Friday, 7 September 2012

Authenticity isn’t necessarily my strong suit when it comes to selecting a night out overseas - Inapub, September 2012

Authenticity isn’t necessarily my strong suit when it comes to selecting a night out overseas - I’ve drunk Guinness in Irish bars in Barcelona, and eaten Tapas in Dublin. So it was perhaps inevitable that I found myself standing in the Union Jack British Pub in the French town of Le Mans not so long ago.

In my defence, I’d sought out a bar to watch Andy Murray play in the Wimbledon men’s final, but since the commentary was in suitably unimpressed French, I don’t think I experienced the same level of excitement as I might have at home.

The bar itself was authentically British enough, to the extent that none of the beer was served in the correct branded glass and all the tables wobbled. However, they let us down on one crucial aspect. When we tried to order food, the barman simply pointed to the bistro opposite.

Given that I’ve rarely been in a French bar that couldn’t rustle up a baguette and a bowl of frites, it was an affront to my sense of national pride that the Gallic stereotype of a British pub is a venue that doesn’t sell food.

Of course, I didn’t make a fuss. But if I had, I would have quoted the findings of the latest QuickBite survey from Horizons’ latest QuickBite survey, which found that British adults are going out a bit more often than they have done in the past two years, and that pub restaurants are the top choice, favoured  by 19 per cent of consumers.

Marston’s is among the operators showing faith in the format, having recently confirmed plans for 25 new-build pub restaurants in the current financial year.

However, pubs also have to fight hard for spend in the managed market, with the Quickbite figures showing average spend per head down from £15.80 in January to £13.28 in June. This is being driven both by lower menu costs as managed operators drop prices to drive bums on seats, as well as a tendency to cut back on the extras, such as ordering wine by the glass instead of the bottle.

There was an interesting epilogue to my French misadventure. When our party of 10 adjourned to the recommended bistro, they managed to get almost every order wrong.  It doesn’t get much more British than that.

On the menu this month: In the most interesting Anglo French collaboration since Concorde, Taylor Walker pubs have added a Croque Monsieur to their sandwich menu. Behind the French name, the ingredients for the classic toastie couldn’t be more British - Wiltshire ham, melted Welsh rarebit and mature cheddar. Vive le difference?
This 'Pub Food with Porter' column appeasr in the September 2012 issue of Inapub.

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