Consuming Issues: Avoid gastropubs serving insipid catered food

Should pub food be freshly cooked? I ask because something was not right about the tart lying on my plate under a dusting of icing powder at the otherwise agreeable back-street boozer which had been pumping out fine ale. The pastry was too perfectly shaped and the texture too even; it tasted like it had been made in a central kitchen rather than behind the swing doors.

Following a series of insipid meals across the country, the too-perfect lemon tart left me wondering whether this and other gastropubs are knocking out catering food while giving the appearance of being homely places.

According to those in the know, pre-prepared dishes are widely used in the eating out industry, especially by chains. Even the British chef with the most Michelin stars, Gordon Ramsay, was "caught" delivering centrally-made dishes such as coq au vin (or, 'coq au van' as the Sun headline put it) to his pubs. Top restaurants often buy in bread and other specialities, but what should be expected at a gastropub which markets itself as a destination for discerning diners?

Arguably customers paying £15-a-head to choose between eight starters, 12 mains and seven desserts shouldn't expect freshly-prepared food. But, to my mind, this is implied. A visitor to McDonald's or KFC expects, and pays for, mass-produced food – but at a gastro-pub? Amid the irregular wooden tables, real ale and quirky menus offering traditional classics with a twist...

Ironically, gastro-pubs were hailed as the British answer to the unfussy honest food found in French brasseries when they arrived here almost 20 years ago. In the ensuing two decades pub groups have leapt on the concept, realising that falling beer sales and a more convivial smokeless atmosphere make food an attractive proposition.

But the minimum wage has increased the price of kitchen hands and, in any case, it is cheaper to buy in meals from caterers rather than take on a £30,000-a-year chef. Firms such as Brakes and 3663 supply dishes that sound at home in a gastro-pub. Brakes, for instance, advertises 12 "individual Welsh lamb shepherd's pies" for £43.94, £3.66 each – with the strapline "pre-browned and supplied in microwaveable, ovenable board".

Richard Harden, of Harden's restaurant guide, says pre-prepared food is difficult to moralise about because it is so widespread. He adds: "There's an almost entirely separate question of whether the gastropub has been hijacked; whether they've been turned from a slightly inspired take on British classics into McDonald's that happen to be in pubs."

The TV chef and restaurateur Paul Merrett is more critical. At The Victoria, his pub-restaurant in Barnes, west London, he orders Spanish cheese biscuits because, he says, he can't make them as well, frozen croissants for his hotel guests to save time and occasionally burgers because "we don't have a meat grinder or a butcher so the next best thing you can get is to talk to the butcher and select the meat, the onion and the seasoning ... I think that's fair enough."

Mr Merrett feels sorry for Gordon Ramsay because centralising production is "sensible", but has no time for publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers who ping catering food into the microwave or pull mass-produced puddings from the fridge. "You know they're just shipping it in a big container lorry and it's just wrong." Instead he suggests they offer a smaller home-cooked menu.

Perhaps without a tart lacking a little zest, and honesty.

Heroes & villians

Hero: Open Farm Sunday

Hats off to Leaf (Linking Environment and Farming) for organising this Sunday's open day at 400 farms nationwide, which will open their gates to the public. Activities include nature trails, tractor and trailer rides, pond dipping, farmers' markets, kids' activities and picnics. See farmsunday.org for one near you.

Villain: Food Standards Agency

While it has successfully cut salt and fat, the FSA has been slow to display hygiene ratings for the UK's 530,000 food outlets. In September, after three years' work, it will launch a national website with ratings from 89 councils. The privately run scoresonthedoors.org.uk – free to the public – already has 121.

m.hickman@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

    Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

    £30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

    Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable