Monday, 18 November 2013

As a wiser man than me once pointed out...Fuller's Tenants Extra, September 2013

As a wiser man than me once pointed out, chickens originated in China, potatoes in South America and the Egyptians invented basket weaving – but it took British ingenuity to come up with chicken and chips in the basket.

Pub grub has always been very good at adapting to outside culinary influences. Early in my career as a trade journalist I spent an enjoyable and somewhat riotous evening in a pub in the North East where the star attraction at the food servery was home-made chicken curry and chips. It was my first encounter with this particular delicacy, and it remains one of the finest gastronomic experiences of my life.

So I was fairly relaxed at the ‘revelation’ by industry analyst Horizons that influences from American cuisine are the biggest growth area on UK casual dining menus. The evidence comes from Horizons’ quarterly Menurama survey, which looks at the menus of a wide rage of managed pubs and branded restaurants.

Some of these trends are largely cosmetic. Just as certain establishments like to refer to ‘fries’ rather than ‘chips’, and to ‘chargrill’ food rather than simply ‘grill’ it, so there’s now a tendency to list ‘slaw’ rather than ‘coleslaw’ and ‘mayo’ rather than ‘mayonnaise’ on menus.
In other instances, there’s evidence of operators looking for the next big thing in food. While the growth of the gourmet burger continues, with burgers the most frequently-listed main course on menus and having seen 13% growth over the past year, hot dogs seem set to follow the burger’s path from ‘cheap and cheerful’ to ‘gourmet treat’.

The hot dog is now a top 20 dish in British pub and restaurants, having nudged old favourite scampi and chips down the rankings. Gourmet hot dog styles that have appeared on the menus of various pub groups include a Chilli Dog served with beef chilli, jalapenos and mustard mayo, and a Mac n’ Cheese Hot Dog served with macaroni and cheddar cheese.

While I’m not suggesting that pubs should replace their classic British bangers and mash, there’s no harm in adapting to trends. There are occasions, especially trading periods when the bar is busy, when a hot dog is an easy food option, keeping customers happy and boosting sales. It can also be easily ‘Britified’ by serving speciality sausages from the local butcher.

There’s a strong affinity between US diners and UK pubs in menu terms, with both offering good value food, cooked to order. Other US menu classics which might help pub refresh their menu include:

  • Pulled pork: slow cooked pork, served shredded and a way to use cheaper cuts profitably. Pulled pork is ideal for sandwiches and barbecues;
  • Black & blue steak – steak cooked quickly to seal in the flavour, served charred on the outside and pink on the inside;
  • Cobb salad – salad with bacon, chicken and boiled eggs, a great alternative to a Caesar salad;
  • Gourmet fries – chips served with ‘extras’ such as chilli, cheese, gravy and macaroni cheese, relatively cheap to make and offering high margins.    
This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the September 2013 issue of Fuller's Tenants Extra.

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