What’s Sauce for the Goose

The big question this week: When is a pub not a pub, but a ‘poncey restaurant’ to quote Paul Castle, the somewhat disgruntled owner of The Goose in Oxfordshire’s Britwell Salome. You may have been following the story: The Goose is one of the few pubs to have been awarded a coveted Michelin star, but less than a month later the chef, Ryan Simpson, walked out Gordon Ramsay-style, taking the entire brigade with him after a heated disagreement between himself and the owner on what customers want – and expect – from a local pub.

Well, it’s a very good question. On the one hand, you have a clearly talented young chef whose efforts in the kitchen have been justifiably rewarded; on the other you have a pub owner-cum-property developer who says takings are down and bums, frankly, are not on seats because the chef doesn’t do burgers. What do we want from our local public hostelry?

It seems somewhat patronising for Mr Castle to suggest the wealthy denizens of Oxfordshire are more comfortable with a burger and chips than roast chestnut risotto or saddle of Yattendon Sika deer with huntsman’s sauce (both dishes on the menu), but does he have a wider point in that pubs are in danger of becoming a special-occasion destination rather than a home-from-home on any night of the week?

With pubs closing at the rate of 39 a week, can pubs really afford to out-price their local community? Some have taken the route that Ryan Simpson is striving towards and created huge success stories – The Star at Harome in Yorkshire is just one example – but in the last 15 years the line between pub and restaurant has become blurred to the point of non-existent, ‘gastropub’ now a somewhat redundant label. With many pubs now offering a bar menu and a fine dining menu, it’s hard to see the difference between them and, say, Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s in London Piccadilly – and sometimes prices aren’t that different either.

So what do we want? Have the days of a simple honest Ploughman’s lunch with a hearty pint been and gone or do we long for our local to offer more than a packet of cheese and onion to accompany a warm Chardonnay? Or is it heaven on earth to find your local pub offering a three-course meal – even if you have to push past muttering locals to get at it?

  • Tina Louise

    Interesting blog… tough call I think for pubs in the changing world. Seems the line between pub and restaurant has blurred for many and I wonder if there isn’t room for all players?

    A pub serving a simple inexpensive menu will suit certain communities better than a pub/restaurant with a sumptuous, chef driven menu of mouthwatering delights at ‘gasp-inducing’ but often valid prices.

    Like [John's] comment about two sections but again I wonder if our desire to categorise everything – trims the beauty of diversity?

  • John

    There is room for all. Why not have 2 sections one for posh dining and another for less posh. Also I often see ploughman lunch’s that are so over the top.

  • Petral

    Interesting as we have just got a Marco Pierre White pub The Swan opened recently. Went and enjoyed myself and will go again but at about £40 a head a la carte not including drinks I wonder about the future, we are a relatively affluent area outside Liverpool but the Swan has had several owners and styles over the last few years and all failed ! So we shall see, I personally think it will do very well as I enjoyed the food very much.

  • Monster Munch

    I think where pubs often go wrong is to try and please too many segments of the market. Stick to what you’re good at, I say.

  • Fred Jones

    Well said blofeld. The pub trade has been a slow dying beast for years, made worse with the recession. Peoples attitude to pub going is different now, no longer do you finish work at 5pm and walk over the road to sink a few with colleagues before heading home, all of this within a 1/2 mile radius. Sure we would all like it to be as it was with log fires, cheap ale and free ploughmans but we dont go often enough to make that style of pub attractive to pub owners. They have to diverse, knowing that people will only visit their local sparingly, so maximising their profit by offering quality food, priced accordingly. I know that a couple spending £80 on a meal with wine is more profitable than 8 chaps sinking 3 beers each (even at £3 a pint) . There should be an emphasis on quality to draw out a discerning punter, if you want deep fried fish, cheap beer and decent sport on tv then you can stay at home. Quality food and great service are what make people leave their home comforts. Pubs close for many reasons, its close to 50 a week now, but location, rental cost, beer ties and deluded licencees added to the weight of the public change in attitude all but diminish these properties to future apartments/housing. Seems strange they were not making money at the Goose because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like the PR of Michelin.

  • Blofeld

    It seems incredible that a publican would choose to change his food policy after winning a Michelin Star. The financial benefits of the award are huge as a result of the PR it creates. As a diner I do sometimes get sick of “poncey” food and yearn for scampi in a basket or pie and chips but as a businessman why on earth would you make such a big change and such a stupid time! I admire the commitment of the cooking team who walked as a result!

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