Tuesday 22 April 2008

Smoking licences petition

Well, it's only a modest proposal, and falls far short of the complete repeal of the public smoking ban which I would advocate. But anything that undermines this obnoxious and intolerant piece of legislation must be good, so please sign this petition to allow pubs and clubs to apply for smoking licences.

Monday 21 April 2008

Bouncing downhill

I can’t help thinking that this article entitled Cask Ale Bouncing Back represents a large dose of special pleading. The overall market for beer is contracting, and within that market there is a continuing shift from drinking in the pub to drinking at home. There is less cask beer being drunk now than at any time in the lifetime of CAMRA. A rising share of a rapidly declining market is scant cause for celebration.

Yes, some smaller brewers are seeing substantial rises in sales, but most of that is simply due to the big boys largely vacating the cask segment, and in terms of the total beer market it is a drop in the ocean. Major regionals such as Robinson’s are seeing less beer sold through their own pubs than there has been in a generation. And the tidal wave of pub closures does not exactly bode well for a healthy future for cask. Indeed it is fast becoming no more than a niche product.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Feeling the draught

On occasions, such as family social gatherings, I have tried canned versions of premium beers such as Abbot Ale. However, compared with bottles they are always disappointingly lacking in condition. These are not the “draughtflow” beers containing a “widget” (which in my experience always taste like foamy dishwater) but it seems the manufacturers deliberately make them less gassy to try to replicate the feel of handpulled beer in the pub. However, all they succeed in doing is producing something that is just, well, flat.

Interestingly, non-widget cans of ordinary bitters such as Tetley’s do not share this characteristic and so, despite their inherent limitations, are actually more palatable. In general it’s best to stick to bottles, though - cans of ale may be cheaper, but theyre a false economy.

Friday 11 April 2008

The revolution has been cancelled

Yum, yet another post about food!

In many ways I’m a staunch defender of the traditions of the English public house, but I would not lift a finger to defend traditional English cooking. All that gristly meat, thick gravy, soggy masses of spuds and veg and stodgy puddings blighted my childhood.

But salvation was at hand in the form of Mediterranean and Oriental cuisine, which typically offered a much lighter style of dish with more clearly defined ingredients, using pasta, rice and couscous as carbohydrate in place of the dreaded spuds, and an escape from the dreary “meat and two veg” style of presentation.

This has been taken up enthusiastically by the restaurant trade, so in any large town you will find a wide variety of establishments offering distinctive cuisines from around the world. But pubs have been much more cautious and half-hearted, and in general only gave a grudging nod towards this food revolution.

We have ended up with a situation where even supposedly up-market pubs offer a predictable menu of generic “pub grub” which reluctantly embraces the “exotic” dimension by including a poor-quality lasagne and a rubbish curry. On at least two occasions I have eaten curries in supposedly highly-regarded pubs that gave the impression that the people preparing them had never encountered an actual curry in an Indian restaurant in their lives.

The situation has been made worse by the “Jamie Oliver” approach which seems to dismiss much innovative international cooking as “junk food” and represents a depressingly successful attempt to rehabilitate the traditional English muck.

I have to say I increasingly avoid eating full meals in pubs as the food is so often second-rate and lacking in authenticity. As said in the previous post, I’d prefer it if pubs took a step back from the food trade and left destination dining to specialist restaurants. But, if pubs are to concentrate heavily on food, wouldn't it be better to specialise much more, so that one offered genuinely good Italian cuisine, another Chinese, another Mexican etc, rather than the “Jack of all trades, master of none” menus typically found at present?

Thursday 10 April 2008

Separate ways

While we are often told that food has been the saviour of the pub trade, I am more and more coming to believe that it has ruined it. The original purpose of a pub was a place where people could meet and socialise over a few drinks. If they wanted a sit-down meal outside the house, they would go to a café or restaurant. Back when I started drinking in the 1970s, this remained very much the case. Many pubs served food, but it was generally very much a sideline and often confined to sandwiches and snacks. Looking back, it is surprising how many of the high-profile rural destination pubs did not serve evening food at all.

In the mid-1980s, my local pub offered no food on Sunday lunchtimes, and was packed throughout the two-hour session from 12 to 2. Now it’s open all day, majors on set Sunday lunches, and sees fewer customers overall and certainly far fewer casual drinkers.

More and more, pubs have expanded their food trade in an attempt to develop their business. In the process they have encroached on the territory of dedicated restaurants and increasingly sacrificed their original character as pubs. We are left with a strange hybrid kind of business that may superficially resemble a pub but in reality is just a second-rate dining outlet. And of course with food comes “family dining”, and places where you could once enjoy a quiet pint have become infested with howling infants.

I can’t help thinking that it would have been better if pubs and restaurants had gone their separate ways, which would leave us with much more welcoming and convivial pubs, albeit perhaps fewer in numbers, and a better everyday dining experience too. This, of course, is something that remains the situation in many Continental countries.

As Ive said before, it’s an increasingly rare experience, and one that is to be savoured, to come across a proper pub ticking over nicely and doing what its supposed to.

Friday 4 April 2008

A pint and a half, Sir? You're nicked!

Writing in the Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn pulls no punches in this scathing attack on the government's plans to reduce the drink-drive limit.