The Dog in a Doublet

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↑ John McGinn , chef-patron of The Dog in a Doublet

In 2007, John McGinn packed in his job as a civil engineer and headed to London to compete in MasterChef. Seven years on, having cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens, he’s chef and owner of his dream gastro pub: the Dog in a Doublet, near Whittlesey. Using some inspired, MasterChef-style processes, locally sourced ingredients and awesome expertise, John takes staple British comfort food dishes – fish and chips, bangers and mash, prawn cocktail – and reinvents them in stunning fashion. It just goes to show that you really can teach an old dog new tricks... TOBY VENABLES talked to him

I would call it British pub food at its finest. It’s not fine dining. It’s really informal. You come in and you can chat to the staff, chat to me – but we take good British pub grub and we put our signature on it. It very much looks like a pub when you enter – then in the restaurant we’ve got wooden floors all the way through, to give it that old feel. We’ve kept as much of the old building as possible. When we came in here two and a half years ago, the place was a wreck. We bought it by torchlight, walking on planks where there were no floors, no ceilings, but my civil engineer past came into full effect and we got it open in five months. We’ve had two refurbs since then and we’re nearly done – the B&B rooms upstairs are just being finished – but we’ve built a reputation on food. We’re in the top five now in Peterborough.

‘We use techniques normally only found in Michelin star establishments’

Staff are always telling me that they’re getting wows when the food goes out – we use techniques normally only found in Michelin star establishments but try not to push people too far from their comfort zone. We feel that we are part of the food revolution happening in the Peterborough area. That has really come on leaps and bounds in the last five years with people like Lee Clarke (Clarkes restaurant) pioneering the way.

Take the fish and chips… I worked with the Petrus brothers for years, because they head-hunted me to open their first restaurant. They taught me about fish and chips. And I honestly don’t think my fish and chips can get any better. We’ve tweaked it and tweaked it. I’ve got three-times cooked chips, and we freeze dry them before the final cooking, so they get a really dry crust around them. Then we squeeze them a little bit so they crack open, then fry them in duck fat. And it’s like opening the best bag of chips from a chip shop where they’re all a little bit broken up with these ragged edges. The fish is beautiful. We use loin of cod, but then I wrap it in some Nori seaweed, so you get the really salty flavour from that, and then it’s battered, and I serve it with the skin on the side – marinated in sugar and lime juice, which is a bit of a Thai influence – then we tempura that, and it’s like a crispy stick flavoured with the sea.

‘The mash is made with the taste of bonfire baked potatoes…’

Then we serve that with Barry Norman’s pickled onions! The sausage and mash… Staple pub grub. But we use three different sausages. At the moment I’m using a smoked sausage from Rutland, a garlic sausage from Wurzel’s, over Wisbech way, and then one of our own from our own pigs, with sage and nutmeg. So you’ve got three different flavours. The gravy we make with chicken stock – because people make this mistake when doing sausage and mash of using beef gravy, and beef and pork are not a good match. So we make a really good… [cont]

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