Queens Hill, Belbroughton, Worcestershire DY9 0DU. Tel: 01562 730 276
Birmingham lost one of its most talented and likeable chefs (the two aren’t always mutually exclusive) when Andy Waters shipped out of the city in the spring.
Waters left Edmunds in Brindleyplace to escape the... how shall we put this?... stormy waters that hit the restaurant.
The chef walked away in the wake of a little local difficulty with other members of the then partnership. Edmunds still exists and is still called Edmunds, albeit the restaurant was named after Waters’ late father. It’s an interesting exercise in brand identification, a bit like calling a restaurant Gordon Ramsay when the bloke who set it up has moved on and got nothing to do with it.
Still, it isn’t Edmunds I went to cast an eye and a tongue over, but rather Waters’ new venture. For the past few months, the chef has been running The Queens, a pub in the Worcestershire village of Belbroughton. He has brought with him some of his old team from the place that is named after his dear father (even though Waters isn’t there).
Am I labouring the point? I can’t believe the new chef, talented Frenchman Didier Philipot, wants to live in the shadow of the former head chef and trade under the name of that chef’s dad. Still, I’m a hack, not a restaurateur. What do I know?
Belbroughton ticks all the rural escape boxes – it is name checked in the Domesday Book, it has a stream for Pooh-sticks and a very old church. Judging by The Queens’ car park, it also has the highest ratio of Bentleys and Mercs per capita in the West Midlands.
Yet the village is only a short hop down the M5 from Birmingham. I found the pub without getting lost or having to stop for sandwiches and a flask of tea.
Waters’ confidence in his abilities remains intact despite the bruising Battle of Brindleyplace. With his track record, he could have had his pick of those pubs that hold a virtual monopoly in their local area. But the chef has moved with his wife and restaurant manager Beverley to an area teaming with dining options.
There are a number of other dining pubs in the village itself. Roger and Jo Narbett’s award-winning The Bell & Cross is within spitting distance at Holy Cross. Then there is The Fountain, which has a fierce, almost pathological local following. When I wrote about The Fountain, I spurred the green ink brigade into letter-writing action. So I won’t mention the pub’s unique charms again.
The Bell & Cross, in particular, serves good food in a lovely, unfussy environment and habitually takes the gong as Worcestershire’s dining pub of the year. Things may be about to change though.
There’s a new kid in town, albeit one who’s been round the block a bit via Lyon, Warwickshire and Birmingham, picking up a Michelin star on his travels. Whatever the view of the food guide writers, it’s a win-win for the local people of Belbroughton and Clent.
And having two such establishments so near to each other could well pull in a new market to the area.
Waters has taken over at The Queens, a 16th century pub, in a partnership with millionaire Black Country entrepreneur Jim Driscoll, who made a mint creating the animated TV series The Shoe People in the 1980s. (I know, I don’t remember it either, but well done Jim.)
The interior has had a gentle make-over, with purple hues and the odd cushion being introduced to soften the atmosphere without falling into the trap of making the place look like Victoria Beckham’s dressing room. The Queens still feels very much like a pub, somewhere you can go for a pint as well as a plate of good food.
The place, thankfully, lacks that self-aware gastro-pub smugness. Gastronomy is undoubtedly here but it doesn’t have to shout about it.
If it has been a jolt for Waters going from lavish restaurant dining to pub cooking, he doesn’t show it. He has rightly decided to take things slowly, putting traditional pub food front and centre while hinting at the flourishes that may lie ahead.