Being Modern: Gastropubs
Sunday 19 June 2011
Readers, an apology. Those of you who regularly visit this column might by now have noticed a certain world-weariness – for while it is our raison d'être to celebrate the new, it is also our duty to report on the failings and foibles that more often than not turn those celebrations sour.
That will not be the case here, for the simple reason that "Being Modern" remembers all too well what British pub grub was like before the arrival of the gastropub. Hard to imagine now, but a little over 20 years ago we were all, apparently, ploughmen. When not ploughing our fields we, apparently, liked nothing better than to tuck into deep-fried foods in baskets. It made no difference what those foods were (who could tell?), as long as they came in baskets (or better still, baskets made of plastic), we were happy.
Except we weren't. Not until 1991, when The Eagle landed on London's Farringdon Road. In an instant, the template of the gastropub was drawn: scruffy charm; wooden floors; menu on a blackboard; fresh, preferably local produce; simple, robust cooking; rustic bread; olive oil and so on and sooo good.
The idea caught on like wild fire because it worked. What better way to reinvigorate British food than to serve it in an informal environment with beers on tap and wines by the cellarful? Hic.
If there is a fault, it is only that rather too many of these establishments now exist and not all of them stick as rigidly to the formula as we have come to expect. (A quick test, see if the chalk rubs off that blackboard. If not, is everything really as seasonal as we are led to believe?)
And yes, pricing is an issue – fine if you're dining on foie gras and truffles, not so great if you're paying £10 for what is essentially a bowl of pasta. And it's true, too, that we diners have rather destroyed the pub for those who might just want to sit there with an ale and some peanuts.
But we are prepared to put all this to one side (for once) to sing the praises of a true food revolution. Though we'd be lying if we didn't admit to sometimes fancying nothing more sophisticated than a ploughman's.
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