Saturday, 15 December 2012

Whining and dining

The various CAMRA branches in Cheshire collectively produce a quarterly magazine called Out Inn Cheshire. It’s an attractive-looking A5 publication on glossy paper with colour throughout and contains a lot of pub news and features about individual pubs. If it has a fault, it is in adopting an overwhelmingly positive and upbeat tone which can eventually become a little too much.

One area in which this can become irritating is in the often fawning praise given to “dining pubs”. Now, obviously in this day and age, few pubs can survive without offering food, especially in suburban and rural locations, and if you’re doing food at all it is better done well than half-heartedly. But, if taken too far, there comes a point when a pub offers such a dusty welcome to the casual drinker that, while it still may be in technical terms a “public house”, it has forfeited the right to be regarded as such. Sadly, more and more once characterful pubs in Cheshire are falling into that category, and maybe a more critical eye is needed as to whether pubs still manage to retain their original function to any extent.

The latest issue includes a frankly gushing review of the newly refurbished Three Greyhounds at Allostock which is described as “a very welcome addition to the fine dining scene in Vale Royal”. This was the pub referred to here – sadly the memorably bad write-up I linked to is no longer online. The author waxes lyrical about his £10.95 Porterhouse Burger which he says was “a fantastic juicy, flavoursome large burger that was simply delicious and bursting with flavour”. It’s enough to make you want to rush to Spoons for that £6.69 gourmet burger with drink included! He also complains about having to go to the bar to order food rather than having a waiter come to the table to take it. Er, what does he think it is, a restaurant?

I also spotted that amongst the sandwich fillings on offer was Hen’s Egg Mayonnaise. Wow, eggs from hens! Wonders will never cease...

On the other hand, there is also a piece about the Black Swan at Hollins Green/Rixton winning the North Cheshire CAMRA Community Pub of the Year award for 2012. From the description, this seems to do a fairly good job of catering for both diners and social drinkers. Having used this as a guinea-pig to test out online pub guides I will have to make the effort to visit it some time.

The runner-up in this award was the Antrobus Arms at Antrobus, which it says “has been visited by the Cheshire Forest Hunt this season, and plays host to two gun clubs.” I can imagine that sticking in a few craws! As a complete aside, I remember calling in this pub with my father many years ago when it was called the Wheatsheaf. A guy had a dog of the bull terrier type and fed it a packet of pork scratchings which it rapidly wolfed down. A few minutes later the dog had thrown them back up again in the middle of the floor, and the look on its face was the absolute definition of a “hang-dog expression”.

12 comments:

  1. You strike a chord. As we both know the "dining pub" has been the bane of the Cheshire pub scene for many years now.

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  2. I think it's a great magazine and I do use it as a reference for my crawls of Cheshire. They do, however, seem a little obsessed with the "dining pub" as a concept.

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  3. Professor Pie-Tin15 December 2012 at 12:49

    Funnily enough the Antrobus Arms was my local for a few years.
    Except this was the Antrobus Arms Hotel in Amesbury,Wiltshire.
    www.antrobusarmshotel.co.uk
    Nice small privately-owned hotel, good front bar,decent beer,open fire,dogs allowed,eccentric owner.
    Named after the Cheshire Antrobus's who also once owned a large estate in the area.

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  4. An your moan is what? Cheshire is too posh or stuckpit is too much of a dump?

    And if I paid £11 for a burger I'd want full waiter service regardless of the semantics of whether it was a pub, restaurant or pub themed restaurant.

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  5. Cookie

    But that's the free market, innit? You are free to take your custom elsewhere, the market will get the message and hey pronto, Tesco Express will appear.

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  6. You can never have enough Tescos, Ty.

    The Xmas shocker for Camra rags was in Clarkys own OT. The letters page has a startling confession in regard to the campaign against keg beer.

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  7. Cookie

    Even more shocking is Tandleman's confession on his blog that he usually drinks keg beer when he visits one of his favourite pubs!

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  8. @Tyson: wow, makes me look like a cask diehard. There are no widely-available local cask beers that I won't touch with a bargepole, and I struggle to think of any instance in the past twelve months when I've ordered keg or lager when cask was also on the bar.

    Mind you, occasionally I have wished I had ordered a lager ;-)

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  9. I'd much prefer a rural pub to turn into a dining pub than disappear entirely. Without food, I suspect the majority of rural pubs in our branch would have closed a long time ago.

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  10. Ah, but you miss the point, Rob. I'm not saying for a minute that pubs shouldn't serve food, but they shouldn't let it dominate to the exclusion of all else. Some pubs manage that, others don't.

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  11. I was referring more to John's comment that they are the bane of the Cheshire pub scene.

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  12. In a magazine such as Out Inn Cheshire it is important to have a spread of articles to avoid "here's another pub, these are the beers" on every page. Out of 52 pages, I don't think its too biased to "gastro" pubs if there is a single article on one of the pages dedicated to food. Before the transformation it was a horrific smelly excuse for a pub selling a single (poor) cask beer. Now a gastro pub with around five beers, at least three local - I know which version of the Three Greyhounds I prefer!

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