Chef aims to 'get it right every time' as pub marks 20-year anniversary

Adrian Smith and family of The Merry Monk Isleham

Chef Adrian Smith took over The Merry Monk in Isleham in August 2002. Left: Adrian with wife Michelle and sons Thomas and Jacob. Right: the family when they took on the pub. - Credit: The Merry Monk

A chef who took over a village pub 20 years ago hopes that it can continue providing the key ingredient to “get it right every time”. 

Adrian Smith arrived at The Merry Monk in Isleham with his wife Michelle and sons Thomas and Jacob, and bought the pub on August 2, 2002. 

“It was more of a change in lifestyle; I was working for other people and wanted to work for myself,” said Adrian. 

“We thought my wife and I would have more time together; that was the main reason why.” 

Adrian Smith and family The Merry Monk Isleham 2022

Adrian Smith and his family pictured outside The Merry Monk in Isleham, 20 years on from when he took over the pub. - Credit: The Merry Monk

Adrian Smith and family outside The Merry Monk Isleham 2002

Adrian Smith and family pictured outside The Merry Monk in August 2002 when he took over the pub. - Credit: The Merry Monk

Adrian, who has been cooking for 38 years, was initially going to stay at the pub for five years. 

Since opening, Adrian now receives help in the kitchen from his sons and has had to adapt his food offering which he likes to showcase with “a little twist. 

“I realised what I wanted was for people to enjoy themselves more,” he said. 

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“The presentation is not so important for me, as it’s not the be all or end all.” 

Meat on offer at The Merry Monk Isleham

An idea of some of the food on offer at The Merry Monk in Isleham. - Credit: The Merry Monk

From oysters to T-bone steak, Adrian is keen to mix more classic dishes with the rather unusual, for a range of different guests. 

In fact, one of the pub’s most popular dishes that customers have tucked into is smoked pork belly with crispy hen’s egg, deep fried with homemade brown sauce and toasted soldiers. 

The Merry Monk has also welcomed celebrity guests since Adrian took charge, too, including co-host of BBC TV’s MasterChef series Gregg Wallace. 

Adrian Smith and kitchen chefs at The Merry Monk Isleham

Adrian (second from right) pictured with other staff at The Merry Monk in Isleham, which he took over 20 years ago this month. - Credit: The Merry Monk

“We try our best for everybody,” Adrian said. 

“We’re never in that situation where people go ‘that will do’; we have five chefs that want to get it right every time.” 

Covid and the rising cost of living has caused Adrian headaches, having to close the pub doors while struggling to hire more staff. 

Food on offer at The Merry Monk Isleham

An idea of some of the food on offer at The Merry Monk in Isleham. - Credit: The Merry Monk

Other dishes at The Merry Monk Isleham

An idea of some of the food on offer at The Merry Monk in Isleham. - Credit: The Merry Monk

But whether Adrian will continue for another 20 years is something that remains unclear. 

“It makes me feel incredibly proud that word has spread,” he added. 

“I don’t think my body would take no longer than five years; it’s hard work, long hours and can be stressful. 

“But you don’t know what’s going to happen, and I suppose that’s part of the buzz.”