys gives you a license to have a lot of fun. There are few opportunities in life you get the excuse to paint a wall with bright turquoise stripes! The furniture was all individually chosen by us from various antiques fairs – a lengthy process but helps give character to a venue.

Words: Lizzie Ashby

Twitter: @trendandtell