This morning's Today programme finished with a discussion of the term 'gastro-pub', which has been dropped by the Good Food Guide. One of the speakers, who apparently opened one of the first such establishments (the Eagle in Clerkenwell) explained that now all pubs serve great food, it's an irrelevant term. 'All you need is a pint of mussels', he said and defined gastro-pubs as places which serve excellent, interesting food with minimal service to keep down costs.
Right. The Dark Place is full of pubs. The hogshead, the Royal London, Wetherspoon's, The Litten Tree, the Giffard (Goth pub: the menu is brilliantly called Noshferatu) and a massive range of nasty chain pubs.
Not one could be described as a 'gastro-pub'. Those that serve food have fully-equipped kitchens: microwaves to defrost and a deep-fat fryer. Eating out in this town is an utterly miserable experience once you stray from the acceptable curry houses and the one extortionately expensive Italian place. The pub food is enough to make Mr. Creosote turn away at the door. Everything is fried. Nothing is cooked from fresh ingredients. Pints of mussels are not to be found. Nor are bone-marrow on toast, or anything 'deconstructed' or served with 'jus'.
One honourable mention: if you go down to the Great Western, you'll find a roaring fire and a basket of free crumpets to toast on it. Some nights, they serve free Black Country Tapas: good bread, ham and raw black pudding.
So I'm sorry that the metropolitans have declared the death of these establishments before they ever got to us, because eating out round here is the closest you can get to spiritual and sensual death. I like animals, and I like food. I firmly believe that if you're going to kill something, you've got to treat it with enough respect to do something good with it. This is why I only eat vegetarian soup and salads at work: the kitchen is an exercise in mediocrity and all involved deserve to be reincarnated as kebabs. It's not the fault of the staff: given the ingredients, budget and time, I'm sure they'll do great things. But the canteen's purpose is to fuel us, not delight us, which I think is a shame.
So, gastronauts: if the Londoners aren't coming to your pub, move up here. Please?