Growing consumer interest in local food and traditional dishes is making pubs more attractive than ever for people eating out, according to celebrity chef - and pub owner - Heston Blumenthal.
Speaking to ThePublican.com, Blumenthal said that pubs, second only to farmers' markets, have driven the development of local and seasonal produce over the past five years.
"A lot of chefs have left London to go into partnership with regional brewers to run pubs," he said. "Those pubs are now ambassadors for local food."
Consumers who once associated going out to eat with 'proper' restaurants now much prefer to eat at the pub, he added. "We much prefer the relaxed, casual dining atmosphere of a traditional pub."
As well as owning the award-winning Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, Blumenthal is a partner in the nearby Hinds Head Hotel pub, While the Fat Duck has spotlighted Blumenthal's 'molecular gastronomy' approach to cooking - with the menu including snail porridge and egg and bacon ice cream - the pub focuses on traditional British dishes.
Blumenthal has worked with food historians at the Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace to recreate 'lost' dishes for the Hinds Head. Main courses currently on the menu include oxtail & kidney pudding, skate wing with capers, lemon and parsley, and Gloucester old spot pork chop with mustard mash.
"We often associate food innovation with the present day," he said, "but there was just as much imagination put into developing dishes in Tudor times."
While pub customers expect to see traditional favourites on the menu, there is also room for pubs to be inventive with flavours. "I think the most exciting pub menus have a mix of both," said Blumenthal, "especially when pubs experiment with dishes using local produce."
Blumenthal is chairing the judging panel for Walkers Crisps' new "Do Us a Flavour!" promotion, which invites consumers to submit ideas for new flavours. "The promotion has only just launched and there's already been a great response," he said.
"People are very interested in different flavours - I can see it being a great topic of debate in pubs."