Emma Brophy meets the man behind The Old Stationhouse
Take the traditional image of a pub landlord, turn it on its head and you’ll come up with something close to Jordan Swinscoe. This fact I discovered when I accepted a invitation from him to have lunch at The Old Stationhouse.
With a growing portfolio of thriving venues situated in the some of West London’s smartest postcodes, Swinscoe’s most recent project has been the transformation of the former Grove Park Hotel into The Old Stationhouse. “I couldn’t believe it when the lease came up for sale here,” he tells me as we sit soaking up the sunshine in the pub’s recently renovated courtyard. “It was a great opportunity to take this building with its amazing architecture and really do something with it.”
His genuine enthusiasm for The Old Stationhouse is apparent as he gives me a guided tour of the interior of which he has overseen every tiny detail from the installation of mirrors in the pub’s traditional wood panelling to restoring the fireplaces back to working order. Even the dilemma of whether flowers or candles should be placed on the mantles receives his considered attention (I know this because my opinion was sought on the matter – he went with the flowers).
But it is this painstaking attention to detail that Swinscoe believes sets his venues apart. “At the end of the day a pub is a pub and you’d have to be very brave to try and change one completely. The thing is to not try and wear too many hats, just focus on what you do best and do it well. This place had been neglected for such a long time it needed someone to take it on. The Spirit Group had taken the decision to sell 500 of their sites so they stopped spending money on them.”
Although he doesn’t live locally (he lives in Earls Court with his wife and children) I was able to spot a chink in Swinscoe’s zest for Chiswick. “I love it here,” he enthused, “I even get garage envy. Can you believe people have garages here? It feels like you’re in the countryside with the river just down the road. The more time I spend here, the more I like it.”
The Old Stationhouse is managed by Bardi Berisha who moved from Tom Conran’s pioneer of gastro pubs The Cow 13 years ago to work with Swinscoe. Over that time Berisha has emulated Swinscoe’s midas touch with Priory House in Brook Green, Westbourne House in Westbourne Grove and Notting Hill’s Station House. Though they are a small ‘chain’, each site has a different concept with The Oldstationhouse given the title of a ‘fine dining pub’. “Why ‘fine dining’?” I ask.
“It’s the word ‘gastro’” says Swinscoe “I just don’t like it, I think it’s passé. I wanted to use wording that said this is more than just a pub; it’s somewhere where you can get a decent plate of food too.
“Also I think I’ve made it more female friendly. We’ve still got two screens to show the big sporting events but the sound is off in the dining room so if people want to eat in peace, they can. Likewise if women want to go out somewhere and know they’re not going to be surrounded by men shouting at a screen then this is the place for them.”
I wanted to be offended by his last remark (I’ve done my fair share of shouting at screens) but it’s hard to deny Swinscoe the benefit of the doubt that his statement is more chivalrous than chauvinistic. That said he is clearly a savvy businessman with an eye for a good business opportunity - his track record is testament to that - but that did not prevent him from being genuinely interested in my opinion of The Old Stationhouse.
“Your best offering is your daily specials,” I informed him. “A good goat’s cheese salad, steak or a risotto with a glass or two of wine is a perfect lunch or dinner and, I believe, decent enough value at around £12.”
“That’s it,” he smiles, “It’s simplicity done well.”
June 14, 2008