Good Pub Guide paves the way

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Morning Advertiser news editor The PMA Team gives his opinions on the food guides Autumn sees the publication of the annual pub guides in readiness...

Morning Advertiser news editor The PMA Team gives his opinions on the food guides

Autumn sees the publication of the annual pub guides in readiness for the Christmas gift market. Who hasn't gratefully bought a pub guide as a stocking filler for dad in Christmas week?

Each year the pub guide shelf at bookstores seems that little bit fuller. Even lofty Michelin, whose Red Book Guide is about as readable as the Financial Times, has decided to join the party this year by producing an out-and-out pub guide.

For me, though, the Good Pub Guide 2005 deserves its position as the UK's best-selling guide. The "car test" is the clincher; which guide is worth stuffing into the glove compartment and lugging around the country.

The Good Pub Guide has its fair share of faults. There are no pictures of the pubs it recommends, for example, and there's the usual anti-town-and-city-pub bias that all guides share as they focus on the romantic and aspirational. But reading it, you get a sense that its reviewers absolutely love pubs. Descriptions of individual pub drip with detail, leaving you with a pretty strong impression of what to expect. Or even more fun, pubs you've visited get a memory bank rehydration.

And there's a balanced approach that can find merit in a pub for a number of reasons: food, ambience, beer, architecture or setting. The Good Pub Guide's views are confident, underpinned as they are by the small army of pub anoraks who write in with their own views. It doesn't miss many good pubs either, with a great lucky-dip section offering even more choices. And there's understated humour.

Of the King's Head at Letheringsett, Norfolk, an award-winning family pub, the guide states: "The pub's popularity with families does mean that housekeeping can, at busy times, become something of a lost cause."

For my money, the AA Pub Guide ranks second-best guide, but a long way behind. It's exhaustive but a bit exhausting. Good features include decent maps, pub walks, pictures of pubs and colour. But design can be a terrible jumble and there's just not enough information on really good pubs.

Les Routiers in Britain: The Road to Good Food has to overcome the obvious suspicion that comes with knowing its entries have parted with money to appear. And it's a bit thin on content in some areas of the UK. But it's the glossiest guide and a model of good design. The entries are also well written and there are nice break-outs of double-page spreads on local food producers which is a guaranteed foodie-pleaser.

The Which? Pub Guide ranks fourth in my list. Individual pub descriptions are good. But organisation is a mess with pubs listed alphabetically by town or village ­ useless if you're driving around the country and want a county-by-county overview. What's more, Which?, dedicated to finding value-for-money for consumers, has chosen to print on paper so cheap that there's no tactile pleasure to be had in the leafing-through process.

Michelin: Eating Out in Pubs sees Michelin jettison the Red Book's unintelligible car-crash of symbols for a more populist use of plain English. But individual pub descriptions are fairly thin as if Michelin's writers are still not entirely at ease formulating their thoughts in proper language. Organisation is also so poor that I struggled to find Norfolk ­ mysteriously, I found it listed under a section called "East". Still, at least dad's stocking fillers are sorted again this Christmas.

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