Consuming Issues: Avoid gastropubs serving insipid catered food
Saturday 12 June 2010
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.
- 1 Ireland gay marriage vote: 'No' campaign appears to concede amid reports of 'yes' landslide victory
- 2 Purity balls: Girls in the US making virginity pledges as fathers vow to 'protect purity'
- 3 Picture of couple posing with beached dolphin 'that later died' causes outrage
- 4 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
- 5 Arsenal fan asks the Queen for tickets to the FA Cup final - gets a reply from Buckingham Palace
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
iJobs Money & Business
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...
£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...
Day In a Page
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof