Now I know yer typical boating male is a bit like yer typical morris dancer i.e. tending to the overweight, usually seen with a hat on his head and pint in his hand and bits of pie and froth in his beard. Don’t have a go at me, I used to be one. Reading Canal World Forums does little to dispel this image as correspondents often grumble about fancy food at fancy prices and good honest pub grub is the favoured repast. A pie and a pint is what they want. Unsurprisingly I suppose, canal side pubs have cottoned on to this and tend to offer a fairly standard menu of old favourites with very little in the way of variation.
Don’t get me wrong folks, I like a bit of liver and bacon as much as the next man and I truly rejoice on the rare occasions that I get offered a proper pie with short crust pastry all round it rather than the usual casserole with a bit of puff pastry floating on top. What has got my goat (mmmm delicious) today is the lack of much imagination and especially the lack of any decent veggie options. Next week we are off down the Oxford canal and our son Peter will be joining us to cruise back from Aynho. Peter is a vegetarian, and a hungry one at that. As the cruise is supposed to be a holiday treat for him, we plan to lend our custom to hostelries on the way for beer and food each evening. Thanks to the wonderful WWW I’ve been able to peruse the menus of these pubs before we even set off, and on Peter’s behalf I am sadly disappointed.
If the published menu at the Red Lion at Cropredy is to be believed, they have no vegetarian option at all. Carnivores only it seems. Luckily at the Brasenose round the corner they do offer what sounds like a nice veggie burger with halloumi and mushroom so that’s that night sorted. Then we look at the other pubs on our route and apart from more veggie burgers with halloumi or just battered halloumi and chips they seem to have run out of ideas. Poor Peter will look like a piece of halloumi by the end of the week! Although I’m not a veggie, I do like veggie food and I for one would be delighted to see and eat some interesting veggie options on pub menus. In fact, as I write, I am sitting here with a belly full of mozzarella and parmesan and tomato pasta bake. It didn’t cost a lot for the ingredients and cooking it was dead easy and I defy anyone not to like it. I am not Heston flippin Blumenthal, this is easy and cheap stuff.
As to the rest of the menus, you can only eat so much steak & ale pie and fish & chips and lamb shank. Not that any of it is rubbish, I like it, but it’s just all the same!! Come on you pubs give me something new to eat. Now you might say a pub is a pub and not a restaurant, but is that really the case these days? I’m more than happy to sup a fantastic pint at the little Bridge 61 at Foxton eating only a packet of crisps. That is a proper pub pub. If a pub has no food on, or only snacks, that’s fine by me. That makes it a pub. But most of the rest these days are really restaurants selling beer. They rely on selling evening meals to fill the coffers, so they ought to at least make an effort. Half of the menu is most pubs is bought ready made from catering suppliers and the other half is grills.
I’m not looking for Michelin stars here, just something different. If the Greyhound at Hawkesbury and the Anglers at Marsworth, to name but two, can do reasonably priced proper home cooked food and make a profit, why can’t so many of the rest?
I suspect the answer is two fold.
a) They just make what sells and what they can buy ready made from catering suppliers
b) they don’t have the time / inclination / skill to do any different.
Not very ambitious is it? No wonder so many pubs are closing.