There I was the other day writing a blog about the launch of a new beer and I had to admit that I didn’t like pubs much and I certainly didn’t like beer other than to cook with it, of course! But while I was sitting there a revelation awaited me – Pubs were ok
Shame on me I thought, all those local pubs undiscovered and quite possibly for the wrong reason. I decided there and then I was going to do something about it – but before I tell you what, I’ll tell you why I don’t / didn’t like pubs much.
For that we have to go back to my teen days. Me and my friend for a laugh decided to try every local fisherman’s pub in the port of Lowestoft – we drank out sell silly that night. But it was quite clear a local pub full of what seemed like ‘old geezers’, who would stare at us when we walked in the door as silence fell – Wasn’t a place for two young girls in the 80’s. The taxi driver did try to tell us – we said ‘Take us to the roughest Lowestoft Pub you know’ and while he tried to put us off, he dropped us out-side a rougher than shingles pub, then drove of really quick. But after trawling through the back streets to a few local haunts guzzling down Vodka & lime (actually my friend drank pints), we ended up sitting on top of a sand heap in the middle of a roundabout in Oulton Broad, as you do as pissed as farts putting the world to rights agreeing that was enough local old man pubs for a life time.
Then there was the time when I went for a job interview at The Carlton pub in Carlton Colville for the chef’s position – I’d just finished catering college and was desperate for work. I looked in the kitchen ‘EWWW’ and on the menu – Gammon and Chips, Sausage and Chips, burger and Chips (no bun!!!) – everything and chips – – not only didn’t I want to cook from a freezer bag, I didn’t even get the bloody job. But I realised if I wanted to be a good chef I had to work somewhere who used fresh food and a pub in those days wasn’t the place for anything fresh, even the nuts were stale!
I got a job at The Kings Head in Beccles a hotel, bar and restaurant (now a Weatherspoons). I worked the bar, waitressed and cheffed in the kitchen – until the head chef insisted I stay in the kitchen as his Sous chef. A year later it got taken over by a massive pub chain, one company ‘arse’ brought a picture book in with of how the menu dishes should look. It was the start of chains growing and individuality went out the window along with independently owned pubs. You had to serve the same menu as the other 50 – 100 branches to keep up consistency.
It’s the same now in most chains they buy 40 – 100% of their food from a factory unit. I soon left and went to London – I wanted to cook fresh, because any cook can cook from a picture or a freezer bag – I was a chef.
London pubs could be dodgy things too, I lived in the East End and even though Reggie & Ronnie were banged up, the odd break out fight with knuckle dusters didn’t go a miss and forget food – you were lucky if they served jelly eels, in fact they did serve jellied eels.
But good food really wasn’t on the menu – it was all about the drink. That was around the time bars were closing down – local pubs were being lost all over the country. Pubs were dated with sticky maroon carpets, bad greasy food, a ferocious landlady and that one ‘drunk as a skunk’ guy in the corner.
But then came the gastro pub – London was hit with a wave of restaurateurs taking on the dwindling pub, saving the local for something new and fresh. The first from memory was The Eagle down Farringdon, it was raved about – a local spit and sawdust pub, polished up, serving fine fayre. We were there to a packed-out pub eating slow cooked braised beef followed by bread and butter pudding. London saw the Ole English revival and we all embraced it.
Soon pub upon pub was being gastro-ed and they were back in fashion. We went to The Brackenbury in shepherd’s bush for fried brain fritters (never again!).
But then someone thought why don’t we chain some more – so The Piano and Pitch was formed in Angel, a traditional pub with piano music and bar snacks, they popped up all over the place. I’m sure they were almost the original Weatherspoons. So, chain pubs and Gastro pubs took over the old fashioned local – a place for everyone with good food, music and a massive modern drinks menu for mainly the modern generation who had the money to indulge.
But even back then less renowned Pub food could be hit and miss, especially out of town. I eventfully stopped pubbing and restaurant-ed instead (not a word). Some pubs hadn’t moved on – if I want frozen cheap sausages & chips I’ll go to Tesco’s.
The other thing about pubs is they can often over charge. I think if a pub is making money on drink, the food should be reasonable, i.e cheaper than a restaurant. So, you don’t want to be paying £15 for a roast dinner when you have to go to the bar to order it and chase up your cutlery, or hunt down the sauce and then look at your dirty dishes for the rest of lunch. Especially when you can go to say The Roof Top Gardens and have a better cut of meat for £15, tons of veggies, a separate dish of cauli cheese and a jug of gravy all served by attentive staff, with good views and comfy seating. Pubs are more casual so that should be reflected in the price – just saying.
You can see why pubs didn’t want to go down the food serving route but times changed and they needed to offer both. Good food takes a few chefs, a porter or two, waitresses or bar staff to serve and lots of time. Plus, a kitchen, storage, organisation, prep time and cooking – then there’s all the washing up.
Say you serve Duck Confit on a bed of mash with creamed spinach – that’s a cost price of £3.50-4, you sell for £12-14 – that’s only a 200% mark up and a whole lot of work. Plus, you have to pay your chefs more than your bar staff. Not to mention the overheads in a kitchen.
My old sous chef in London went to work at CXR, a gay bar down Charring Cross Road, I was astounded by the literal tens of thousands of pounds they took a week just on alcohol sales. A bar can buy say a bottle of good local Gin in for £30, you get 30 shots that’s a £1 cost – a tonic cost the pub say 20p, slice of lemon and ice 5-10p. The pub then sells at a very reasonable £6.50 that’s roughly a fiver profit (350% profit), while other pubs will sell for £8.50 / 450%. Say you get three ladies drinking a couple of gins over an hour that’s £30 pure profit. You bought the drink in a bottle, you use a glass, your bar staff are on minimum pay and the customer stays for less than an hour using just 3 bar stools. YES I know there is over heads – just saying.
Bars are stocked with essentially bought in packaged products – no effort at all, pure convenience. That’s another reason I’m not keen on bars – you’re getting something you can buy in a supermarket in a bottle or can. Cocktails on the other hand, tea, coffee, fresh juices and exotic blends then I’m happy – I especially love the pubs that offer different drinks. Like The Workshop down Earlham Road, Mint tea to die for, Mango Lassi to bath in, orangina – – – yes, you can still buy it. The Kings Head in Bawburgh offering freshly squeezed OJ. And the insurgence of Cocktails has made my pub lust complete, not only can I go to the local trendy bar in town but you can get cocktails in your local boozer too and they are cheaper.
If you want to earn money from a business – – earn it from bar sales, that’s your bread and butter – drinks. Buy em in, price em up and sell em. In the catering trade, some restaurants make more on drinks than on the food.
So – – – – I had an idea. He’s got no choice but me and my hubby are going to a different pub date night every Thursday. We’re going to write some names on paper and pop em in a pot to pick a different one each week. I’m going to rediscover the local pub – – write lots of blogs and fall in love again (with the pub!!!).
Last night we went to ‘William & Florence’ an Adnam’s pub next to their shop – 11 Unthank Road, Nr22PE. Hubby had a medium wine for a fiver. I had a massive choice of stills to choose from, the Raspberry Crush by Luscombe took my fancy at £2.50. Of course being an Adnam’s pub they have plenty of local ale and other ales to delight, as well as a really good wine menu.
The food menu looks amazing, beautiful restaurant style dishes were wafting past to seated diners. Starters, sharing platters, mains, specials, desserts and more. They even had cake and Love Bites on the bar as well as the usual nuts (not out of date).
Mains range from £12 – 20, £20 was for a proper large quality steak, mostly everything was under £15. Sharing platters are from £11 – £14.50 and luscious desserts around £5.
William and Florence opens its doors every day, is dog friendly and do a very tempting weekend Brunch with unlimited prosecco and cocktails for £25 including pastry’s and a hot drink – – – TAXI.
The place is beautifully done, a gorgeous twinkly lighted outside seating area so you can people watch, it even has limited parking out back.
It’s what I would call a local gastro pub – a menu for everyone. It’s certainly popular, the place was buzzing with diners and drinkers – they even had a drunk guy propping up the bar (like all pubs should) – apparently when you go to the loo you have to walk in a zig zag and bang in to the wall once in a while.
I liked it – – – I might go to more pubs, oh yer I’m going to more pubs.
I’ll let you know how I get on and if there are any locals you’d recommend – I’m there with my date.
Cheers to the local pub, good food, friends and the drunk bloke.
By Zena Leech-Calton ©