The last ten years or so has seen an exponential rise in the interest of food in the British psyche. Driven by this new found passion, the gastro pub phenomenon has spread across our shores forcing many old school pubs to close down or to diversify into the booming food market.
For those of us who enjoy food in pubs, the transformation has been wondrous and exciting. There has always been pubs that sell food, much of it average at best, but average isn’t good enough anymore. With every new pub and every refurbishment accompanied by a brand new menu, the competition for our favour increases. With “Sustainable”, “Local” and “Seasonal” seemingly the buzz words of our foodie times, pubs are increasingly eager to tell us where our food comes from and how quickly it has made the journey to their kitchen. This is all good news for us, and equally good news for those who get it right. But even in this age of TV chefs and award winning pubs, there are still plenty who try and fail.
My Dad and I run a blog site called GastroHub, where we document our search for the best food pubs the South of England has to offer. After visiting and reviewing countless pubs, I feel I’m in a good position to know what makes a pub work.
For the most part it is the simple things. We will often eat in a pub and talk afterwards about how close they are to getting it right. There’s no magic or mystery to it. Let’s start with the easiest things to get right. The temperature in a pub is vital. During the winter months, a pub should be a cosy welcoming environment, somewhere you are glad to be, out of the cold and the rain. You wouldn’t believe how many pubs we have visited where it has been necessary to keep our coats on for the duration.
Next let’s look at the music. What you really want is a bit of inoffensive background music. Not too loud and not too quiet. I like to call it “The Goldilocks Factor”. On several occasions we have sat down to lunch in a deathly quiet pub with no sound except our own voices. This doesn’t make for a relaxing atmosphere, especially when the landlord is lurking behind the bar listening to every word. Surely the most obvious and fundamental attribute needed to be a successful landlord is the ability to be friendly and make you feel welcome. It sounds painfully obvious, but you would be amazed at some of the welcomes we’ve received. If you can’t do affable, find someone who can.
The most important weapon in any gastro pubs arsenal is the menu and its execution. If a menu has pictures nowadays, it’s almost certainly a gloomy portent of things to come. Equally, if you’ve finished your first drink before ploughing through an oversized menu, it’s probably not worth the effort. We come back to “The Goldilocks Factor”. A menu shouldn’t be too big; this will set off alarm bells in the head of any foodie worth their salt. Neither should a menu be too small, leaving the punter feeling underwhelmed and having to opt for something uninspiring.
“The Goldilocks Factor” could almost be a mantra for any wannabe gastro pub owner. The temperature just right, music just right, service not too full on and not too standoffish, menu just big enough. At the end of the day, even if you’ve ticked all these boxes and are waiting for the customers to come knocking, it will all be in vain without a good chef, even a great chef if you can find one. The heartbeat of any public foodery, the chef is becoming a prized commodity, and rightly so.
So how many pubs meet our exacting standards? Well if you’d asked me a year ago I’d have said not enough, but since then we’ve noticed a sharp increase in high quality pubs. Publicans truly are starting to care about food. They genuinely are trying to use local and seasonal produce. Homemade food is at last a serious draw. Yes it is true that many pubs have been forced to close, but more often than not they are just victims of pub evolution. If they are stuck in the past and unable to keep up with what people want, they fall behind and eventually die. There will always be a finite number of pubs which will naturally lead to survival of the fittest. Once again this can only be a good thing for us, the paying public. So let us all raise a glass to our newest national treasure, the British gastro pub, God bless them, every one. Please see gastrohub.blogspot.co.uk
The rise of the Gastro Pub –
By Ben Humphrey