SERVING up local food at The Old Vine in Winchester has had an unexpected benefit for co-owner Ashton Gray.

As well as keeping his customers happy, cutting down on food miles and helping boost the local economy, it’s also made his job much more enjoyable.

“It definitely makes my job more interesting – it’s a real plus point,” he says.

“I take great pleasure in meeting the local producers and finding out about their products, which they’re often really passionate about. I love the fact that I can pick up the phone to have a chat with them and give them feedback. The alternative is for me to sit down with a catalogue and then order the same stuff as a lot of other people. It’s much more interesting to go out and meet the producers and get personal relationships going.”

Ashton and business partner Marcelo Pugliese took over the business around five years ago and have been steadily increasing the amount of local food and drink they serve after joining local food organisation Hampshire Fare. Their commitment to local food has been recognised with them winning a Hampshire Hospitality Award for this along with the quality of its food.

“As we’ve progressed we’ve realised how interested our customers are in supporting local businesses and local produce, so it’s a case of looking at each product and thinking about how we can creatively use it on our menu.”

Ashton admits that the logistics of using local produce can be trickier than buying from a central distributor but says that it’s definitely worth it.

“You have to look at the supply chain and the cost. I guess in a way it’s more challenging if you use local produce because they don’t necessarily have the same distribution networks and it might cost a little bit more but it does give us a real talking point with our menus. Plus, there’s some fabulous local produce that other people don’t necessarily have on offer.”

Around 50 per cent of the menu at The Old Vine is local food in the summer, as well as a selection of local ales.

The Old Vine is a member of the Campaign For Real Ale’s LocAle scheme, and always has at least one or two ales from within a 25-mile radius available.

“We think our customers are willing to pay a little bit more to have good quality local food. But this is the kind of place that you don’t think twice about coming to because it’s not going to break the bank.

“People do ask all the time about the provenance of their food. If they’re eating a chicken they want to know it hasn’t been produced in a horror factory!”

With delicious fresh local food on the menu, served up in the beautiful surroundings of a Grade II listed building, it’s not surprising Ashton’s customers keep coming back.

“We’ve got nice surroundings, great service and it’s an added bonus that customers can enjoy some good local food. It adds to the feel-good factor of the experience.”

• The Old Vine is at 8 Great Minster Street, Winchester. Tel: 01962 854616