Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sandwich course

A recent few days away on holiday reminded me yet again of the sad decline of the British pub sandwich, once an absolute staple of the food trade. If you’ve had a generous cooked breakfast and are looking forward to a full meal in the evening, all you want at lunchtime is a sandwich or something similar. Yet many pubs no longer offer them at all, and even when they do they often try to build them up into something approaching a main meal, with prices to match. And why do so many pubs insist on including chips with them? Sometimes it’s a better – and cheaper – option to have a sandwich in a café, despite the lack of atmosphere and decent beer.

There’s also the perennial problem of pubs failing to display menus outside. If they now see the food trade as central to their business, you would imagine this would be automatic, but apparently not. “Full menu inside” just isn’t good enough. No restaurant would dream of failing to advertise its wares, so why do pubs, especially in tourist locations with a lot of footfall past the door?

The psychological cues from information shown outside can be a major factor in tempting potential customers to venture across the threshold. In fact, I went into one pub, looked at the menu, and then walked out again, only to be pursued by the licensee who had been on the phone. “I didn’t see anything I fancied” was all I could say. I didn’t really have the heart to say “I could get much the same – plus a drink – for less money down the road in Wetherspoon’s.”

However, praise where praise is due to the Black Swan in Devizes, Wiltshire, who managed to serve up an excellent cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich – proper slices of quality cheese, enough pickle but not too much, and tasty, crusty bread that was thicker than sliced white but avoided doorstep proportions. Simple stuff, maybe, but when done well one of the glories of the British pub.

21 comments:

  1. The eponymous duke must be turning in his grave at the idea of sandwiches been served on a plate with a knife and fork. My main problem with these pretensions sandwiches is that you have no idea how long they will take to appear. Half an hour, whilst unusual, is not unknown. If you have a bus or train to catch then you can't take the risk. In the good old days of real pubs you would often fins ready made sandwiches (and pies) on display on the bar.

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    1. I've written a blog about excessive waiting times for pub food in the past, but can't put my finger on it at present. More than once I've been completely forgotten about...

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    2. I was forgotten about in 'spoons in Macc a few weeks ago. When I eventually complained they were so apologetic and even gave me a free pint :-)

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  2. In the "good old days" though, you also saw ready made sandwiches curling under glass covers on the bar from the day before if not earlier.

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  3. Something else we can agree on totally. It's not just pubs though; the whole sandwich business seems at odds with my taste: I blogged about this almost 10 years ago, and the 10 years haven't changed my views on that.

    Certainly, we've walked out of many pubs that don't offer a sandwich menu at lunchtime: as you say, that's often what you want when on holiday, and you've had cooked breakfast and will be eating out in the evening. Thing is, I'd imagine if you charge a (reasonable-sounding to me) £4-6 for a simple sandwich, there has to be a good margin in that, and no need for a cook.

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  4. Timothy Goodacre4 July 2017 at 16:09

    Glad you visited our lovely town Curmudgeon ! Hope you enjoyed a pint of our lovely Wadworths beer too ?

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    1. I had a very nice pint of Henry's IPA in the self-same pub, and also picked up a few Wadworth's bottles in their Edwin Giddings shop. And I agree it is a lovely town :-)

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    2. Six X used to be a favourite tipple when I lived in Wiltshire. A couple of my locals in Cricklade served it. Of course, that was back when the local pub was a friendly hubbub with laughter and easy conversation, and everyone rubbed along just fine. And you could get a proper sandwich almost everywhere.

      I tended to go for a Ploughman's, usually. When done right, it was superb. A thick slice of crusty fresh-baked bread, a chunk of good Cheddar, a dollop of butter and either a dollop of Branston Pickle or a large pickled onion. Hmm, my mouth is watering at the thought. :) The simple things in life are so often the best.

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  5. The Blocked Dwarf4 July 2017 at 18:05

    I recall, back in the pre-Pret mid 80s, a lot of pubs still prided themselves on the quality, and price, of their 'ploughmans'(that's a DIY cheddar and pickle 'sub' incase you were born after about 1995). That always puzzled me as a 'sophisticated' teen (in other words ' a bit of a dick') until I discovered that the whole point of bitter was to wash down or 'compliment' the 'cheese' (not that 'cheddar' is really cheese of course; being chemically closer to bath soap) in the ploughmans. There is something magical about hops and cheese, yes even cheddar: they just work!

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    1. Yes, the proper Ploughman's is a long-standing theme of this blog. I reported here on a couple of particularly terrible examples :-(

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  6. I have been eating cheddar cheese sandwiches for over 50 years and never knew that it was chemically closer to bath soap,i am sure soap is cheaper so i will have to grate bath soap on my bread and save a few quid.
    You do learn a lot on this blog about cheese and how many smokers there are in this country,i must try a bath soap sandwich while smoking a fag,i may well fit into the majority who contribute to what i think is mainly a good blog and be one of you.

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    1. The Blocked Dwarf4 July 2017 at 21:55

      You might well then fit in here but I doubt I ever will; seeing as I haven't been in a pub for a pint since pubs told me my custom was no longer wished for . If every wet-led pub closed tomorrow I wouldn't shed a tear and the country needs all the Tesco Quickies it can get iMNSO. I come here because Mudgie reminds me what this country used to be like when 'tolerance' really was a 'British value'and not just a t-shirt slogan for Kippers.

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  7. Go down spoons. Deli sandwich, chips, pint, around a fiver all in. Better value than any other dodgepot gaff.

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  8. Only yesterday we witnessed a group of 8 visit a Cambridge pub at lunchtime asking for sandwiches, only to be disappointed, ending up with a Crayfish & Avocado Salad or something. "Can't even get an open sandwich in a pub?!" we overheard them say.

    Near to Devizes, shame to see the Bell Inn, Seend, still closed when we last passed it - had fantastic views from the beer garden.

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  9. Couldn't agree more. Also, it is even harder to get a sandwich on Sunday lunchtimes! In many places it's the roast or nothing!

    My theory about the price and f***ed up ingredients of many a modern sandwich is this; if you produce a simple sandwich that the customer could've made at home, many will not want to pay the high price that these ponced up creations can demand.

    Chips with a sandwich should be an optional extra.

    Still my ideal lunchtime pub when on holiday is a simple boozer with rolls/cobs/baps/barm cakes in cling film behind the bar! Simple, heaven!

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    1. A cheese and onion cob and a pint of Dark Ruby Mild in the Beacon, Sedgeley, is one of the world's great beer and food combinations.

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    2. I'd choose another beer, not a mild fan, but yes to the cob and location.

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  10. Cheese (and that includes cheddar BD) and a pint of bitter. Heaven!

    But whole heartedly agreed. How about a Spanish Onion sandwich or toasted tomato or left over bloody roast beef from the Sunday lunch.
    (apologies if my suggestions don't make sense as I live on the west coast of Canada and am not overly familiar with cobs, baps, etc. :)

    Cheers

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    1. The Blocked Dwarf4 July 2017 at 22:01

      Beef goes really well on rye sourdough IMO, and if I still drank, washed down with something lambic without cherries.Pretentious? Moi?

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