Monday, 19 September 2011

We are all gastro now

It was reported recently that the Good Food Guide had banished the term “gastropub”. However, this is not because there has been a swing back to a wet-led model, but because the upmarket dining pub has become so commonplace that it no longer needs a special term to distinguish it. In the more prosperous parts of the country, like large swathes of Cheshire, it’s getting increasingly difficult to find any other kind of pub. In a sense “we are all gastropubs now”.

So, in view of this so-called pub food revolution, I thought I would ask blog readers how often they ate out in pubs in their daily lives when not on holiday. The results didn’t really bear out the received wisdom, with 65% replying either “very occasionally” or “never”, and only 13% saying they did it at least weekly. Even accepting that there is a proportion of smoking ban refuseniks, these results certainly don’t show a huge enthusiasm for eating in pubs from a population who typically probably visit pubs more than average.

Now, I have to admit that in some respects I am a rather picky eater, so I am reluctant to pontificate on the general subject of food, whether in pubs or elsewhere. But it has to be said that a lot of pub food is extremely dull and uninspiring, and if you want something interesting and imaginative you are far more likely to find it in a restaurant or a bistro/wine bar type establishment.

This perhaps merits a more detailed post, but it is certainly my recollection that, thirty years ago, there was much more variety and experimentation in pub food than there is now. So often today, pub food has settled down to a predictable, standardised menu, whether exemplified by the steak and kidney pie in the family dining outlet or the braised lamb shank in the would-be gastropub.

There’s also a posting on this subject on Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile blog.


  1. "This perhaps merits a more detailed post, but it is certainly my recollection that, thirty years ago, there was much more variety and experimentation in pub food than there is now."
    Blimey! I remember the choice as plaice and chips at lunch time and just gallons of booze in the evening! I remember being amazed in the early 90's when a pubs sold pizzas! But I suppose it depends on the area and what pubs you go to.

  2. I have to say that my recollection of pub grub (as it was usually called) 30 years ago is that it was mostly very basic stuff: pickled eggs and a few elderly sandwiches behind the bar in many cases. But perhaps this reflects the type of pub I prefer to drink in.

  3. I suspect that what we've lost is the variety of simple pub food, in gaining a very standardised menu in the vast majority of pubs.

    I can recall cheap and excellent pizza in a Sam Smiths pub in Holmes Chapel,oysters, cold buffets in Aberdeen, stews and bread and dripping in a number of pubs 20 years ago.(NB I recall you commenting on Sams standardising their catering recently).

    That said, I'd prefer home-made fish and chips or burger to an anglicised curry or lasagne.

  4. Exactly, Martin - a variety of simple pub food, often varying dramatically between different pubs.

    You never see cold buffets in pubs now, which were once quite common. As a picky eater I like that kind of thing as I can choose the things I like and ignore those I don't. That's why I often seek out Chinese buffets now.

    The Bull's Head in Kings Norton used to have a particularly fine one when I was at university in Birmingham. Now it's a "Sizzling Pub" :-(

    And I too remember having an excellent pizza in the Swan at Holmes Chapel. I called in there last year - it was keg-only and no longer seemed to serve food. You never seem to see pizzas in pubs nowadays despite smart restaurant chains like Pizza Express and Ask seemingly doing very well out of them.

    Incidentally, Sams' seem to have largely relented on their "pies and puddings" menu now.

  5. If the food I was served in a pub actually looked like it does in your photo, I think I'd be a very large man - that looks like my kind of meal!!

  6. Braised lamb shanks tend to come in vacuum packs, ready to microwave! You see them in all the cash & carries. Personally, I have nothing against the licensed premises formerly known as gastropubs provided you can still staqnd at the bar and have a decent pint. There are two or three here in Bristol which fit this description and where the food isn't too expensive. I can, however, think of at least one where the beer, although good, is so expensive that I can only believe that they are trying to discourage people from just coming in for a pint. Fine, they've discouraged me to the extent that I can walk up the road and drink the same beer cheaper in congenial surroundings in another pub.

  7. Sadly in London it's becoming even more common for gastro "pubs" to actively discourage anyone coming in for just a pint. I've been to a few places now where the drinkers area is just a small corner in the back with a couple of tables. Drinkers are not welcome to sit at the regular tables, even if there are few diners in. Even if you do stay for a pint it's expensive and not always well kept. These places should just give up the charade and call themselves restaurants, it would make things much less confusing for me!

  8. Mmmm...steak and ale pie!

    Only thing is, wtf is the lettuce and tomato thing all about? Seems to be standard garnish whatever you order.

    I once ordered scampi and chips in a was served up with a generous portion of boiled cabbage.


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