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?