Do you still think that pub food solely consists of scampi, chicken in a basket or a limp Ploughman’s? If you do then somehow you have managed to miss the the ongoing revolution in pub fare. Gastropubs, combining gastronomic food and tradition pub values, have been opening up in their droves for the last 10 years.
Somewhat less elitist than certain restaurants, boozers selling good quality food in a relaxed atmosphere are springing up in towns and villages everywhere. Typified by wooden flooring, an eclectic mix of furniture and welcoming open fires, these eateries have menus written on chalkboards and impressive wine lists.
Many top chefs such as Gordon Ramsey, Tom Aiken and Jamie Oliver, who started his career cooking in his father’s pub, have championed gastropubs. The emphasis is usually on traditional food served with an up-to-date feel. Typical dishes in many of these establishments are: roasted sea bass, lamb shanks braised in red wine, sausage and mash, steak and ale pie, homemade fish cakes, fresh soups and interesting salads.
Gastropubs usually take pride in the fact the ingredients are fresh and local. Terms like organic, locally sourced, seasonal and free range abound on the menus. The dishes should be homemade; the kitchen run by a fully trained chef, as opposed to the willing but unskilled cooks of yore or inexperienced trainee fresh from catering college.
This change has been consumer driven for the most part. The public’s palate has become more sophisticated in recent years but a reluctance to pull on smart clothes and pay restaurant prices after a hard day’s work has led many to the door of their nearest gastropub. Booking is often not required; there will be a warm welcome and the service is fast and friendly. The football maybe on the TV and if you don’t fancy a bottle of wine then a range of ales might tickle your fancy.
Something for everyone? Not necessarily. Critics claim that gastros are over-priced and killing the traditional British boozer. They suggest that it is now harder than ever to find value for money food in pubs, and that an ordinary bloke after a pint will have to fight his way through romantic couples, young mums with designer prams and suited professionals.
The chefs and the landlords, however, fervently disagree. They claim that the change is partially fuelled by the customer, that there are many reasonably priced options and almost always a fixed price lunch menu that offers great value for money. Furthermore, they say, the gastropubs have had a positive knock-on effect on the regular pubs and forced them to improve the grub on offer. This can only be a good thing, making the frozen pub ready-meal a thing of the past. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is not opposed to gastros as they often feature a selection of fine, and local, real ales. In fact, gastropub owners have often taken over failing or closed down pubs and revitalized them. The breweries will supply the beer but the landlords have autonomy over the food.
Finally, with the introduction of the smoking ban pubs have become nicer places for families to visit. With the popular interest in good food and wine but limited spare time in our ever more busy lives; gastropubs tick all the right boxes.