“I just describe it as a traditional pub,” says chef Robert Owen Brown of The Mark Addy, a riverside favourite on the Manchester/Salford border. “A few people label us as a restaurant, but I steer away from that, because there’s not many restaurants that can serve 20 barrels of cask ale a week. And I don’t like the word gastropub. Plus, it’s a lot easier to exceed people’s expectations if they feel that they’re walking into a pub. If we’re serving restaurant-quality food in a pub environment people are going to go away happy, aren’t they?”
The Mark Addy is one of a growing number of places loth to call itself a food-led pub or gastropub because it belies their strong beer credentials. Recent additions to this group include Mason & Taylor in London’s Shoreditch and The Draft House group of pubs, both of which serve food that more than holds its own against any food-led pub but also have a vast selection of beers so as not to deter people just dropping in for a drink. Undoubtedly, The Mark Addy is serving restaurant-quality food. Owen Brown is big on local, seasonal ingredients, foraging, game and offal. On a Saturday night this is a place to linger over three interesting courses.
However, there is nothing stylised about The Mark Addy; no unnecessary flashiness in the food; and, by retaining the pub’s popular paté and cheeseboards, and introducing a menu of ‘classics’ at around £8, it has sought to emphasise that this is a pub, somewhere casual to drop in.
Owen Brown is amazed more pubs don’t follow his example by offering simple food – sausage rolls, one-pot dishes and shepherd’s pie, rather than buying in perceived ‘gastro’ dishes. “Good pub food isn’t out of anybody’s skill set, is it? Who wants to go into a traditional English pub and have a goats’ cheese and tomato toasted ciabatta? It’s got its place, but its place isn’t in an English pub.”
Metro’s Marina O’Loughlin agrees that less is often more. “The Lifeboat in Margate, Kent, serves only local sausages, crab, home made pickles and cheeses. It’s hugely successful because the quality is good and it manages expectations.”
New craft-beer bars (places like Marble brewery’s Manchester bars, Bradford’s The Sparrow and Leeds-based North Bar and Alfred) offer basic good-quality ‘beer food’: pork pies, sandwiches, cheese and meat platters. “It ties in perfectly,” says consultant and beer writer Pete Brown. “Traditional artisan produce in both food and drink. It’s not right for every pub, but it’s right for an awful lot more than we have now.”
O’Loughlin offers some final wise counsel for all. “As soon as I see fanned napkins and leatherette bound menus in a ‘pub’, I want to run for the hills. If it doesn’t fit on one A4 page, don’t offer it. Use good-quality produce, local where possible and KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Don’t do Thai unless you’re from Thailand, ditto curries or Japanese.”
How to spot one
The sheer number of taps behind the bar and a bulging bottled-beer fridge are the key clues but craft pubs are also typified by a stripped-back, utilitarian design to retain the essence of a pub rather than a restaurant. Dishes may be acccompanied by beer-matching suggestions.
- The Mark Addy (Manchester)
- The Lifeboat (Margate, Kent)
- The Sparrow (Bradford, W Yorks)
- Alfred (Leeds, W Yorks )
- Mason & Taylor (Shoreditch, east London)
- The Draft House (across London)
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