One of South Kensington’s most beloved pubs, The Hour Glass, has had a makeover. Owners David Turcan and Luke Mackay, who are also behind Brompton Food Market, give The Resident the candid low down on what it takes to get a much-loved pub back up and running
WORDS Mark Kebble
David Turcan and Luke Mackay must thrive under pressure. To a certain degree. ‘I would say I was more or less suicidal,’ says the latter, sinking part of his pint. The cause of his anguish was the fact that, a day before going away with Turcan and a host of friends for a week’s holiday before the grand opening of The Hour Glass, he still hadn’t secured a Head Chef.
‘That was my job,’ he grimaces, not helped by the fact references told him most definitely not to hire one particular chef, and another – ‘Who I was really excited about,’ Mackay adds – who just could not agree on the direction for the menu.
Fast forward to today, and a glowing Fay Maschler review later, it appears alls well that ends well. It was the intervention of a relaxed, already successful Canadian chef – ‘I felt like he was interviewing me,’ Mackay says on Tim Parsons’ preparations – that meant The Hour Glass was ready to open its doors on time.
Considering the two before me are behind the hugely popular Brompton Food Market, just around the corner, meant they knew what this pub was all about. ‘It was really important that this didn’t become a block of flats or a sushi bar,’ Mackay says on the moment when they knew The Hour Glass was available. ‘We didn’t want to go too far of either side of the spectrum. We wanted to make it better, nicer, more efficient, but also someone could walk in who hadn’t been here for 50 years and go, “Oh, The Hour Glass”. We haven’t fundamentally changed the fabric of it.’
We wanted to make it better, nicer, more efficient, but also someone could walk in who hadn’t been here for 50 years and go, “Oh, The Hour Glass”. We haven’t fundamentally changed the fabric of it
Downstairs, the pub remains in position, albeit with a fresh lick of paint and the enthusiasm of Henry Gravells, the live-in landlord, who wants to run a ‘proper pub’ serving immaculately kept beer in unbranded pint glasses. Upstairs, where this interview is taking place, is now the dining area… well, it didn’t exist.
‘There was nothing here,’ Turcan explains. ‘This was the living room of the flat that was lived in by the management couple [who owned the pub originally]. Downstairs is a London pub. What we didn’t want to do is make it a gastropub and have lots of chalkboards and tables down there where you’d only feel comfortable if you were eating. But to make it work for us, we also needed a food offering.’
So began the real work. ‘The only way to do that was to rip out the whole floor completely, so it was just one big open space,’ Mackay continues. ‘Then it’s the fun bit for us, the process of designing what it is going to look like, then undertaking the process of making it real.’
Somehow they managed to get the project completed in around six months and the look is fabulous: every panel you see upstairs was brought in independently, the lights offer a nod to the hour glass shape, the mirrors make it all seem much larger than it actually is (28 covers), and it all feels rather lived in. ‘We didn’t want to get rid of the history,’ Turcan adds.
The food will change with the seasons and they use the same artisan producers that supply Brompton Food Market
The food will change with the seasons, with Mackay – who has been working in the food and wine business for nigh on 17 years – and Parsons creating a menu using the best ingredients they can find, and using the same artisan producers that supply Brompton Food Market.
Don’t mention ‘gastropub’, but this is proper pub food: on the menu during my visit is sea bream with cauliflower, burnt leeks and brown shrimp; flat iron steak with dripping chips and bone marrow gravy; and chocolate porter cake with milk ice cream and honeycomb. No wonder locals – and food critics – can’t get enough of it.
Considering the success of Brompton Food Market, and the promising early days of The Hour Glass, I feel slightly sadistic asking the question considering Mackay’s pain during the hiring of a Head Chef, but could this be the start of many more foodie ventures in the area?
‘We would love to do more,’ Turcan jumps in first. ‘This is an area we know and we like, but we want to make this work first. The same goes for the shop and that’s nearly two years in.’
‘We love opening stuff,’ Mackay chips in, clearly not scarred, ‘we both enjoy that process, but you have got to make sure what you have already is paying for itself and is working. It’s also about longevity. We don’t want to be a pop-up that has huge PR for six months and then goes away. We want to be a part of the fabric and be here for years and years.’
270-283 Brompton Road SW3 2DY; 020 7581 2497; hourglasspub.co.uk