Are the likes of Atkins-style menus just a passing fad? Nigel Huddleston checks out pubs that offer the latest in 21st-century diets.
The idea of chips with everything is under threat.Very soon, it could be everything but chips if the Atkins Diet fever that has been gripping the nation lasts the course. The high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet, which naturally started in the US, would make potatoes, rice and bread things of the past. Fish and chips would become grilled fish with a green salad, chilli might come with a side order of vegetables and the BLT would be deprived of its baguette. In reality, it is still difficult to find pubs with an overtly low-carb menu and even where they do, it is normally as an alternative to the main menu.
That's the case with Yates Group, which was the first pubco to openly market a low-carb Atkins-style menu throughout its estate. Notts brewer Hardys & Hansons launched a Slimming World menu in January of 2003 and it's proved so successful that the number of dishes has been expanded and the menu rolled out to sevoferal more managed pubs this year. It features six main foodservice readymeal main courses, with Slimming World options on the specials for starters and desserts.
Hardys & Hansons catering development manager David George says: "We're just expanding it so it's in 31 of our 52 managed houses. "We're introducing it stage by stage in different categories of pub. We decided we wanted to go down the route of offering customers a healthy option. "We've gone for a stand-alone menu that stands on the table alongside the main menu. One of the things that research has shown is that people hate having to hunt through a menu to find healthier options." The dishes have all been checked by Slimming World experts against their own criteria, and appear with Slimming World "syn" values, its own ratings for how much different foods affect waistlines.
But that doesn't mean that they're the poor relations of "proper" dishes on the main menu. None of them would look out of place on a regular pub menu; it's just the way they're prepared that's different. George says: "It's all about reducing the fat content, and the salt content too. We haven't reduced the portion sizes and there's still the same meat content. It's still plentiful food that's full of flavour." Once compiled, copies of the menu were sent out to Slimming World agents in the Hardys & Hansons catchment areas, to pass the word on down the line. "We're now getting a lot of requests in to head office for people to have copies of the menu sent to them.We're also seeing a lot of people who aren't necessarily seeking the menu, but choose from it anyway once they see it."
The Yates's menu has an Atkins Burger, which is a char-grilled chicken breast topped with cheese between two 6oz burgers, but no bread. The Yates's Atkins menu has been such a success with customers that it has decided to revamp and extend it across its 136 pubs. The menu is now being marketed under a new Lo-Carb banner and two new dishes, including a second salad dish have been added.
The most popular dish is the £5.85 Yates Lo-Carb burger. The company's chief executive Mark Jones said:"I have been in this business for 20 years and have never known a dietary trend which has prompted an operator to change its menu. The Ha!Ha! Bar & Canteen have also been focusing on the Atkins diet, with a detox menu which ran throughout January.
Among the dishes on offer on the Atkins-friendly menu were smoked haddock and gruyere omelette served with a spinach and pine nut salad and grilled lemon chicken skewers served with a rocker and sunblushed tomato salad. But unless you've got the resources of a big pub chain to get you the publicity, it might be worth treading with caution before embarking on an Atkins-style menu or anything similar. Yates's low-carb launch was timed to tap into local newspapers' thirsts for quirky New Year resolution stories and individual pubs received plentiful column inches as a result. By the middle of January it had taken around 5% of Yates's total food sales.
But one independent, the acclaimed Royal Oak in Prestbury, Glos, launched an Atkins-friendly menu last year, but was forced to withdraw it after a month due to a lack of interest.The pub's management feels bad press over Atkins may have been partly to blame. It seems we may not quite have had our chips after all.
Hardy's & Hansons' Slimming World menuSweet-and-sour chicken £6.99 Penne Arrabiatta £6.99 8oz rump steak £8.30 Salmon and spinach in white sauce £6.99 Herdsman's pie £6.59
Cajun chicken £6.30 Sides: golden rice, petit pois, jacket potato, side salad, new potatoes in skins, vegetables of the day
Yates's Atkins-style menu Yates's Atkins Breakfast £5.15Yates's Atkins Burger £5.85Protein Packer £7.25Hot steak and mozzarella salad £5.75
Low-carb lager may not be small beer It's not just foodies getting in on the low-carb craze. The brewers are at it too. At least one is, with the arrival of Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra in the UK. The brand is a 5% abv lager, but features only a quarter of the carbohydrate content of Stella or Grolsch.
Randall Blackford, Anheuser's marketing director in Europe, says the aim is to tap into consumer interest in healthier lifestyles. He says: "There are a lot of people out there who maybe have always drunk beer, but are now in their late 20s or early 30s and don't want too much in the way of carbs. "They might move on to wine or even spirits, but we're giving them an option to go back to or stick with beer. They like drinking beer and the taste of it, but they don't want all the baggage that goes with it. "They maybe go to the gym once or twice a week and want to feel good about themselves. It's much less about age and gender and more about lifestyle. "I think we've got quite a lot of people coming in from other lager brands, but also from other categories like wine."
Does that mean Ultra will be joining the queue to talk about beer and food. Not straight away, says Blackford. "We really think it is a beer for people who want to drink beer and look after themselves, so we don't anticipate being associated with any particular diet like Atkins," he
says, "but we are looking at ways we can attach it to certain types of food".