In the modern land of pubs food is fairly ubiquitous and it’s rare that I stumble across somewhere that doesn’t dish up at least something to help soak up the booze. In the past I’ve shied away from consistently incorporating opinions about the food into reviews because when visiting a few places in an afternoon it simply isn’t possible for me to eat in them all (a financial constraint and not a physical one I assure you). It has seemed therefore unfair to praise or poke fun on a topic I don’t always mention and yet pub food is so often brought up when discussing recommendations or trying to decide if we think somewhere is as pretentious as it seems. This leads neatly to ‘Fry Me a River’ which will serve as Pub Raiders definitive guide for the good, the bad and the un-digestable of pub grub along with the associated pitfalls/annoyances.
A Few Words On Menus
Crag faced hob bothering tourettes sufferer Gordon Ramsey and his selfless crusade to raise kitchen standards only really has one tactic when you strip out all the swearing, gurning and plate smashing and that is ‘simplify the menu’. In your mission to stuff your face a menu is a critical tool but this seems to be something that publicans are struggling with so lets run through the biggest issues.
1. Numbers of things. This is most typically encountered when ordering dishes where sausages are a key component but I’ve seen it elsewhere. ‘A duo of scallops’, ‘A trio of bangers’, ‘A quad of profiteroles’. It’s tough to know where this trend started but it needs to stop. In most cases it makes it all to clear that the mechanical calculations are linked to some tight arsed budget set down in the kitchen and they’ve probably also counted out a pre determined number of spuds and carrots too. Depressing.
2. Mind your language. There is nothing ‘integral’ about a fucking onion ring. Scattering big words around a menu in an attempt to make pub food sound ‘arty’ or ‘edgy’ is on the rise. Thankfully this trend is still limited to a minority and it seems to crop up mostly in places which serve a couple of draft Belgian lagers and have suddenly gotten ideas above their station. To avoid any doubt though this menu based vocabulary bollockishness also extends to ‘clusters of…’, ‘smears of…’, ‘homeopathic amounts of…’, ‘inspired by…’, ‘a lattice of…’ basically anything that isn’t just the name of the food item followed by a price. I can just about cope with a ‘dollop’ but anything else that has come out of the wrong end of some frying pan wielding human thesaurus can quite frankly sod off.
3. PTO. Keep it to one menu on one page please. At a push maybe have a pudding menu but please don’t have different menus for different seating areas because if you deny me toad in the hole because I’m in the fish zone I’m going to assume you’re an arse. Also, keep it short, it’s hard enough making a decision about what pint I’m going to have without then having to decide between fifteen different types of chip (which only need cooking once last time I checked). It’s also an idea to have it printed on paper without great expense because then you can alter it, bin it or not get sniffy if I use it to mop up a spill. At the extreme end of the ‘not printed on paper’ menu spectrum were the ones where the options had been engraved onto brass plaques and then attached to a small replica wooden ships wheel. Not only did a most of the menu fall foul of the first two rules but they were so heavy that one of them was being used as a door stop. Baffling.
What’re You Serving
Pubs, if they’re going to serve food, should serve pub food. It’s more than a little strange how many ‘pubs’ I see which apparently are also offering the best Thai food in the area. Have I missed a bulletin from CAMRA about this or perhaps it’s just me that finds it a little odd?
Pub food is burgers and chips, pie or hotpot! It ought to be classic and humble. It’s perfectly OK to try and jazz it up with a few local ingredients or maybe even some spices (as long as you don’t describe them like a berk) but if you want to go off piste with what you’re serving then re-brand as a restaurant and leave the rest of us alone.
Ultimately what we’re bothered about is quality. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the finest organic nonsense that money can buy but it certainly needs to outshine anything I’d be able to scoff at home after 2.5 minutes of whirring and a *bing*. Stick to a few classics and do them well is my advice.
The Chinese have been using plates since 600AD and in Europe the process of making porcelain was perfected in 1708 which means that for over 300 glorious years they’ve been used successfully used to transport food from kitchen to table. My research didn’t extend to what happened before this but presumably whoever was cooking the food item removed it from the oven and threw the hot grub towards the eating surface and hoped for the best. Messy. I feel fortunate that I live in an age where a simple disk of ceramic pottery can almost guarantee my food will get to me without risk of mishap though sadly I fear the days of the plate are numbered.
In the past 6 months I have been brought food upon….a roofing tile, a stone, a bit of glass, a chopping board and a bit of wood. The single eventuality where this is OK is when there are literally no other plates. Perhaps this will happen during a particularly busy day or following some sort of minor apocalyptic event but otherwise I expect a plate – ideally circular.
Before I move on I’ll just point out that this twattery also extends to what other items are being served in. My chips will be perfectly happy on my nice clean plate next to my pie. They do not need to be brought to me separately in a wire basket, an Ikea desk tidy (I was not fooled), an old tin can or a small paper box. With the exception of the paper box you are only going to achieve two things. 1. Additional, and presumably quite difficult, washing up. 2. Making you look like a dick.
What pint glugging experience is not enhanced by the presence of some sort of salty treat? Bar snacks take on many forms and possibly deserve a piece of their own however for now I will attempt to summarise what I feel is an area of grave concern.
The line where bar snacks end and food begins is starting to suffer from the same lack of distinction Robin Thicke is able to draw between consensual fondling and serious criminal acts. It’s blurred. A side effect of this is that some pubs are charging ludicrous amounts of money for things I’d expect to buy from my pocket change in Percy Ingle (and let’s not kid ourselves that they weren’t bought there in the first place half the time). It’s time to establish some rules here.
Snacks are the things you find in bags or at a push in a glass jar to be decantered into a small dish/bowl and can be comfortably shared with drinking companion(s) without the need for a plate or cutlery. Crips, scampi fries, nuts, pig derived items, jerky and, at a push, those little rice cracker things and wasabi peas.
Food covers everything else. Sausage rolls, scotch eggs and other pastry based items. Don’t stop serving them but stop charging the same amount as a pint for them or put them on the menu and make some serious effort. If they’re plonked on the bar near the pumps I ought to be able to add one to my order without a second though rather than a second mortgage. No amount of nicely illustrated accompanying chalkboards, rustic chopping boards or glass cloche can tart a pork pie up to the point I’ll be convinced it’s worth nearly a fiver so stop doing it.
The top offenders for this pastry based gouging are – The Fox and Anchor (who once sent me a really unpleasant message for giving them a shit review which lampooned their overpriced ‘snacks’ and warned me not to do it again. Whoops.), The Cat and Mutton, The Royal Oak, The Cutty Sark.
And one which neatly defines the distinctions in this area and serves a scotch egg worthy of a deity – The Princess Victoria.
It might be my northern roots that causes this to happen but when my food arrives I almost immediately try and calculate the true value of what’s sat in front of me. This more often that not leads to a moment of acute irritation as I conclude that my ‘trio of sausages on a pillow of crushed pomme de terre luxuriated with extracted meat juices and organic greens’ (sausages and mash) is worth about £2.61.
Of course I’m paying for more than just the cost price of a few bangers which wouldn’t be the same eaten alone at home in the dark with a threadbare blanket around my shoulders for warmth but there is a limit to what’s reasonable. I’d argue that anything other than steak shouldn’t be creeping anywhere near the £15 mark and should be closer to the £10. This is especially true of dishes which are transparently cheap to produce such a Sunday roast. I don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege of eating in your fine establishment but don’t take the piss.
Whilst I could comfortably rant on for another few thousand words I’ll save that rage for another day as I think we’ve fairly clearly outlined the key areas of concern for pub food. You may have reached the conclusion from reading this that I hate pub food. Food is a great way of enhancing the pub experience but unlike the basic principles of the pub – buy seats, fit pumps, hire staff, serve beer – it is a bit more complicated to get right. Hopefully this will serve as a guide/warning to any aspiring publicans and shed a bit of light on why we ridicule those who fall foul of these concepts. Happy scoffing.