With the likes of Salt & Malt, The Kensington Arms, Root and Breaking Bread Festival all part of their growing empire, The Eggletons are one of Bristol’s best known foodie families. We had the pleasure of meeting brother and sister duo, Josh and Holly at their newly re-imagined flagship venue, The Pony Chew Valley.
It sounds like it’s been a long journey for the Pony, tell us a bit about it.
“We always talked about giving the place a bit of a spruce up,” explains Josh. “After almost 17 years after we opened here, we both had a vision of creating a new space that was a culmination of everything we’ve learnt along the way. Something that isn’t just a restaurant, and this plot (a 1.5-acre plot of valley in front of the site) has been in our sights for a while. We both love the variety the venue, and the kitchen garden can offer,” adds Holly.
We both knew we needed a fresh start here, and so we thought, what better way to really wipe the slate clean than with a new name? The Pony Chew Valley retains the heritage that had built up over the years but feels like a new beginning for us all. So while we are very much a restaurant at heart and we of course still take bookings, what we really want is to create food ‘experiences’ that bring people together in a setting that inspires creativity and collaboration; something that Bristol does so well.
“Anyone who knows us knows that we like to try different things and offer that variety in all we do. It’s been a year in the making, and like everything these last few years, it didn’t go exactly to plan, but we’d much rather get this right, and do the establishment we both started this mad journey on justice.”
Bristol clearly plays a huge role in your lives - and it seems like the city’s appetite for hospitality and events is ever-expanding.
“Having grown up in Whitchurch, Bristol holds a really special place in our hearts. The diversity of Bristol’s food scene is unlike anywhere else in the country, the options are endless and I think that’s part of the appeal for so many, the food reflects the city’s independent spirit. For us, all we can do is what we love doing, what (we think) we’re good at, and if we can inspire others and the local community along the way whilst raising standards in the industry, then what more could you ask for?
Tell us about your work with charities and how food is changing the lives of young people in the city.
It’s really important for us to be involved in the community, teaching others how to cook and collectively working towards the goal of alleviating food insecurity in the city. I’m an ambassador for Mazi project, and I and the team behind Breaking Bread set up Team Canteen, which we are all hugely proud of. We’ve been working with homeless charity Caring Bristol serving food to the homeless, and getting thousands of kids fed in school holidays. Projects like this have played a key role in shaping our vision for the space here. We will now have the ability to proactively engage with the people of Bristol right here on site. From education through to growing and even chef experiences. We really want to act as support for charity groups, not reinvent them. I think the community both locally and regionally is far more willing to get involved with these kinds of projects.
Many of your chefs have grown a reputation for themselves - how important is it for you to nurture and leave a lasting legacy?
“We love that our chefs are so recognisable. We back our people to achieve great things, Root’s journey is a great example of this; with Rob Howell now heading up Root Wells, which is in his home town. It’s amazing to be able to give back to his community with the skills that he’s honed over the years. Our team is so important to us, and with the new kitchen garden, we offer them a full day or a half day once a week or so to get outside, learn about what’s out there and get amongst it. We want them to enjoy themselves as much as a customer would here.”
Produce and providence play such an integral role in your business - where do producers end and you begin?
“What we are trying to do is bring that garden in and onto our plates, we’ve found that people love to learn about their food and where their produce is coming from, so it’s really important to us to highlight that journey, from the field to fork. We’ve always been transparent with this and had a more holistic approach, but now we want to make it more tangible through things like our cookery schools and growing courses that we can now hold right here on-site. I suppose in a way we are extending the bookends of hospitality, educating people to know, grow, and create good food.”
What advice would you give to yourselves twenty years ago?
We want people to see the bigger picture and all we can really do is set an example that we hope others follow or at least find inspiration from. Of course, we’ve tried a few things that haven’t been as successful as others, but we’ve not ignored the lessons learnt from trying. Hopefully, the way we continue to explore and bring new and interesting concepts to the table, we can inspire communities and balance out the equilibrium. It’s always been about making great food and hospitality more accessible to all. While it was a dream come true to be awarded a Michelin star, and it really is seen as a Chef’s pinnacle, if there’s anything I’ve learnt is that this can’t be a driving factor for success. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great by-product, but if you’re not loving what you’re doing and lose sight of why you’re doing it, you’re sort of fighting a losing battle.”
I was fortunate enough to be awarded an MBE in 2021 and its not really something we’ve ever really leant on. We have found it really useful for opening those doors which are a little harder to budge normally. People tend to listen a little more to Josh Eggleton MBE than they did that bloke with the fish and chip shop.
Finally, other than your own venues, what are your favourite places to eat in the city?
Part of the problem with Bristol is that there are too many choices! It’s such a good city for food whatever you are looking for. I’d say pound for pound, it’s up there with the best in the country for places-to-eat-per-capita. We’re so proud to be part of it. For us, the best fine dining in Bristol has to be the Bulrush. For farm-to-fork dining Wilson’s has been flying the flag for years, then, if you’re looking for sustainable, quality tapas you can’t beat Paco. Taking it back a few pegs and we love Matina in St Nicks for the best kebabs, although Sam’s grill is also a favourite. We’re both really pleased to see Tiffins back open on St Micheals. We also went to Little hollows last week and were blown away by what Chris has done there. There are so many to choose from but these are the first that come to mind.