The word gastropub no longer guarantees that the boozer in question will have a strong line of good beers, a relaxing environment in which to enjoy the delicious and fairly priced food. This is place that should cost less than the white tablecloth crew but a more than the ‘fry the lot’ standardised brewery pub.
More and more we see the so-called ‘gastro’ charging full-on restaurant prices coupled with a lacklustre booze list in an environment that is neither pub nor dining room. Pimping the menu seems like a good answer to a pub in a bad economic situation. Rebrand yourself as a gastro pub, crank up the food prices with an identikit menu, put jugs of Bloody Mary on the bar on a Sunday and hope the more affluent buggy brigade fill you to the rafters every weekend. But is it a pub? Is it a restaurant with ale on tap and a pubby vibe? What is going on? Sadly there are so many schizophrenic restopubs out there the outlook is often bleak.
I went to a restopub last week where the ‘business development manager’ had pompously told me that:
‘[he] came in got rid of all the old shit, changed the menu completely retrained the staff, redesigned the kitchen and just concentrated on simple, well sourced ingredients served with out messing them about’ and was ‘just trying to keep things honest’.
After I had puked my bland lamb cutlets all over his natty brown brogues, I remembered that I had actually been in there a year before and it seemed what he was telling me was the opposite of what had happened. It had been a charming local boozer that made lovely food that cost between ten and fourteen quid a main not the £16 plus; provenance justified ‘well hung’ hunk of meat served on a piece of reclaimed driftwood nor the Brakes Bro’s out the freezer into the fryer fayre.
One proper gastro pub that is getting it totally right is the Coach and Horses in Farringdon. The lack of gloss and pretence at the Coach and Horses makes it seem like boozer that has remained unchanged for years, certainly before the dawn of the gastropub. This place really gets a bulls eye every time; its cosy but big enough to be private and you feel like it’s a pub with really good food, this is definitely a gastropub.
Genial owner Giles explains that ‘he wants food to be fun, not sculpture on a plate, nothing silly, just fun’. Every few week they get in half a pig, butcher it, brine it, smoke it, hang it, press it, and slice it into something that you can really relish. Scotch eggs, that have been dubbed the best in London, sit along side pints of prawns, duck hearts, charcuterie platters (all home cured), perfectly cooked whole quails, and interesting cheeses intended to be mixed and matched. Ranging between £2-6 a plate you can get a bite for under a tenner or you can have a proper slap-up for more.
This is a proper pub with proper pints and wicked food that had been made great by care and attention and I’m going back… a lot!
The Coach & Horses
26-28 Ray Street