Simon Turner, one of Norfolk’s most passionate chefs, and his partner Jenny Hay took over The Boars at Spooner Row almost three years ago, and they haven’t looked back. As autumn arrives, Simon and Jenny are looking forward more than ever, with a strong team in place besides them and new menus on the way. Samantha Mattocks catches up with Jenny, Simon and The Boars – names that will always be linked together and synonymous with good food, good wine, and a relaxed vibe perfect for catching up with friends.
The Boars has a long-standing reputation as being both the heart of the Spooner Row as well as a destination pub for food and drink lovers throughout the region. Since Jenny and Simon took over in 2019, they have doubled down on this reputation by offering the friendliest and warmest welcome you will find, backing that up with fantastic food, drinks, and service.
In spite of the pandemic, The Boars continues to thrive. During the lockdowns of the past 18 months, the couple have managed to maintain the pub’s reputation as a hub for locals, offering delicious Batter Down the Hatches takeaways as well as a chance for people to have a moment of ‘everyday’ amid the strange world that we all found ourselves in.
This determination and drive comes from the incredible wealth of experience that Jenny and Simon have of working in the hospitality sector. As a teenager, Jenny worked at Gibralter Gardens and the York Tavern in Norwich. Clearly suited to a career in pubs, after a stint working for Café Rouge, Jenny has worked in gastropubs ever since. Everywhere she works, she brings a relaxed, positive, and friendly service style. Jenny is passionate about her food and drink, and she is a great host.
As for Simon, he was first introduced to food through The Good Food Shop that his parents ran in the 1980s in Surrey. Among his earliest memories were helping to make quiches, and then eating hot baguettes with Predou herb cheese for lunch out the back of the kitchen. Having graduated in French and Management, he threw the dice and gambled on a career as a chef/Patron.
In 2005, Simon opened Elm Hill Brasserie in spite of never having worked in a kitchen, or even in a bar, in his life. However, it all came naturally to him, and Simon has been creating beautiful dishes for happy and fulfilled customers ever since. More importantly, since the very beginning of his Elm Hill days, a deep love for hospitality followed, and Simon’s mantra has always been “our guests should always leave happier than when they arrive. If you can pay the bills by making people happy, then you will enjoy your job”. Wise words indeed.
Simon’s cooking style is very much influenced through his time spent in France as a child, as well as living in Liege in Belgium with its classic French cooking. Now, he loves combining a Basque style with an overall Mediterranean influence, a style that is built upon each year as he and Jenny holiday in the region with their five-year old daughter, Isabelle. Underlining every dish, however, is seasonality, something that is important to them.
“At The Boars, we try to cook food that people want to eat,” he explains. “We want to give you food that you will want to come back for, food that perhaps reminds you of being on a holiday in France or at the seaside. We really only want to cook food that makes you happy. We are not trying to change the gastronomic world here – we just love making dishes from scratch and keeping them as simple and well executed as we can. I would say that it is impossible to define a signature dish, as it all depends on what is in season and what sort of mood you are in. No two days are the same, and that is part of what makes our job so interesting.”
One thing that The Boars has done differently is their small plates. Simon explains: “Rather than the boring ‘sharing board’, where you are left to choose either a fish, meat or veggie board that inevitably has something you don’t want on it, we have done away with starters and boards altogether in favour of a dozen or so small plates that can be combined in sets of four to make your own personal sharing plate. They are incredibly popular, and we all love them as well.”
These sharing plates currently include gin cured salmon with avocado purée, lime and coriander, Merguez sausages with harissa, Spanish tomato bread, and whipped goat curd with toasted hazelnuts and pickled courgette. Not only are these plates full of flavour, but they are also great value at £20 for four plates. No wonder they are so incredibly popular.
The whole menu is tempting, and it is the little flavour bombs that Simon has created which make each dish so special. A great example of this is the unctuous tomato and chilli jam that comes with the house burgers – with beef, chicken, halloumi, and their ‘unconventional’ vegan burgers all on offer. The jam just adds that extra layer of taste and reminds you of sun-drenched days spent on Spanish beaches.
Of course, with the seasons changing, so will the menu too, and Simon is already looking to autumn and all that she offers. “Let’s be frank, the summer weather has been rubbish!” he laughs. “But autumn is a great time to be in the food and drink industry. You can get the odd slow cooked, hearty dish on the menu. Game and wild mushrooms are coming in. Blackberries and plums are in season – which means that crumbles will be back on a Sunday. It also means that it will be harder to get a table for our traditional Sunday roast!”
At the centre of all this delicious food, however, is a strong team. “Just as The Boars is the heart of the community, we also like to create a family, community feel for our team,” explain Simon and Jenny. “Wherever possible, we would rather our guests talk about their experience throughout their visit, no matter who is working. We want there to be a ‘Boars experience’ rather than it be about individual egos. It takes time to build that, but we have come out of lockdown closer than ever. I believe we all genuinely look forward to seeing each other, nearly every day!
“Obviously COVID has had a huge impact on our sector, and some businesses will never recover. It was a worrying and scary time, and it became very difficult to know what to expect next. There is still a natural apprehension about the coming winter and what possible lockdowns or restrictions may still be on the horizon.
“Through all that, we have learned never to take your trade for granted, and we have given our everything to be open every single day that the government allowed. The last 18 months or so has really shown that we need to make the most of being out and being at work because you never know when it might be taken away – something we never would have thought about before.
“As a team, we are incredibly proud that we have come back stronger, busier, and better than ever. Nobody in our team quit after lockdown, and we have now started to successfully recruit new people to help look after the increase in business. We have also been able to promote and develop a local young team, offering them great prospects in a difficult time. For example, we have just promoted Tom to Sous Chef. He is just 19 and he has worked incredibly hard and has become a key part of our team. He is a true ambassador for our lovely pub.”
It seems as though The Boars is more than ready to pick up where they left off 18 months ago, and Simon, Jenny, and the whole team have a renewed vigour behind them. Part of this is down to their passion and love for what they do – not just as hospitality professionals, but at The Boars and all that it stands for.
“On days off, the team often find themselves drifting back to the pub for food or drinks, or just to hang out a bit with the other guys,” says Jenny. “It is all about team work and if we are relaxing after a shift, it is always with the team. The kitchen crew will usually favour a cold beer after the incredible heat of our tiny kitchen and, if that stretches into two drinks, then we will be having some of our small plates that we all love, or some cheese from our menu, and maybe a glass of delicious wine. Simple pleasures such as this are why we do what we do, and we all feel incredibly lucky to fully open the doors of our lovely destination gastropub once more.”
- The Boars is open seven days a week, 365 days a year. breakfast is served weekend only from 9am, with a pink grapefruit gin and tonic on offer, all the way through to lunch and dinner service seven days a week. Whether inside the restaurant, or in the heated, covered garden, enjoying the regular menu or the daily specials, there is something on offer for everyone. Find out more at www.theboars.co.uk