Good Food Blog
Calling time on pretentious gastropubsPosted at 10:11AM, 24 June 2008 by Jenni Muir - Food writer
Superior food in a pub environment - what's not to like about gastropubs? Plenty it turns out, when you're visiting several each week. I'm judging a gastropub competition at the moment and visiting lots of them undercover.
So many these days are really restaurants, with all the palaver of having to book a table. Who isn't put off by being told they can only come at 6.30 or 9pm? Or that they can only have the table for a limited time slot? Surely that's not what gastropubs are meant to be about.
You know you're in for a pretentious time when you are greeted at the door by staff in long aprons who say things like, 'Are you joining us for dinner tonight?'
You know you're in for a pretentious time when you're greeted at the door by staff in long aprons who say things like, 'Are you joining us for dinner tonight?' Yet so many gastropub chefs seem to think the pub licence gives them licence for slow service and inconsistent cooking. And us customers don't complain, do we? Because we're in a pub. In the back of our minds we're thinking, 'Well, it's not as though it's a restaurant'. Yet the bill often shows that we are indeed paying restaurant prices.
So many poncey gastropubs seem to keep their bar begrudgingly too. It's fabulous that there are better wine lists in pubs these days, for sure. But one place I was at recently seemed to think wine was all that mattered; they had just one real ale and no interesting bottled beers or cider. To cap it all off, they dedicated every chair and table to diners. Who wouldn't feel awkward ordering a drink at the bar in that environment?
But the worst crime? Bad chips. It sounds silly, but I've found it to be true. You can't call yourself a gastropub and compromise in the chip department.
One place we visited was streets ahead of the others: there was a lovely menu of British dishes, lots of good ingredients and no stinting on portions of luxuries like crab. Then came a veal steak - wonderful - but beside it was a pile of chips that looked like they'd been made from reconstituted potato, picked up at a fast food chain down the high street and reheated. Even their very fine desserts couldn't make up for the chip debacle, the judges all agreed. And of course there was only one decent beer for us to cry into.