Frome's best fried chicken flies the coop [WFJ #60]
As the team behind The Griffin’s bar and kitchen relocate to The Artisan, what does this mean for their new home, and their old one?
You might not realise it, but The Griffin experience Frome pub-goers have become accustomed to over the last five years – the one that, for the uninitiated, generally involves locally-brewed hazy beers, fried chicken, and unapologetically over-the-top burgers – is not, actually, a product of the pub itself, but the people behind it.
In other words, the food and drink served at The Griff has largely come off the back of a cooperative leasing the pub. And, as of a few months ago, that cooperative was formalised, under the name ‘Coop Kitchen’.1 Its directors, generally working behind-the-scenes, are Hannah and Malcolm, with front and back of house currently organised by bar manager Georgie, floor manager Lesley, Jordan the head chef, and general manager Rob.
Partly, Coop Kitchen’s moniker and branding is in place so the group can run events outside of any particular venue (Coop Kitchen, for example, are taking part for the first time in Bristol’s Wing Fest this year), and also partly – as a potential eventuality – to serve their food in pub-restaurants, like they also do at The Railway in Ringwood.
More specifically though, the Coop Kitchen banner is unfurling in preparation for a move from The Griffin 700 yards down the road to The Artisan, or what will be re-named as The Ship.2
“When we first started,” Rob tells The WFJ, “We were probably doing 15 or 20 burgers [an evening]. Now, it's just about 200 each on a Friday and Saturday.” Rob describes the current kitchen as “not designed” for that kind of volume, which is perhaps a bit of an understatement – rather, it’s closer to the size of your average garden shed.
Accordingly, upsizing is certainly the theme here – the kitchen at The Artisan is “like three or four times the size of what we've currently got,” Rob says. “We needed a bigger bar, a bigger seating area. We're turning the tables over two, three times a night. Even on a Tuesday or Wednesday, a quiet night at the minute is, like, 100 covers.”
Ostensibly, the team has become part of The Griffin’s fabric. And as such, Rob and co aren’t leaving the pub without a second thought. “It's a shame because we all love to be here,” he says. “We would've loved to stay”. But more room means more opportunity. And more opportunity isn’t necessarily to be sniffed at if it adds to punters’ experiences more than it takes away.
That pretty much sums up what punters can expect at The Ship – more of what they’ve gotten used to eating while at The Griffin, but with the odd tweak. There’s not likely to be much more than that, because while the prospect of a bigger menu or bringing back roasts or ramen might sound alluring, as Rob says, the team prefers “focusing on that one thing, and doing it really well.”
Back under new (but old) management
Of course, all this makes you wonder what this means for The Griffin. Well, as a long-standing local drinking hole, and original home to Frome Brewing Co, head brewer and owner of the pub Rik Lyall doesn’t want to change things up too much.
“I’m looking forward to getting back involved,” he tells The WFJ. “Beer and cider wise, customers shouldn’t see too much of a change – it’s not just going to Frome Brewery beers as we will continue to stock rotating guests from the best local craft breweries. As a brewery we are out delivering in the local area including Bristol on a weekly basis so collecting kegs from all the various Bristol breweries isn’t a problem.”
As for food, Rik says that’s currently in the works, but it’ll likely resemble a core menu throughout the weekend, with more diverse “themed nights” during the week.
And so it goes – The Griffin has served Frome, and functioned as a local especially to those in the Trinity area of town, since at least the early 1700s. For such a, in Rik’s words, “lovely pub with lots of history”, perhaps all will be relieved to hear that’s not changing anytime soon.
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The Griffin will stay open in its current form until 27th April, when it’ll close for a week, with Rik reopening the pub on 2nd May.
After a figurative lick of paint, Coop Kitchen will set up shop at The Ship in late April. At least, Rob says, “as long as renovations go to plan”.
That’s Coop as in ‘kooop’, not ‘co-op’, by the way
The Ship was the pub’s OG name. In recent memory, it’s also gone by The Olive Tree