Adam Ed­wards

The day my side or­der of veg cost me ten bob a bean

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - con­tact adampotlick­ @cotswold­hack

It was the beans; seven green beans to be pre­cise that sent me into a spin. It was at a Cotswolds gas­tropub where I or­dered the ver­dant veg. I wanted the roughage to com­ple­ment the meal. It is true the dish ar­rived on time, and was per­fectly cooked, but there were just seven of the knob­bly fin­gers. The price for this ‘side’ was £4.50. That is over 64p a bean; more than ten shillings in old money.

I had asked for the veg­eta­bles to ac­com­pany my steak (£24), Bear­naise sauce (£2.50) and French fries (£4.50). If you in­clude my glass of Cote du Rhone and the 12.5% ser­vice charge, that is al­most fifty quid for steak ‘n chips. You’ve got to be a Cotswold week­ender to af­ford that sort of price. The Wolse­ley in Lon­don’s May­fair, for ex­am­ple, which ac­cord­ing to The Times is one of the top 25 restau­rants in Bri­tain, charges £20 for steak and that in­cludes the fries.

I was still smart­ing over the ten bob beans when I dropped in at an­other lo­cal hostelry. It is un­der new own­er­ship. The new land­lord told me he is im­port­ing a fancy chef be­cause he too hopes to make it a ‘des­ti­na­tion pub’. The Cotswolds, I thought, needs an­other des­ti­na­tion pub like it needs an­other dry stone wall. What we do want, how­ever, are old-fash­ioned booz­ers.

Ear­lier this year Clive Watson, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the City Pub Com­pany, was re­ported to be turn­ing his 34 pubs in Lon­don into what he calls ‘wet-led’ busi­nesses. In other words, fo­cus­ing on beer not food. Bri­tain’s old­est brewer Shep­herd Neame has stopped sell­ing hot food at many of its pubs and other pub groups are fol­low­ing suit. “The pub busi­ness is go­ing back to the fu­ture,” says Watson. “What cus­tomers want is an hon­est pint, a good old chat and a bit of blot­ting pa­per.” And the lat­est fig­ures bear this out – last year drinks sales in pubs rose 1.8% while food rev­enues de­clined by 1.4%, ac­cord­ing to Cof­fer Peach Busi­ness Tracker. Mean­while the Good Pub Guide 2019 has railed against fancy food in pubs and says cus­tomers want a re­turn to “good hon­est pub grub”.

I do ac­cept how­ever that a Cotswold coun­try pub is a very dif­fer­ent beast to a city, town or sub­ur­ban tav­ern. The rent, or lease, for a pub in our area of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty is fre­quently ex­or­bi­tant. Fur­ther­more, there is rarely the foot­fall to make a liv­ing solely from beer and peanuts and there are prob­lems with staff, as most can­not af­ford to live in the area. The re­sult has been, at least for the last 20 years, to turn our pubs into mid­dle-ofthe-road ho­tel restau­rants.

Many years ago, on a wet Tues­day lunchtime, I dropped into a pub, the Queen’s Head, in a ham­let a few miles from Cam­bridge. It of­fered only one dish – Brown Wind­sor soup. The de­li­cious soup, which one served one­self from an urn, came with homemade bread and a chart that al­lowed cus­tomers to judge the qual­ity of the broth ac­cord­ing to its shade from dark brown (“hits the spot”’) to green­ish (“usu­ally con­tains peas”). The pub was jammed with cus­tomers. I have of­ten thought since that the Queen’s Head had found the so­lu­tion to the eco­nomics of run­ning a coun­try pub – no fancy kitchen, no chef and no wait­ers or wait­resses. Why I won­der don’t Cotswold pubs serve Bri­tish pub grub that re­quires no kitchens and no staff? Why not pro­duce won­der­ful soup from an urn? Why not buy pies that just need heat­ing up from the ex­cel­lent pie com­pa­nies in our area? Why not of­fer proper cold sausages, hand-made Scotch eggs and Plough­man’s Lunches?

There are some ex­cel­lent gas­trop­ubs in the Cotswolds and my green bean pur­veyor is amongst them. It has a great at­mos­phere and good food. But it is not a pub. Nor is it an inn. It is a restau­rant. We need restau­rants, as surely as we need butch­ers, bak­ers and gift shops sell­ing can­dles, but we’ve got too many of them, most of them mas­querad­ing as pubs. What we need are bars where, with­out be­ing charged like wounded bulls, with­out damask napkins and ab­surdly fancy wine lists, we can set­tle in for a pint, and a pie… and hold those beans.

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