Thursday, 28 July 2016

Off the beaten track

The Black Lion, Consall Forge, Staffordshire
I recently visited, for the first time, the Black Lion at Consall Forge in Staffordshire (pictured), a pub that early editions of the Good Beer Guide claimed was “inaccessible by road”. Now, I’m sure that was always something of an exaggeration, as I can’t see beer deliveries being made by canal or preserved railway, and I doubt whether the customers there at the declared closing hour of 10.30 pm (11.00 F,S) were walking home. Maybe it was a bit of a challenge in a Morris Marina, but I’m sure a brewery dray or an early model Range Rover would have taken it in their stride.

Over the years, I’d guess that vehicular access has been made easier, possibly connected with building a paved road to the nearby country park. It’s certainly accessible by car now, with only about the last six hundred yards being an unmade road, although I can see that becoming a touch treacherous in very wet weather. There’s also a nasty unmarked “reverse road hump” on the final paved stretch that can catch you unawares.

It’s certainly in an idyllic setting, deep in the wooded Churnet Valley, with customers having to cross the Caldon Canal and the preserved railway to reach the pub. I have to say I found the pub itself a touch underwhelming, although maybe a Sunday lunchtime when food and families predominated was not the time to see it at its best.

It was always a bit special and exciting, though, to make a trip to a pub so remote it didn’t even have a metalled road leading to its door, and many of these pubs acquired something of a legendary status. A number of other well-known examples that spring to mind – either accessible only by an unmade track, or along a dodgy no-through-road – are:

Quite a few of these seem to be associated with canals or waterways.

Obviously, over the years, our increased censoriousness about driving after drinking within the legal limit has reduced the appeal of pubs of this type, but all of the above are still going and some, especially the Double Locks, have received substantial brewery investment. I understand the Live & Let Live has been turned into something of a gastropub, although it’s still down a dirt track.

Are there any others you’re aware of, and do they bring back memories of any particular good times in the past? Or any that have bitten the dust? I believe there used be a handful of extremely basic Brakspear’s “dirt track pubs” in the Chiltern beechwoods that are now long gone.

Money, meet mouth

The Boat Inn, Penallt, Monmouthshire
Ever since the foundation of this blog, various people, most notably Cooking Lager, have said to me “you really need to do your own pub guide, Mudgie. You know, all those dismal dumps where the only sound is the ticking of the clock and the plaintive miaowing of the pub cat.”

Now, I’ve always rejected that on the grounds that I’m not a professional writer and there probably wouldn’t be much of a market for it anyway. But, on the other hand, various comments have suggested there might actually be some mileage in it.

As I said, I have no professional expertise, especially in dealing with the publishing trade. So I’m wondering if someone who is a professional or semi-professional author, with knowledge of the beer/tourism industry, and experience of publishing, might be interested in a kind of partnership?

My initial vision would be something along the lines of a book version of Campaign for Real Pubs, although obviously that is up for discussion. While by no means made of money, I am willing, within reason, to provide some initial finance, although I would hope that it can be turned into something that is commercially viable and not just an exercise in vanity publishing.

So, if you think there might be something in it, why not get in touch and we can discuss possibilities in more detail? My e-mail address is here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Brand X vs Brand Y

Blogger Mark Wadsworth has familiarised us with the concept of Indian Bicycle Marketing, whereby manufacturers use a lot of advertising fluff to distinguish products that are largely identical.

I was reminded of this on reading this report about a new marketing initiative for Kronenbourg 1664. No mention whatsoever of product characteristics, just a lot of publicity guff and tat to create a bit of excitement. “The on-pack promotion offers shoppers thousands of chances to win a variety of prizes, including a trip for four to the Alsatian mountains, mini fridges and bottle openers.”

We seem to have a range of “premium lagers” competing for attention in both the on- and off-trades which people struggle to tell apart. Could any pub drinker really give you a meaningful description of the difference in flavour between San Miguel and Carlsberg Export?

The one exception is Peroni, which has established a clear position of the leader of the pack, and commands an appropriate price premium. In my experience, it’s the best of the bunch, with a clean, crisp taste, and a small but important advantage in terms of strength at 5.1% ABV. Significantly, it’s not available either in Wetherspoons or in cans. It’s also a genuine import, but that doesn’t seem to help Heineken very much.

The one characteristic on which it might be possible to establish a point of difference in the market, namely alcohol content, is now effectively barred as a result of government initiatives. I’ve argued in the past that, at least in the take-home market, there would be a strong opening for a premium lager *that bit* stronger than the others, maybe around 5.5% ABV. But no major brewer dares do that – just look at the aborted launch of Stella Black a few years ago.

Back in its heyday, Stella Artois achieved that, as Pete Brown often reminds us. It was both noticeably stronger than the competition, at 5.2% ABV, and was also a premium product made from superior ingredients. But that position has been steadily eroded, with both its strength and quality dumbed down, and now it’s down towards the bottom end of the premium lager pecking order.

Kronenbourg 1664 is the best bangs-per-buck on the Wetherspoon meal deals, by the way. Say no more.

By coincidence, Tandleman posted yesterday about craft lagers. But I’m not sure whether they’re likely to tempt many drinkers away from Peroni.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Welcome to the promised land

Well, the long-awaited Pubs Code has finally come into effect, including the Market Rent Option (MRO) for tied tenants. To listen to some, this represents the salvation of the pub trade, but of course it does nothing to address the overall lack of demand which is its most fundamental problem.

Morning Advertiser editor Ed Bedington is right to sound a note of caution. MRO may be a golden opportunity for some enterprising licensees, but it isn’t going to suit everyone, and you have to consider very carefully whether you want to take the risk of cutting yourself off from the pub company’s support system. I can also see many MRO licensees ending up sourcing the bulk of their supplies from a single wholesaler rather than shopping around for the best deal on everything.

I’ve also asked the question in the past, and never received a satisfactory answer, as to exactly what benefit there is to a pubco in owning pubs where MRO applies. The whole point of pubcos was to, in a sense, replicate the tied house model operated by the big breweries. Take away the supply of drinks, and you’re left with a pure property business, which is something entirely different. Yes, the pubcos may receive a healthy rental income but, in the long term, do they want to be in that business? We may well see MRO pubs being hived off to dedicated property companies.

I can see pubcos doing everything they can to avoid their pubs going over to MRO, for example by converting them to management, franchise agreements, or other kinds of hybrid arrangement. And, if the only revenue stream from a pub is rent, then any incentive to retain it as a pub rather than converting it to something else is removed.

As I’ve said in the past – be careful what you wish for.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

In the thick of it

One of the good features of Wetherspoon’s pubs is that, as far as I’m aware, they don’t provide bar stools. However, this doesn’t deter dickheads people from standing at the bar and, in some cases, they do it with remarkable determination.

At last week’s CAMRA Revitalisation meeting, there was one oldish pony-tailed guy who insisted on clinging to his spot at the bar despite the three-deep throng of beards surrounding him desperate to be served. You really do have to wonder what possesses people to think that is a good idea.

This seems to be a common feature of Spoons, and not just the Gateway. Very often, they’re on their own, so it can’t be argued they’re doing it to be sociable, unless the objective is to buttonhole other customers and bore them to death.

And they always seem to choose to stand right in front of the bank of handpumps, making it difficult to see what’s available. Any licensee worth his salt would surely say to them “if you must stand at the bar, pal, please move down a bit to give the other customers a decent view”.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Home and away

This month’s Opening Times column criticises the oft-heard view than drinking in pubs is in some way “better” than drinking at home. So I thought I would run a poll on to what extent people drank at home versus in pubs and bars. The results are shown above.

There’s a fairly symmetrical pattern, albeit with a dip in the middle rather than a bell curve. Overall, 40% of respondents said they drank more at home; 45% more in pubs and bars.

I wouldn’t say this is representative of the population as a whole, though. In terms of total alcohol consumption, the ratio is more like 2:1 in favour of the off-trade. And, as one of the commenters suggests, it would be interesting to find out how many of those who answered “very rarely or never” were single blokes.

For the benefit of mobile users who might not have seen it, the latest poll is on whether you’d desert your favourite local if it stopped selling real ale.

Friday, 22 July 2016

No so wee dram

If the only way you could get to drink your favourite beers at home was by buying a case of 12 identical bottles costing over £20, you wouldn’t be too impressed. Yet that’s the situation that drinkers of premium spirits are faced with.

I enjoy a drop of good whisky (mainly, though not exclusively, single malt Scotch) and in the past would buy a bottle from time to time. However, I realised that I was generally drinking it as well as beer, not instead, and reached the conclusion that it was something best reserved for Christmas, birthdays and special occasions.

Yet you’re pretty much entirely restricted to full-size bottles that are likely to cost the best part of £30, if not more. A handful of products are available in 35ml or 20ml bottles, but the choice is limited to a handful of the top-selling brands, and you’re generally expected to pay a hefty premium in terms of price per ml. Or you have selections of miniatures aimed squarely at the gift market that are even worse value for money.

No doubt the spirits companies would respond that concentrating on full-size bottles is a strategy that has stood the test of time and works for them. However, I can’t help thinking they’re missing a trick, especially if they want to attract new and younger customers to the sector.

It’s even more relevant now that distillers are venturing into “craft” territory with different “expressions” of their core product, for example matured or finished in different woods. It would be interesting, say, to get three versions of the same whisky finished in plain oak, sherry and port casks, but you just don’t get that opportunity at an affordable price.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Pluses and minuses

Boak and Bailey recently posted about defining a classic pub. I don’t really propose to get into that debate, except to say that to my mind a pub needs to have to some extent stood the test of time to qualify as a classic. As part of the ensuing discussion on Twitter, they posted this list of things that made them feel positive about a pub, which struck a number of chords with me.

So I thought it would be interesting to do a quick list of things that, to my eyes, make a good and bad first impression in a pub. Some of them obviously are mirror images of each other. I know some will say “you’ve done this sort of thing before”, but isn’t every blog just variations on the same handful of themes anyway?

The Good

  • Appears welcoming from outside, for example displaying opening hours and menu
  • Comfortable seating, preferably benches, but certainly not café-style tables
  • Warm, rich tones in colour scheme
  • No suggestion of being unwelcome from either customers or staff
  • Some drinking customers, preferably chatting with each other
  • The presence of children is sensibly managed
  • Piped music is either absent, or tailored to the likely clientele, and is kept at a moderate volume
  • Well-kept beer
  • Real ales that show some connection with the local area or the pub’s heritage
  • Food (if available) that isn’t just the usual run-of-the-mill pub menu, and includes interesting non full meal items
  • Some aspect or feature that makes it distinctive or memorable
The Bad
  • A greeter at the door
  • High proportion of tables with place settings
  • Pale, cold colours in decor
  • Barflies making it difficult to get to the counter
  • Lackadaisical, offhand staff
  • Loud, foul-mouthed customers
  • No cask beers that I recognise
  • Lack of comfortable seating – posing tables or café-style layout
  • Uncontrolled children within the bar areas
  • Piped music too loud and/or inappropriate for clientele
  • Menu concentrating on expensive, restaurant-style meals
  • Lack of drinking customers or provision for non-diners
  • TV football dominates entire pub

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Micro to macro

Doesn't look like a microbrewery to me
In the seventy years from the beginning of the twentieth century, as far as I can see not a single new commercial brewery was established in the UK. All change and development in the industry came from consolidation and takeover, with only a small handful of new plants being constructed by existing companies.

However, things then began to change. One or two “new wave” breweries actually predated CAMRA, the Miner’s Arms in Somerset springing to mind, but after the organisation was formed the number slowly but steadily started to increase. What was at first a trickle became a steady flow and more recently a flood.

For many years we were happy to call them “micro-breweries” to distinguish them from the established independent breweries. However, as some grew bigger, this term became increasingly inappropriate. Some are now brewing considerably more than the smaller family brewers, and a growing number such as Castle Rock, Wye Valley and Butcombe have developed tied estates running into double figures. Many are now established and familiar features on bars up and down the country.

So clearly they’re not in any meaningful sense “micro” any more. Indeed, is there still any point in making a distinction between them and the pre-1970 breweries? Many younger consumers will perceive no difference in kind between Timothy Taylors and Saltaire on the bar or the PBA shelves, and would probably view Black Sheep as a long-standing Yorkshire institution.

To my mind, though, having lived through the history, there still is a clear difference. A brewery that has endured through several generations and has been rooted in a tied estate is not at all the same as one founded relatively recently and initially mostly depending on free trade for growth. I’m not saying one is better than the other, and in fact some of my favourite beers come from post-1975 breweries, but the distinction is still valid.

Maybe once some of these new breweries have survived changes of ownership or being passed on to at least one new generation it might be eroded, but there remains a big gap between “founded before 1900” and “founded since 1975”. And, if they’re no longer micro-breweries, but aren’t family breweries either, what are we supposed to call them now?

(And that’s without even touching on the thorny issue of whether they qualify as “craft”).

Mudgie pubs

The other day, Cooking Lager said on Twitter that he was going to be entertaining his young nieces next weekend, and was wondering which pubs I would be going in so he could bring them along to annoy me.

I responded with an off-the-cuff selection of spoof hostelries which I thought I would expand into a fuller list. At least four of these exist in real life, and there is a Royal Children in Nottingham, although this apparently refers to the children of Princess (later Queen) Anne rather than the Princes in the Tower. Some of the references are obvious, others less so.

  • The Bradshaw’s Head
  • The Chesterbelloc Arms
  • The Codger’s Arms
  • The Duke of Edinburgh
  • The Farage Arms
  • The Full Measure
  • The Leonard Lord
  • The Live and Let Live
  • The Mangy Cat
  • The Miser’s Hoard
  • The Old Brown Bitter Jug
  • The Old Rickety House at Home
  • The Princes in the Tower
  • The Sir George Ayscue
  • The Spit-Roast Child
  • The Viaduct
The Bradshaw’s Head appears as a spoof entry in my now mothballed Stockport Pub Guide.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Safe space supping

For many years, there was a strange anomaly that the centre of Manchester, unlike that of any other major UK city outside London, was divided between three CAMRA branches. North Manchester and Trafford & Hulme both had a large chunk, with Stockport & South Manchester holding a smaller segment in the south-eastern corner. This obviously made it more difficult to put across a united CAMRA voice in the city, and meant that many commuters who often drank in the city centre found themselves living in a different branch with which they felt little connection.

The reasons for this split are lost in the mists of time, but after years of narcoleptic wrangling, a separate City Centre branch was set up earlier this year. One concern that was expressed was that to some extent it represented an exercise in cherry-picking, and could potentially suck the lifeblood out of the surrounding branches. For Stockport & South Manchester, any impact was peripheral, and Trafford & Hulme, while more affected, retains substantial centres of gravity in Chorlton and the various towns of Trafford Borough.

However, the impact has been more serious on North Manchester, which incorporated the fashionable “Northern Quarter” of the city centre. Apparently, north of the inner ring road, there were only fourteen pubs serving real ale in the entire part of Manchester it covered, and some of these were ones like the Marble Arch and Crown & Kettle that are on the fringe of the centre. That clearly wasn’t the basis of a viable branch, so what has happened is that Central Manchester has taken over the northern rump of the city, although keeping its name. North Manchester has reconstituted itself as a new City of Salford Branch, an area which it already covered.

Boozy Procrastinator makes the point in this blogpost that what this represents is in effect making the beer bubble flesh. All the exciting new bars of the central area have been detached from their less appealing hinterland for the benefit of the better-off commuters who drink there. just so happens that like many apparently open minded, non-CAMRA beer drinkers, their snobby ways pushes them away from their local and apparently “rubbish” pubs and into those that serve their own narcissistic needs far more.

The very people that talk about buying local and then wonder why everything near them is closing down and boarded up.

Where and what people choose to drink as private individuals is entirely up to them, and as I’ve argued before, nobody can force people to take an interest in aspects of beer and pub culture that they don’t want to. But there does seem to be a degree of hypocrisy in an organisation that champions the value of local community pubs, but many of whose prominent members make a point of shunning them in favour of the bright lights of the big city.

The geographical pattern of CAMRA branches is often less than rational, and reflects ancient rivalries and loyalties. Nobody in their right mind would come up with the High Peak, Tameside and North East Cheshire Branch. Local sensibilities have to be recognised, though, and St Albans would alienate many active members if it started behaving like a bunch of Victorian colonialists drawing logical-seeming lines on a map. Starting with a clean sheet of paper, a Manchester Branch covering the entire city from Wythenshawe to Blackley would make sense, but it’s not going to happen.

However, it seems a sound principle that every branch should be expected to do its share of the hard yards in unattractive and relatively inaccessible areas, rather than just picking out the best bits and leaving the rest either to be covered by some other poor saps or, worse still, completely ignored. They shouldn’t retreat into a cosy safe space where they never have to encounter rough-arsed blokes drinking Carling and John Smith’s in grotty estate boozers, or work out how to cover the pubs that only have a daytime weekday bus service.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

We shall overcome

Last week, there was an utterly gobsmacking piece in the Morning Advertiser on How pubs overcame the hardest decade in the trade’s history. Now, hang on, but I’d hardly say that experiencing a decline in beer sales of 36% represents “overcoming” anything. Pubs haven’t fought back and won, they have been defeated in a series of bloody battles, not helped by many industry leaders fighting on the other side, and have had to accept a much diminished role in life.

Of course some pubs can still thrive: it’s not a uniform effect. But the range of locations where they can succeed, and the customer base they attract, are both now much narrower than they were ten years ago. Try telling the residents of Parr or Longdendale that pubs have “emerged stronger” and they will laugh in your face. Tandleman reports here that the previous ten pubs on his local estate of Langley have now come down to one or none, depending on how you draw the boundaries. It’s reminiscent of Spinal Tap, who responded to the charge that they were playing in much smaller venues by claiming that their appeal had become more selective.

The section on the smoking ban is particularly breathtaking. I reproduce the whole thing below.

It just reeks of snobbery, that pub owners have managed to replace scuzzy smoking customers with smarter, more upmarket ones who are more likely to order food. But, if you run a brewery, you’ve also lost a lot of customers for your beer. And the comment about the ban attracting more women is ridiculous when you consider that a higher proportion of women now smoke than men. Plus it would have been easy to increase pubs’ appeal to women and families (if indeed that is what has happened) by creating separate areas rather than banishing smokers to the nether circles of hell.

The comment by our local brewery director William Robinson that “the pub trade has evolved to become stronger and more inclusive” is particularly egregious. This, of course, is the company that in recent years has happily shed about a fifth of its estate, mostly the more basic boozers, and is currently gleefully engaged in wrecking a growing number of those that remain. Frankly, I’ve never read such deluded, patronising drivel in my life. It’s not my style, but I’m sorely tempted to employ a four-letter word. William, you are a disgrace to your industry. Your grandfather, Sir John Robinson, will be turning in his grave.

The pub trade continues to be in serious long-term decline. And it really doesn’t help when senior industry figures seem to believe that’s a good thing. They really should stop smirking – the Prohibition Train is heading their way before too long.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Diversity of provision

Following my recent post on the vexed subject of children in pubs, I decided to run a poll on whether the pre-1988 legal regime of barring under-14s from all bar areas of pubs should be restored. The results are pretty conclusive.

Obviously this isn’t realistically going to happen, although I can imagine the childless and hard-faced Mrs May having considerable sympathy. However, it underlines the point that this remains a major issue for the pub trade, as highlighted last year by the Good Pub Guide. It just won’t wash to paint anyone who prefers a quiet drink in a child-free atmosphere as a miserable curmudgeon who pubs are better off without. Traditional pubgoers have deserted en masse to avoid noisy, badly-behaved children.

And any intolerance on the issue comes overwhelmingly from the pro-children lobby, who seem to object to children being excluded from any area of any pub at any time. As I’ve said many times (and on another issue too), what on earth is wrong with a diversity of provision?

I can’t help thinking that a good compromise solution to the smoking issue would have been to ban smoking in all areas of pubs where under-18s were admitted. This would surely have killed two birds with one stone. We could have had pubs divided into two sections – one of booze, baccy and banter, and one of food and families. Or even individual pubs devoted to one or the other. And no prizes for guessing where the best crack would have been.

It’s also worth repeating the words of Ian MacDonald in the poll comments, who is someone I know through Twitter and Facebook, but doesn’t tend to comment here. If all parents took such a considerate and responsible view, there would be no problem

As a beer drinking father of three, my children only go to pubs that serve food. I do not allow them at the bar and generally they will be in the beer garden. I would not take them to a non-food pub nor would I expect to see other children there.
And also note this from Brian, follower of Deornoth
A few years ago I would have said, "Of Course Not, it should be a matter for individual publicans and their customers." But now I know it is perfectly acceptable to have those that disagree with my preferences arrested, so I'll vote for a ban.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Crystal ball road test

When looking up my piece about the English Ethnic Restaurant, I came across an interesting set of speculations about the future of pubs and beer that I wrote for the fifth anniversary of my Opening Times column in 1998. So let’s see how the ensuing eighteen years have answered these questions...

  • Will nitrokeg make such inroads into cask beer that it becomes the standard beer in most pubs? Or can real ale continue to hold its own? The jury is still out on this one...
    No, it didn’t, although in many areas it has effectively eradicated real ale from working-class boozers. It wasn’t helped by rapidly acquiring something of a naff image, although, when first introduced, the original 5% Caffrey’s was very trendy and dangerously moreish. I don’t actually think “craft keg” will achieve this either.

  • Will the next recession finally bring about the oft-foretold cull of pubs - as it is obvious that many pubs are even now struggling along on very thin trade?
    It took the smoking ban to do that, but it certainly has been a massive cull.

  • Will the apparently inevitable reduction in the drink-drive limit lead to an upheaval in pub-going habits, and a tidal wave of closures, or just give a slight boost to existing trends?
    To widespread surprise, this didn’t happen at the time, and hasn’t since, except in Scotland, although changing attitudes amongst new entrants to the drinking population have brought about many of the predicted effects anyway.

  • Will we ever get full measures legislation?

  • Can CAMRA continue to be a broad-based consumer movement, or will it metamorphose into what is essentially a club of beer connoisseurs drinking niche products in niche outlets - something of which there are already clear signs today?
    It did manage to bring about the end of the duty escalator, which benefited all beer drinkers. But in many areas it does seem to concentrate on handpump-counting and the pursuit of obscurity, and largely ignores ordinary pubs used by non-enthusiasts.

  • Will the risks to bar staff of passive smoking lead to pubs being forced to become basically non-smoking, with the option of a separate smoking area? And how will this affect single-room pubs?
    The outcome here exceeded even my worst fears. It’s notable how at the time the worry was how smoking curbs might affect one-room pubs. Even in 2005, few seriously expected a blanket ban, and this certainly wasn’t in Labour’s election manifesto of that year.

  • Will the gap between British and French beer duty ever be reduced, or will Gordon Brown carry on screwing the British beer drinker regardless of the wider consequences?
    No and Yes. And we all know what the result was.

  • Or will the European Union start taking an interest in alcohol from a health standpoint (as it does with tobacco) leading to upward, not downward, harmonisation of duties?
    Hasn’t really happened. The UK still pays 40% of all beer duty in the EU despite only drinking 12% of the beer. Of course it’s academic following the referendum, as they can now stick any harmonisation where the sun doesn’t shine.

  • Will the health concerns which have affected the tobacco industry now increasingly be redirected at the drinks trade, making 1997 in retrospect the high water mark of a liberal licensing and taxation climate?
    Yes, with a vengeance, although the high water mark was probably the implementation of the 2003 Licensing Act in 2005.
Another point I made at the time was “Who would have imagined that half the pubs in the country would now be stocking more varieties of real ale than they can turn over properly?” I’d say that’s now well over 80% - choice has comprehensively trumped quality.

So, overall, not such an inaccurate set of speculations.

Incidentally, for those reading this on mobiles, don’t forget to answer my poll on allowing under-14s into the bars of pubs.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

No foreign muck here

Contrary to popular rumour, I don’t actually spent all my leisure time sitting in dingy pubs, and last Sunday I went along to Didsbury Car Show, where a friend was exhibiting his classic car. If you have any interest in cars, this annual event is well worth attending, with free admission and over 200 cars on display, ranging from exotic supercars to the family favourites of our childhood. Here’s a rather unflattering picture of me inspecting a 1970 Renault Alpine:

At lunchtime, we wandered down to nearby Didsbury Green for a bite to eat and ended up in the Olde Cock. One thing that struck me about the menu was how resolutely “traditional British” it was, with the possible exception of the Falafel, Sweet Potato, Kale & Quinoa, which sounds like a parody dish. Not a sign of a lasagne, pizza or curry, let alone anything Chinese, Moroccan or Mexican. The typical Brunning & Price menu is far more wide-ranging. The menu in the Didsbury across the road was similar, but about £2 more for each dish.

I’ve written in the past about how pubs were in danger of boxing themselves into a corner of being the English Ethnic Restaurant. Now, obviously pubs are entitled to serve whatever menus they want, but I can’t help thinking that something that might appeal in a Cheshire village or a National Park may not be the right thing for cosmopolitan Didsbury.

It was reassuring to see a young couple sitting in the pub playing Scrabble. Didsbury wouldn’t be Didsbury without that. No doubt they have a Jenga set somewhere as well.

I had a pint of Mobberley Roadrunner which was perfectly good, although one of my companions went straight for the Greene King IPA pump. I didn’t notice the price as I wasn’t paying, but I’d bet it was considerably nearer to four pounds than three.