Monday, 25 February 2013

Along with a set of Beer Goggles and a fully working Beer Compass...Inapub February 2013

Along with a set of Beer Goggles and a fully working Beer Compass, no visit to the pub should be undertaken without a functional set of Beer Cutlery. While these may resemble your fingers, under the magic influence of a pint they become wondrous utensils which enable you to consume foodstuffs that you wouldn’t go near in the cold light of day.

Twiglets are high on my personal list. I can normally get by quite happily without troubling my insides with sharp, pointy breadsticks smeared with Marmite, but after a single sip of best bitter they become irresistible.

The Beer Cutlery equivalent of moving onto hard drugs is clearly the Kebab. It may take a few pints, but there comes a point when even the most fastidious gourmet realises that the only way to put a dent in their gnawing hunger is to ingest unidentified grilled meatoid cubes, garnished with limp salad and a chilli sauce with the half-life of strontium.

However, I’m pleased to let you know that I’ve discovered the pub food equivalent of the Holy Grail – a dish that tastes amazing when you’ve had a beer or two, and actually excites the taste buds even more when you’re stone cold sober.         

The gastronomic treat in question is the Cheese & Onion Toastie served at The Hope in Carshalton, which is the current CAMRA Greater London Pub of the Year and, for me, a bracing 15 minute stroll from home. A few days before Christmas, I tried one while marking the festive season with a couple of mates. The combination of expertly-toasted crusty bread, melted mature cheddar and lightly sautéed onions was sublime.

So sublime, in fact that I doubted myself, and crept back to the Hope in the sober dawn of 2013 to give the Toastie another go – and it was just as good accompanied by an orange juice. This is pub food as is should be, and all the better for being served in a ‘real’ pub.   

On the menu this month: As one of the unfortunate one-twelfth of the population with a birthday in January, a month when no one has any money and most people seem to be dieting, I’m used to low-key celebrations. Little gestures make all the difference, so amidst a flurry of emails from pubs and restaurants offering various birthday discounts, it was nice to get the offer of a free ice-cream sundae from M&B’s Toby Carvery. That’s makes a birthday feel a lot more special than a five quid off voucher..    

This 'Pub Food with Porter' column appears in the February 2013 issue of Inapub

When I feel the occasional need to offer a pub a spot of constructive criticism...Fuller's Tenants Extra February 2013

When I feel the occasional need to offer a pub a spot of constructive criticism or comment on a recent experience on these pages, I normally preface any remarks with “of course, this wasn’t a Fuller’s pub.” There’s no need to bite the hand that feeds you.

Sadly, in this case of my most recent experience, I can’t say that. One Saturday lunchtime in January, Mrs P and I were out and about on various errands and fancied a sandwich. We  popped into a Fuller’s tenancy, and having obtained a pint of Jack Frost and a glass of the house white, we sat down to look at the menu.

We read it carefully, turned it over, read it again, and finally held it up to the light, just to double check that we hadn’t missed anything. No sandwiches. Fair enough, we live in a democracy and there’s no legal obligation on any pub to serve sandwiches  - but it seemed a bit odd.

While we were rethinking our lunchtime strategy, I had a bit of a delve in the table-top leaflet dispenser. A second, smaller menu emerged, entitled ‘light bites and smaller portions’. This, I thought hopefully, might be just the sort of document to list sandwiches. This proved not to be the case.
However, by this stage I decided I’d got the hang of the pub’s approach to its food offer, and I investigated the dispenser further. A third leaflet emerged, and this time we’d hit the jackpot – the sandwich menu.

I was clearly not the only confused customer. While we were in the pub, a couple of families with fairly young children arrived. One of the mums went to the bar and began to place a complex order which involved a number of half-portions of dishes on the main menu. Halfway through the barman stopped her and explained that they could only offer smaller portions of certain dishes.

“Er…we have got a light bite menu…er.. somewhere” he said, shuffling various papers fruitlessly on the bar. Eventually, I handed the customer the copy from my table, and she headed back to for some difficult renegotiating with the children.

Now, I know that top menu design gurus will tell you that including too much information can be confusing. However, the pub in question offers around a dozen main courses and a few extras. It wouldn’t be a major challenge to include the entire food offer, incuding the sandwiches and light bites, on a single menu.

I’m not naming names, and as it happens, the sandwiches were freshly made and excellent quality. I had the sausage and onion, and Mrs P the cod goujons, since you ask. But, it’s worth bearing in mind that the British Sandwich Association estimates that the out-of-home sandwich market is worth about £6bn a year. If customers can even find your sandwich menu, how will you get your slice of the business?

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