|Whatever Happened to Good Old Pub Grub?|
We go in search of a rosy-cheeked landlady and her secret recipe for home-made pie
No one can deny that pub grub has gone upmarket over the past years, but where has this left those who yearn for the days when chicken in a basket or a hearty ploughman’s ruled the menus?
The gastrofication of our locals has been great for the landlords who can charge significantly more for Thai mussel broth than they ever could for plain old scampi, but is culinary progress welcomed by everyone?
I went in search of some good old fashioned pub grub in Chiswick starting with what I think is a bit of a find. The George & Devonshire might just have the most insalubrious address in the whole of Chiswick, situated on the Hogarth Roundabout, but it does have plenty to offer those who venture through the underpass or up from the river.
We visited one busy lunchtime and ate home cooked honey roast ham with fried eggs and chunky chips (£6.90) which I my mind was a hearty and satisfying throwback to pre-gastro days. My companion went slightly more modern with chicken and bacon pasta with a creamy red pesto sauce (£7.00) and couldn’t resist some potato wedges with melted cheddar and chorizo sausage (£3.25) which he purportedly ordered for us to share though our concepts of sharing are certainly different! With a large glass of wine each, the bill came to an easy to swallow £25.
The next stop on the search took me to Strand on the Green’s The Bull's Head. A quaint old fashioned pub with low ceilings and an abundance of nooks and crannies, this very traditional establishment displays an a-board in the car park promising good food which sadly the kitchen didn’t quite manage to deliver. That said, the dining area on the Saturday evening we visited was a constant stream of diners coming and going. Unfortunately though this caused our charming but painfully slow waiter to do an excellent impersonation of a headless chicken.
Here we ate starters of fishcakes and potted shrimp, followed by steak with ‘real’ chips and béarnaise sauce and duck breast. The starters were ok, the steak good, the ‘real’ chips a disappointment and the duck breast an even greater one although due more to its size than its presentation. With a very good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc the bill came to £62.25. Not a complete disaster – this is undeniably a lovely pub with a wonderful view of the river - but the standard of food didn’t warrant the size of the bill.
The next port of call was The Devonshire House. I know much has been said about the fall in standards of service at this place since the departure of Nick Goss; however my particular gripe here is the price. I find it hard to comprehend how any pub gastro or not can justify £7.95 for an asparagus starter?
On the evening we visited, we were one of only three tables occupied. We ate the aforementioned asparagus (£7.95) and Caesar salad (£6.00) to start followed by roast corn fed chicken (£11.95) and tranche of salmon (£12.95). To drink I had two glasses of San Rafael – one of which cost £5.00 and the second £5.25 and my friend had a grapefruit juice and sparkling water (£1.50 and £1.10 respectively). We shared a cheese plate (£5.25) to finish bringing the bill to £65.45. The food was good and we enjoyed our meal, however, we too were decidedly unimpressed with our surly waitress and did not leave a tip.
Although I can't comment personally on the food at The Paragon, I do want to include this pub because of their quirky menu which is as far from being gastro as pub food gets. Amongst the potentially heart-attack inducing dishes on offer is the ingeniously named “Hanging Burgers of Paragon” – an enormous tower consisting of an 18oz burger, a grilled chicken breast, fried onions rings and a substantial amount of other mostly fried ingredients and rounded off with a portion of chips all for under £8. Although I lost my nerve, others (all men) relished the challenge and there was even one clear plate.
Whilst this rudimentary research – which isn’t intended to be a price comparison - didn’t unearth an elusive rosy-cheeked landlady and her secret recipe for home-made fare, it did reveal that there are still some local pubs that haven’t gone too far down the gastro-route.
That said, even if ham, egg and chips isn’t your idea of pub grub, you can always fall back on that most traditional of all British pub meals, namely two pints of lager and a packet of crisps.Emma Brophy
June 26, 2007