Barnes might only be a mere ten miles from my house but it represents quite a trek across London, so I very rarely find myself in that part of town. But when I heard about the return of The Great Sausage Roll Off after its two-year break during the pandemic, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to the home of this annual competition, in the leafy environs of this south London village.
The Red Lion in Barnes has been host to the competition for nine years, which this time around involved 16 different sausage rolls, cooked by some of the best chefs in the country. They were judged by a panel of experts including Daniel Clifford, chef-owner of Midsummer House restaurant; restaurateur Simon Rimmer, of Sunday Brunch fame; and UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls.
Former MasterChef winner Mat Folas carried off the winner’s trophy for his Sunday roast-themed sausage roll, but his crowning at the end of a boisterous joy-filled evening seemed almost an aside, because the real winner was the pub and the wider hospitality industry. As well as chefs being able to show off their skills and enjoy a bit of playful competition, the event also raised money for charity through an auction, and local customers were able to attend what felt like a really special event.
For those locals along with guests, participants and judges present, it was certainly a memorable evening that highlighted all the things that are good about the pub – and also classic British cuisine, in this case. It’s such a super formula that I’m pleased to say there are variants on the theme. The oldest of the bunch is the Scotch Egg Challenge, which has traditionally been held at The Guinea in London’s Mayfair under the watchful eye of Oisin Rogers, who has been a great advocate for British pies over the years and who has clearly also been able to turn his hand to the Scotch egg.
A new entrant on to the scene came from the owners of the Kricket restaurant group, who recently launched the Fried Chicken Challenge. The inspiration for the competition came from the group’s signature KFC (Keralan Fried Chicken) dish. The event had the classic components of a judging panel including chef Kerth Gumbs of Sky Garden, critic Jimi Famurewa, of the Evening Standard, and a mysterious chief chicken officer from KFC, sampling the dishes from some quality contestants including chefs representing Around The Cluck, Claridge’s and Daffodil Mulligan.
Ticket revenues went to charity and the winning chicken dish came from the chefs at Black Bear Burger, a blue cheese stuffed chicken wing with fermented chilli hot sauce. The victory will no doubt give a boost to the winning team as it is placing the dish on the menu of its new 20ft Fried Chicken concept at Market Halls Oxford Street.
Such events are undoubtedly hard work and need the enthusiasm of characters like Angus McKean, manager of The Red Lion; Rogers when he was at The Guinea; and Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell at Kricket to make them happen. But this work can pay off handsomely on multiple fronts.
I’m certainly hoping we see more such competitions, even if they are done on a much smaller scale. They clearly don’t necessarily need a judging panel packed with recognised faces, or a list of entrants comprising top chefs from around the country. Local community figures and chefs from nearby establishments could be tempted in to participate. The dish of choice could even be something of a local speciality.
These are tough times for sure, and these initiatives in pubs and restaurants undoubtedly resonate with customers and the local area. If the goodwill and bonhomie present at The Red Lion was anything to go by, then such competitions are a great opportunity to bring people together and reiterate exactly what the hospitality industry is all about. The only downside I can see is that since my visit to Barnes, I’ve not yet been able to even look at another sausage roll.
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.