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Good food is jewel in crown when credit crunch bites

PUBLISHED: 16:48 20 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:57 07 September 2010

With the recession biting, more and more people are staying at home in the evenings rather than eating and drinking on their doorsteps. Tan Parsons visits a Highgate pub to gauge the mood and hear about fighting the credit crunch GOOD food and a relax

With the recession biting, more and more people are staying at home in the evenings rather than eating and drinking on their doorsteps.

Tan Parsons visits a Highgate pub to gauge the mood and hear about fighting the credit crunch

GOOD food and a relaxed atmosphere are the key to surviving the recession, according to the owners of a new restaurant in Highgate.

The Rose and Crown's head chef and proprietor Gareth Thomas was a promising Welsh rugby player before injury cut his career short, but since setting up the business with his father he seems to have found his second calling.

This weekend he was unable to watch his beloved national rugby team beat England in the Six Nations because he was busy in the kitchen.

"I enjoyed hearing the result, and I've recorded the game so I'm hoping to watch it tonight," he said on Monday.

He admits that after a back injury closed the doors on his rugby career, he felt a bit lost for a time. But the adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere of a kitchen has more than filled the void, and he is optimistic about the future.

"It's what I love - this is the best thing I've ever done. It's just exciting for me. It's hard times right now, we all know that, but they are going to start turning soon."

He learned his trade under top chefs including Gary Rhodes and Jean-Christophe Novelli, but he is determined to do it in his own way.

"I cook in the same way they do and with the same ingredients but without any of the pretentiousness. Everyone's got a little bit of pretension in them, especially chefs, but I just want there to be a relaxed atmosphere. That's what I'm all about really."

Alongside him at the Rose and Crown is manager Jo Parker. She met the chef when they worked together at a pub in Canary Wharf two years ago.

She said: "Affordable prices and good quality food are what keeps people coming back. Most of our wines are under £20 and the portions of food are substantial - it doesn't need to be a special occasion for people to come and have a bottle of wine with their meals. The atmosphere is something that is really important."

In the restaurant they favour traditional white table cloths and there is certainly a feel of fine dining, but their secret is not to be too formal.

"The community in Highgate has been really fantastic - in our first week we had cards from people wishing us luck and it was just word of mouth that got us going to start with."

Although business is taking off in the restaurant, their main challenge currently lies in building up custom in their bar area.

"We want to let people know that this is also a place where they can just come for a drink as well as going to have a meal," added Ms Parker.

"Beer is expensive at the moment, but we try not to let the financial climate affect us too much. Our cheapest pint is £2.80, but we do have some premium brands as well."

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