Friday, 18 January 2013

I recently had the opportunity to drink a £200 bottle of red wine - Inapub, January 2013

I recently had the opportunity to drink a £200 bottle of red wine. Not all by myself, I hasten to add.  Even at around £20 an alcohol unit, that would undoubtedly contravene any number of government guidelines aimed at preventing my liver becoming a public nuisance and a burden on the taxpayer.

No, having been given the precious bottle in return for offering an acquaintance some advice on PR, I bought four decent steaks and gave it a go over dinner with some friends. How was it, you ask? Well, as it happens, it was floral and fruity, with notes of blackberry and liquorice. Was it worth 200 quid? I have no bloody idea.

My palate is calibrated around the £8 a bottle mark, on the basis that a six quid bottle ought to be OK and a tenner is pushing the boat out.  It would be stretching a point for me to claim that my £200 bottle of Chateau Whatever gave me 20 times the drinking pleasure of a £10 rioja.

I know that by the time you read this the festive season will be well and truly over, and any vague aroma of sprouts wafting around in the bar will be attributable to customers rather than the kitchen. However, as I write this Christmas is looming and in idle moments, I’ve been pricing up pub’s Christmas menus.

There’s quite a range of pricing available, ranging from Wetherspoon’s £8.75 turkey dinner – Christmas pud for afters is £2 extra - up to an independent pub in the area that’s taking  bookings for a four course Christmas Day lunch at £65 a head.   Clearly, there are obvious differences in the two offers, including the fact that customers expect to pay a premium to eat out on Christmas Day itself.

Fundamentally, though, what’s on offer in each case is a few slices of roast turkey accompanied by veg and sauces, just as every bottle of wine is fundamentally 75cl of fermented grape juice. The difference in the price that a customer is willing to pay mainly comes down to subjective judgements about value, quality and service.

In the cold reality of January, understanding what is that makes your offer stand out can be about much more than know what’s on the plate or in the glass.

On the menu this month: While I checked out Wetherspoon’s Christmas menu, what I actually had was a burger. The latest JDW menu goes a long way towards addressing my long standing gripe that many pub menus don’t tell you enough about what you’re getting. It’s a modular approach, with standard and gourmet options, sauces on the side and plenty of choice of toppings. Just the thing for fussy families. 
This 'Pub Food with Porter' column appears in the January 2013 issue of Inapub

Now, we all know that chefs occasionally need to employ a touch of artistic licence - Fuller's Tenants Extra January 2013

Now, we all know that chefs occasionally need to employ a touch of artistic licence. After all, ‘ground and spiced beef, lightly grilled and served with a rarebit topping on a freshly-baked ciabatta base” sounds a lot more interesting than a ‘cheeseburger’.
As we’re celebrating all things cheesy in this issue of Tenant’s Extra,  I thought it was worth sharing the explanation  given to me by a well-known chef as to why beer is a much better match with cheese than wine.

Apparently, it’s all to do with the fact that, on a molecular level, cheese and beer are very similar. Cheese is made from milk produced by cows, as well as other ruminants such as goats and sheep, which feed on grass. The primary ingredient of beer is wheat which is, basically, just domesticated grass - so the two complement each other perfectly
Now, I’ve no idea whether that’s true or not. We’d both had several beers at the time he explained it to me, but he definitely sounded convincing. It’s also hard to disagree that a nutty, mature cheddar or a creamy stilton, accompanied by a pint of best bitter, is one of life’s more uplifting experiences, and certainly beats a cube of cheese served up with a lukewarm chardonnay.

A few years ago, I also became involved in one of the great Cheese Mysteries of the Ages – the origin of the Ploughman’s Lunch. The BBC was looking into the origins of the staple of pub menus, and asked me to do some research.

Although there are some historical references, notably in Sir Walters Scott’s memoirs, and clearly   ploughmen have always eaten lunch, sadly there is no evidence of it having been a cheese-based dish prior to the 1960s. The Ploughman’s as we know it appears to have been invented as a marketing ploy by the amusingly-named British Cheese Board.

I’m delighted to report that the Cheese Board is still in business, and  its website at  has some excellent information on cheese and beer matching  for pubs looking to pep up their pairing skills beer. Beer writer Melissa Cole suggests a series of specific matches on the site, including Fuller’s Golden Pride with extra mature cheddar – “a classic pairing of two great British institutions”.

The Cheese Board site also features some general guidelines on pairing cheese and beer from beer sommelier Nigel Sadler:

  • Pair delicate beers with young, fresh cheeses
  • Pair malty beers with nutty, aged cheeses
  • Pair highly hopped, bitter beers with tart, sharp cheeses, especially Farmhouse cheddars
  • Pair strong, sweet beers with blue cheeses
  • Pair fruit/spiced beers with fruit cheeses.
And  to finish, my favourite cheesy song: I’m a sucker for a bit of operatic rock, so it has to be ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ by Meatloaf. Altogether now: “The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling way down in the valley tonight…” Sheer poetry 

This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the January 2013 issue of Fuller's Tenants Extra