Friday, 6 May 2011

Soaking it up

Tandleman recently on his blog was lamenting the demise of the pub sandwich. Thirty years ago, this used to be a staple of pub catering, a couple of slices of bread with a simple filling of beef, ham or cheese, cut into quarters and sold at a bargain price. It was the ideal thing to soak up a few pints. Yet, nowadays, many pubs don’t serve any snacks at all, just full meals, and where they do they are so often expensive ciabattas and wraps with exotic fillings. The humble filled roll or sliced bread butty is virtually an extinct species.

To make matters worse, very often you find these upmarket sandwiches being offered by default “with chips” in an attempt to make them seem more like meals. By and large, if you want a sandwich-type snack, you’re not after something with chips, and it would make more sense just to offer a bowl of chips as an extra if you want it.

I know it’s pretty much a lost cause now, but I continue to believe it would have been better all round if pubs had not tried to ape restaurants but instead had concentrated on evolving their own distinctive, informal, snacky, mix-and-match style of food. The idea of food as an adjunct to drinking and socialising rather than an end in itself seems to have disappeared.

In a generation’s time, I suspect such pubs as still remain will tend to be seen as informal restaurants serving British-style food, and the suggestion that they were once mainly places for social drinking would be met with bafflement. Even today, many people’s only experience of pubs will be visiting them to eat a sit-down, knife-and-fork meal, which is largely missing the point of what they are all about.

You can see this today in new-build establishments such as Marston’s Fallow Deer by the A6 at Chapel-en-le-Frith. It does what it sets out to do, but it is an eating house, and effectively none of it is laid out in a way that says “social drinking”, not “dining”. It is an example of what will be a growing phenomenon in the years to come – the Pub In Name Only or PINO.


  1. Britain needs to take a look at Spain where a small tapa of Spanish ham or cheese is served with a small bit of bread for €2.

    It would be fantastic if British pubs could offer something similar. Cold roast beef or some good british cheese with some decent bread. Just a small snack for £1-2. Some good pickled onions or similar as well.

    Or do some Spanish tapas. Or any other country as well if you want a more international atmosphere. Of course all of this could reduce food sales but will also increase wet sales.

  2. Simon,

    A few good pubs do exactly that: North Bar in Leeds does "cheese and bread" or "meat and bread" on a chopping board, a little extra for pickles. It's superb with either a pint or a bottle of Orval etc.

    The Hawkshead Beer Hall which is decribed in the Morning Advertiser article Tandleman links to does a beer tapas, including great scotch eggs, and as Neil from Eating Isn't Cheating pointed out, the Brewery Tap in Leeds also does a similar "Yorkshire Tapas".


  3. I think the fear from some pubs is of cannibalising main food sales, but when I feel like a scotch egg or pork pie and can't get one, I don't settle for half a roast chicken, peas, chips and a side salad.I just piss off elsewhere.

    They can do both.

    My local used to do Lancashire tapas and good they were too.

  4. Meant to add: this phrase sums it up, though Mudgie exaggerates, as he does in his conclusion, but it gets the point across really well:

    "The idea of food as an adjunct to drinking and socialising rather than an end in itself seems to have disappeared."

    That's exactly what the little nibbles are - an adjunct and a welcome one. And for the savvy, a profitable one.

  5. Totally agree. The last pub I went in that still does/did this was in Richmond London. A covered dish with basic sandwiches and another with scotch eggs and pork pies. Quick cheap and just the job. I don't want chips burgers steaks etc.

  6. Whatever happened to the Ploughman's Lunch? A thick slab of fresh bread, a dollop of butter, a chunk of farmhouse cheddar and a couple of pickled onions. The perfect accompaniment to a few beers. It used to be a standard in most pubs in Southern England. Is it not any more?

  7. Yes, the Ploughman's seems to be an endangered species as well - see this from 1993.

    And where you can find one, it's usually overembellished with salad, apples and other irrelevancies. Good cheese, crusty bread, butter and pickles, that's it.

    For the past few years, Wetherspoons have done a reasonable ploughman's (although some would say including too much pork pie) but it seems to be absent from their current menu.

  8. Blimey, you've been at this blogging stuff for a while! 1993!

    Yes, we seem to be in accord as to what a "Ploughman's" is, or should be. Another aspect of the UK pub culture in terminal decline.

    I really count myself lucky that I was going to, and enjoying, country pubs when they really did epitomise a British way of life; before the breathalyser, before the smoking ban, before the gastro-pub. It was a hoot driving out to some semi hidden pub in the middle of nowhere, only to find it heaving. Old sofas in the saloon, hole-in-the-wall bar, kegs with wooden stopper taps racked up behind, grumpy old bugger behind the bar, no TV, no music, great atmosphere and lots of instant friends.

    Alas no more. A great loss.

  9. I think that continued well after the breathalyser - for example I remember the Royal Oak at Hooksway in West Sussex in the early 80s which definitely fell into that category, grumpy landlord and all.

    But it's pretty much all gone now - one of the main reasons being that pubs have become much more "self-conscious" and deliberately set out to appeal to specific target markets.

  10. I used to frequent a pub that had a weekly "hot beef butty" night - freshly carved slices of meat, cut from an enormous joint of beef that had been cooked on the premises, all served between two slices of thick-cut, buttered bread. Magnificent! We washed it down with pints of Theakston XB or Old Peculiar. These days you'd probably need a special licence to serve that up - or describe it as a "dangerous sport".

  11. I see on Wetherspoons' latest menu they have taken to offering all their sandwiches and similar "with chips", which isn't very good. And £5.29 for a tuna ciabatta isn't enormously good value even if you want the chips. A big step backwards IMV.


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