According to recent figures, British drinkers are increasingly abandoning the pub and enjoying their favourite tipple at home. Cheap supermarket alcohol and the rise of takeaway delivery companies, such as Deliveroo, are to blame apparently.
If this trend continues, clearly it’s going to be permanent closing time for many pubs. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing as far as some hostelries are concerned, the ones that still come garnished with sticky carpets and the unshiftable fug of stale cigarettes. But it would be a terrible shame if gastropubs were lost because of all of this stay-at-home boozing.
The rise of the gastropub has been widely belittled, despite, over the last decade and more, consistently ameliorating the British pub-going and dining experience. The gastropub has steadily come to create its own sizeable niche in the British restaurant industry, but it’s also become fashionable to despise them. Restaurant critic Jay Rayner once claimed that ‘the gastro pub movement is a pure product of Thatcherism,’ and back in 2011 the Good Food Guide dismissed the ‘gastro’ prefix as an irrelevance.
But the opprobrium is misplaced. The ‘gastro’ tag was adopted for a reason. We needed it. And we still do. Prior to the birth of the gastropub, Britain was notorious for revolting food in pubs: soggy pies rammed with rubbery meat, limp lettuce and slices of grey tomato as a nod to nutritional value, microwaved sausages glued to powdered mashed potato. You can still find pubs (for the time being at least) serving up that kind of muck, of course. If that’s your bag go for it and leave the beer-battered cod fillet with thrice cooked chips and balsamic braised Norfolk Horn lamb pie and sour cream mash to the rest of us.
Yes, the liberal use of adjectives to describe the food is annoying, but, in the main, traditional favourites have been reinvented for the greater good (and often food is locally and ethically sourced). The gastropub culture is indicative of changing social attitudes to eating out, and food more generally. It’s a shift that has enlivened the old fashioned British pub. Most importantly, it goes to show that our favourite pastime as a nation is still enjoying good food and booze with friends and loved ones. Surely we can all get out of our homes to drink (and eat) to that?
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