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Curious diversions

So I'm in a pub.

Not, admittedly, much of a shock. I've spent an unseemly proportion of my life since the age of fifteen in pubs. Mostly as a drinker but on various occasions as KP, chef, barman, manager, even a bouncer once or twice. I am well acquainted with pubs.

If, however, you had said to me at the start of the year that by this point of it I'd be cheffing in one, I'd have smiled politely and changed the subject (the days of bawling people out for imbecility are behind me as much as I thought cooking in pubs was). I had no intention of cooking professionally again once Source was done with. Let alone in a pub. A gastropub? No, a pub pub.

Now, before you go thinking that I've entirely lost my mind, I should explain that it is quite a nice pub, and, whilst not precisely pushing the boundaries of what's possible with gastronomy, it has a noble ambition. That of being a decent pub. Which is an ambition which I can fully get behind.

It's occurred to em a lot over the last few years that the food revolution which has engulfed this country since the eighties isn't all it's cracked up to be. Certainly things at the high end have improved, and certainly our cities have somewhat more interesting options to eat than they used to, but pubs? Not so much.

Now before you throw your hands up in despair at my ignorance, and cite the example of that lovely forty quid a head place in the countryside which is essentially a restaurant that looks like a pub, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about pubs. And when it comes to food, pubs suck. A bunch of bought in 3663 garbage, the wetherspoonsification of food, microwaved all day breakfasts, wednesday night is boil in the bag curry night and, saints preserve us, "sizzle platters". Don't get me started on the "salads."

If the pub is a chain, possibly with a few unnecessary y's in the name, then the menu will be an horrendous mish mash of pub standards, a curry or four, a few butties (probably including some "comfort food" ones which were modish about five years ago) and a sad, ragtag misrepresentation of whatever was in fashion between 7-10 years ago. I cite as an example the pub at the end of my road. The Hayfield.

Fuck me it's terrible. A menu designed by someone who's had a short bloke with a megaphone shouting "Unit Cost percentage" at him as he tries desperately to remember whether or not chimichangas are still a thing (N.B. They're not). The menu's a sad hotchpotch of half-baked ideas featuring simultaneously "Moroccan salmon" (I beg your pardon?) Vegetable Balti, Mesquite chicken wings, and (dear God) Mushroom Carbonara. It's about six pages long. and all of it is shit. Some of it sounds quite nice. But it's uniformly terrible. I tried a veg chilli out of curiosity. Curiosity, my friends, is an overrated virtue.

I blame wetherspoons, to be honest. One of the more galling aspects of the last days of Source was watching the the Spoons opposite chock-full of people shovelling down shit. A favourite game was to watch people complaining. what are you complaining for? YOU chose to go there. I'll never forget the day I found a cardboard box scudding across the car park towards me. It was for microwaveable pre-poached eggs. I sincerely hope that the lads in that kitchen don't have the nerve to call themselves chefs. But this sort of lowest common denominator catering by numbers shouldn't be what you expect when the cost of the mains dips below fifteen quid. The most depressing aspect of it alll is that people will tolerate this bollocks. They'll even think it's nice.

So yes, I'm in a pub. And what I'm trying to prove is that a pub can be half decent whilst still (and this is crucial) remaining a pub. Doing pub food. Actual pub food. Not Hanging Skewers. Not costing silly money. Still people in the bar just there for a pint. It's doable. And whilst I still have my doubts about how many years cooking I've got left in me, this,as a challenge, is an interesting one to be going on with.

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