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Local heroes: The Foragers

- February 23, 2012

The Foragers opened back in 2006 to immediate acclaim. They were not only at the forefront of the movement to buy and eat local produce but also championed foraged foods too. And now, six years on, they are still up there as winners of the prestigious Sussex Food Award for Best Eating Experience. But has much changed since the early days? I met over good coffee and bacon sandwiches with owner Paul Hutchinson to find out more about The Foragers and its future.

“The biggest change has been that Beks has left, deciding to move back to her native Australia to be with her family,” says Paul. “She brought much of the ethos to The Foragers and much of that will stay with us, but we have also moved on. A few years ago I took a good look at what we were doing. I could see that our food was becoming more refined and restaurant like, and yet we were still very much a local pub serving a local audience of loyal regulars. As the food became finer we were leaving our pub roots behind. Although the food was great it was also becoming more expensive and that was certainly not where I wanted to be.

“I have always loved the idea of us being a pub serving local seasonal food. It is great that people see us as a destination dining experience but never at the cost of losing our local regulars. So, more recently we have changed our menus and most importantly our pricing policy,” Paul continues. “We have regular daily specials at affordable prices and we hope that we can keep the cost of a three-course meal at around £20. That’s not always easy when you have a commitment to buying the very best local produce available, but that is our goal. We are still buying all our meat from Natural Farms and our fish is sourced locally as are all our vegetables and bread which comes from the Flint Owl Bakery.”

With this move toward offering finer food while remaining attractive to their local regulars, there is not a ‘typical’ Foragers customer. The restaurant attracts a wide cross section of people: young couples, older couples and families with children – much like Paul’s own family. “We encourage families and offer not only a small menu suitable for very young children but also half portions from the full menu for older ones,” says Paul. “I love the idea of introducing young children to good food.”

“The days of dainty, fine-dining portions are behind us! I like to see a decent meal on a plate and I like to see our customers’ faces when they see that too”

Is there still an element of foraging in the menu? “Foraging has become less easy to do, as there were legal issues for many foragers that simply could not be overcome,” Paul replies. “One of our chefs is a keen forager still but it is not a resource that we can rely on for our stable menu. Right now we are mostly focusing on serving the best of seasonal produce that we can buy from local growers and suppliers. And our food is a little more robust too, the days of dainty, fine-dining portions are definitely behind us. I like to see a decent meal on a plate and I like to see the faces of our customers when they see that too.”

Winning the title of ‘Best Eating Experience’ in the Sussex Food Awards is a tremendous accolade. Paul is already seeing the effects of winning the award: “It is great to be recognised for doing what we are doing in our kitchen and for our support of local foods. This is the third time we have been in the final so winning at last is fantastic.”

Paul also runs The King’s Head in Lewes, a traditional country pub that is receiving similar acclaim for its ales and fine foods as The Foragers. “The King’s Head is working well and, again, has a very strong local feel and local support,” says Paul. “But it is a big project that will take time. There are rooms upstairs that we hope to open very soon offering accommodation alongside the food and, of course, the pub.”

So, is the word pub central to The Foragers’ philosophy? “Yes, I think now we are very much about being pubs; pubs that serve great food but satisfy that traditional need for a local that serves the local community. We welcome people who want to come in for a pint of Harvey’s as much as those who want a quick bite or a full-on celebration meal.”

At The Foragers they can accommodate parties of up to 30 but in the front bar tables are not reserved, being available on a first come first served basis whether it is for a drink or for dinner. With their prices kept tight, starters are around £5 as are the puddings and main courses from £10 to £14, Paul is confident he can offer customers a great deal.

“This award, and the AA Rosette last year, have been great for us in recognition of what we are doing,” Paul finishes. “But right now we’re focused on giving our customers what they want and in an environment they enjoy. With our chef, Josh Kitson, at the range, we have certainly returned to a more robust style of cooking, a proper plate of food but with all the credibility that we have become known for.”

The Foragers, Stirling Street, Hove, BN3 3YU,
01273 733134,
Open 12pm–12am daily. Lunch served Monday to Friday, 12pm–3pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm–4pm; dinner served Monday to Saturday, 6pm–10pm.

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