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Feature

The Master Cellarman Of Barnes

Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011

Angus McKean and Claire Morgan faced a daunting task when they took over the Red Lion in Barnes, South-west London. They had to convince loyal drinkers they wouldn't turn the popular local into a gastro-pub at the same time as they sensitively improved the food side of the business.

And Angus, a trained chef, was determined to win the coveted Fuller's Master Cellarman of the Year award which meant spending as much time looking after the beer as preparing meals in the kitchen.

But the transition has worked. Angus and Claire arrived at the Red Lion in January 2003 and have cleverly established it as both a genuine community local and a place where you can enjoy a first-class meal. It's a difficult balancing act but the couple who are business as well as social partners with a young child haven't fallen off the wire.

And Angus has finally achieved his ambition. He is the 2007 Fuller's Master Cellarman, seen here (on the left) receiving his award from Fuller's Head Brewer, John Keeling.

Angus has been a professional chef for 20 years and, since working in three Fuller's pubs with Claire, he won the Griffin Pub of the Year award. But the Master Cellarman accolade alluded him.

"The Railway at Carshalton won the award five years in a row," he said. "I was a judge the year after winning the Griffin prize, had a good look at the Railway's cellar and then redesigned my cellar at the Red Lion."

At the same time, with Claire's support, he had to rebuild confidence in the pub among its locals. The Georgian pub at 2 Castelnau, SW13, is no stranger to redesigns, as the 20th century Art Nouveau and Art Deco touches prove. It stands next to the Barnes Wetland Centre and has an attractive decked patio and large garden as well as a second outside area for smokers.

Inside, the pub's long and elegant area at the rear has the air of a Belgian bar, with wood panelling, open fire, sofas, leather chairs and soft lighting. Beyond the long servery, the pub is bright and spacious, with tables for both drinkers and diners.

Until 2003, the Red Lion was a two-bar pub. Controversy arose when Fuller's knocked the rooms through and improved the food. Locals kicked up a fuss and campaigned against the pub becoming an outlet for foodies. The fuss didn't die down until Angus and Claire took over. The food side had been over-pitched, Angus said. We brought it back to being a traditional pub with both real ale and good food. We get rugby players in on a Saturday they want beer and crisps, not a gastro-pub.

Claire's experience is front of house. She has worked in hotels and trained with Greene King before joining Fuller's. Her only known fault is not being a keen follower of rugby. She once told a man to stop kicking a rugby ball next to the pub garden as it was annoying her customers. He picked up his ball and left. Only then did Claire learn that the man in question was...Lawrence Dallaglio.

When the partners took over, the Red Lion served just two cask beers. Now it offers Fuller's Discovery. London Pride and ESB along with Gales HSB. It also serves Leffe and Honey Dew in keg form, and Carling, Grolsch and Staropramen lagers. Angus is delighted that it's his cask beers that are showing a growth in sales.

Food ranges from a full English breakfast served until 1pm for late risers such starters and snacks as sandwiches; chicken liver pate; corned beer fritters; and red pepper, humus, feta cheese and olive salad; and for mains, roasted butternut squash; wild boar and apple sausages, mash and onions; chicken and leek pie; London Pride battered haddock fillet; pan-fried chicken breast; and 10oz rib eye steak. The portions are more than generous but, if you have room, desserts include dairy honeycomb ice cream; peach and nectarine cheesecake; sticky toffee pudding; and English cheese board.

Angus offers a gargantuan Sunday roast and there are regular barbecues in summer. He plans to develop the British side of his cooking and his Steak Pudding Club meets once a month.

The cellar that finally won him the top Fuller's award is, surprisingly, a ground floor building alongside the pub. Angus moved his beer stocks from the original cellar to their new home. It's immaculate, with casks stillaged on two levels. The room is kept at 13 degrees C. A chiller unit serves Discovery and the keg beers and lagers at a lower temperature while all the beers travel from the storage room to the bar through cooled pythons: the plastic lines carrying the beer are encased in tubing with other lines carrying ice-cold water.

Angus outlined the exhaustive demands of the Master Cellarman scheme. Pubs entered for the award are judged by Fuller's head brewer John Keeling and Trade Quality Manager Emma Watts. Each pub is inspected every three or four months. As well as demanding a clean and tidy cellar, the judges also look at the back of the bar, fridges and beer engines. Pubs are marked out of 50 points. The judges taste all the beers and even check the ullage waste beer levels in cask and kegs. Publicans are expected to throw away waste beer, not attempt to serve it.

A short list of 20 pubs is whittled down to seven. The seven finalists have a beer breakfast at the Chiswick brewery in August and are then taken to CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival at Earl's Court, before the winner is announced. The Red Lion's locals should be happy. Their worst fears didn't materialise: the pub is a genuine community local, serving good beer as well as food, with no pressure on customers to eat. Angus and Claire have struck up an excellent relationship with local CAMRA members.

There's only one bridge that needs to be rebuilt and the next time Lawrence Dallaglio wants to kick his ball, Claire won't order him away.