If your ideal country pub is a down-to-earth rustic alehouse, then the Grosvenor Arms may not appeal. But it's undoubtedly an attractive, confident, stylish and successful pub which is run with a great deal of care and attention to detail, and sets high standards of food, drink and ambience. Most importantly, where many other places with similar ambitions might settle for a solitary handpump and a Caffreys dispenser, it gives beer the prominence it rightfully deserves. These qualities will surely see it before too long making an appearance in both the Good Beer Guide and the Good Pub Food Guide.At the time, B&P was an independent chain that had been founded by Jerry Brunning and Graham Price. As their company history records, the Grosvenor Arms was one of their first pubs in the North-West. While unashamedly upmarket and food-oriented, they were in many ways a breath of fresh air in comparison to chain dining pubs, with a strong emphasis on cask beer and fresh, local ingredients, and a respectful, individual approach to renovating the pubs they acquired. Over the years, I enjoyed a fair few meals at B&P pubs, including some birthday celebrations, with the beautifully-situated Dysart Arms at Bunbury being a particular favourite.
The chain gradually expanded to fourteen pubs, most in Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales, but with a handful in the South-East. While the essentials didn’t change, it was noticeable that the menus got a little more ambitious and gastro, and the new conversions a little less “pubby”. I remarked in my review of the Grosvenor Arms that it had what was almost a vault area with a bar billiards table – you wouldn’t see that in the new ones. More and more, they were becoming places you really wouldn’t feel at home just visiting for a swift pint.
Then, in 2007, the company was acquired by The Restaurant Group, owners of Garfunkels and Frankie & Benny, which maybe didn’t seem an ideal fit although, given that the founders were probably approaching retirement age, nobody can really blame them for cashing in. Since then, it has grown to 55 pubs, with many new openings in the South-East. I can’t say I’ve been to any of these, but Martin Taylor, who has, concludes that they’re adopting a cookie-cutter approach to interior design, and they don’t have the turnover to support their beer range.
Nothing can stop the march of Brunning and Price though, and their Packhorse at Mapledurham is exactly what you’d expect from the chain, as easy to detect from the interior now as a Wetherspoons or Ember.They have also become far more unashamedly gastro than they were when they started out – look at the menu for the Grosvenor Arms and draw your own conclusions. And nobody can tell me that menu doesn’t rely heavily on the freezer. I can’t help thinking that such places are in effect pub-themed restaurants and can’t in any meaningful sense be regarded as pubs in the normal sense of the word. They have taken over the place in the market that smart restaurants occupied thirty years ago.
Nothing wrong with smart old dining pubs with decent beer, of course, and I’ve always found somewhere pleasant to sit with a half and listen to light ’80s pop (yuk). Their ale range, with beer miles displayed, are always well judged, but I never find the quality better than average (Maggs Magnificent Mild NBSS 3).
Like Wetherspoons, their commitment to cask is meaningless when everyone is drinking wine and lager with their £15 lunches.