A couple of months ago, I was told about how the owners of Samuel Smiths’ brewery had apparently acquired a financial stake in a company making pies. The result was that the conventional pub menus in their managed houses had been replaced by new menus predominantly featuring pies of various kinds, something which had not gone down too well in the leafier parts of Cheshire. I don’t routinely go in any Sam’s pubs that serve food, so I had half forgotten about it, but the other day encountered it for myself in a pub not too far from some of the most up-market residential areas in the North-West.
Unfortunately, it was just as bad as I had feared – a listing of unappetising, old-fashioned stodge that was even illustrated with little pictures of some of the dishes to make your gorge rise even more. It was as though Elizabeth David had never lived and we were back in 1948. There weren’t even any sandwiches or similar for those who didn’t want the full 1000 calories. A robust defence of tradition is one thing, a wilful refusal to accept the realities of the present is something else entirely. This is an extremely short-sighted measure that will do nothing for the long-term success of Sam’s outlets and will simply serve to confirm the widely-held view that pubs have nothing to do with good or imaginative food.
Edit 26/12/08: today I have spotted a detailed write-up of this story in the excellent CAMRA magazine Out Inn Cheshire entitled Sam Smith’s Culinary Suicide. Apparently the piemaker in question is called “Sarah Brownridge” and all the dishes on the menu are capable of being cooked in a microwave in eight minutes. An instruction from Chairman Humphrey Smith to all managed houses reads:
The new menu is out and I would make it absolutely clear on behalf of the company that we desire 100% Sarah Brownridge and no other food (with the possible exception of of a roast only on Sundays and only in a minority of our catering houses) to be sold in all pubs. No sandwiches, nothing else, just the food shown on the menu we have sent you.The article goes on to say, “Needless to say, this has killed the food trade in our local Sam Smith’s houses.”