Sunday 19 July 2015

Hearty harmonisation

Last week I attended a residents’ meeting in one of my local pubs, the Plough in Heaton Moor, to discuss M&B’s plans for refurbishment and updating the licence conditions. The pub had previously been owned by Orchid Taverns and was acquired by M&B when they took over the company around the turn of the year. Possibly this is something that the conditions oblige them to do but, even so, all credit to them for taking it seriously and letting people air their concerns. Inevitably, some hobby-horses were given an extensive airing, but the general atmosphere was amicable and there wasn’t anything in the licence application that raised serious concern.

One subject that divided opinions was the admission of dogs, although it seems that the pub will remain dog-friendly. Some attendees also expressed disapproval of M&B’s plans to remove Sky Sports, which obviously I would thoroughly applaud. “It’s always busy when City are on,” they said, which I’m sure is true, but rather ignores the counter-argument that, if you’re trying to appeal to diners and families, it may attract the wrong kind of clientele and also deter many from visiting in the first place.

Three and a half years ago, Orchid carried out a modest refurbishment and rebranded the pub as a “Pizza Kitchen & Bar.” Personally, I welcomed this, as it made a refreshing change from the usual formulaic “pub grub”, and the menu offered a number of dishes, not just pizzas, that appealed to me. However, it never seemed to do particularly well (although I generally only visited at lunchtimes) and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that they had rather overestimated how trendy and yuppieish Heaton Moor is. Yes, it’s moving that way, but it’s still far from Didsbury or Chorlton and still has a strong core of established older residents.

M&B said they were going to replace this with a more conventional menu of traditional pub favourites and “hearty dishes”, plus roast dinners on Sundays. This met with the general approval of the meeting, and indeed may well be a more appropriate option for that particular location. However, it’s another example of the tendency for more and more pubs to offer what is, with the odd tweak, basically the same menu. The days when many pubs featured a particular cuisine as a speciality of the house have long gone. And you can’t help thinking that, in these days of street food and ever-increasing interest in dishes from around the world, pubs’ food offer so often looks stodgy and dated.

The company also said they were planning to introduce a wider range of real ales and craft beers, so we’ll see how that turns out. They did, however, breezily dismiss complaints that the beer prices were too high, so we can expect it to remain one of the dearest in the area. Today is the last trading day under the old regime, and it’s scheduled to reopen on Friday 21 August.


  1. You'd probably love the standard cask ale offer at a typical M&B suburban pub. At both of ours it's 6 brown Bitters between 3.6% and 4.1%, with Wainwright for variety.

  2. Whereas at the craft beer bar I went to last night the cask range consisted of seven pale ales, with an oatmeal stout for variety. Much better! (I stuck a pin in the 'pale ale' map. Didn't fancy the stout - you can't tell what condition it's going to be in...)

  3. If you read Mr Lawrenson's latest blog you'll find a good explanation of why the condition of the stout is likely to be dodgy.

    And yes, saminess can be a big problem on beer menus too.

    As an off-the-wall thought, perhaps pubs could offer a limited menu of freshly-cooked dishes (i.e. cask) and a longer menu of dishes that are acknowledged to be frozen and microwaved (i.e. keg and bottled).

  4. Stanley Blenkinsop20 July 2015 at 06:49

    Of course there are also pubs offering traditional pub grub because that's exactly what their customers want.
    Quite a lot of them in fact.
    Who've been doing it for years.
    Because they know exactly what their customers want.
    And then along came 'Spoons who nicked their winning formula.
    They also tend to serve gravy rather than jus.

  5. Stanley's right you know.

    All that's required is burger and chips and a free pint.

  6. “It’s always busy when City are on”. Yes, and as soon as City are off, so are those customers. The contribution of Sky Sports to a pub's profitability is usually quite limited; I know pubs where they've removed it as it doesn't pay its way.

  7. Sounds like this is to become an M&B Castle pub (same as the Stokers Arms in Didsbury).

  8. Yes, it is, and in fact the new manager is coming from the Stokers Arms. He assured us that the Plough wouldn't have DJs and bangin' music.

    I wrote about the Stokers Arms here as part of a Didsbury Stagger. Can't say I was at all impressed - earsplitting music, eyewatering prices and they refused admission to the world's least likely troublemaker.

  9. Martin, Cambridge21 July 2015 at 20:53

    As long as it's not becoming an Ember Inn ...

    I share your disappointment at standardisation of menus, with only the quality of chips to differentiate. I can't say I noticed any different in a week of Austrian & German pubs though - variations on meat and potatoes rule the world unfortunately.

  10. vg point on pub food becoming staid by comparison to new modern alternatives.

  11. When I moved to the Heatons, The Plough was my favoured local for a good few years, but after the astronomical prices came in around the time of the pizza refurbishment - seemingly followed by a reduction in beer quality - I've gone in only occasionally.

    Apart from the prices (too high even with 20p off for flashing your CAMRA card), the thing that rankles with me is the hassle you get to drink up immediately after closing time. I came to the conclusion that the staff must not be paid after 23:00, or maybe they get a bonus for getting you out before 10 past 11.

    For me, ditching football is a bad move. Apart from City & United matches it's not that intrusive, and losing that removes one thing that draggd me in there occasionally.


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