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Steak Britain: pubs can diversify their food offer with different cuts of meat
Steak Britain: pubs can diversify their food offer with different cuts of meat
Unless you are a student and beans-on-toast represents the sum total of your culinary abilities, nobody would choose to have the same meal every night. But that does not stop pub chefs putting the same dishes on their menus up and down the country

It is fantastic to see pubs championing British food, but why not go a step further and champion regional dishes?

Most places in the UK are famous for something — whether it’s the Devon cream tea or the Yorkshire pudding. The benefits of celebrating regionality on menus include creating a talking-point, attracting tourists, re-establishing historic dishes and clearly distinguishing your pub from the competition.

Another way to set menus apart from the crowd is to use different cuts of meat, which can add interest and even save a lot of money.

With 56 main muscles on a cow or lamb carcass, each offering the possibility of different cuts, there really is no excuse to go down the lamb-shank route. The common lamb shank may be tasty, but co-owner of the Arbutus Restaurant Group Anthony Demetre argues that even better cuts of meat are available.

Cutting edge

With the price of prime cuts escalating, it makes sense to explore the cheaper, less common cuts around. “Other countries utilise the whole carcass, but in the UK it’s always the same cuts,” says Michelin-starred chef Demetre.

“Shin and cheek of beef can’t be beaten and breast of lamb will be the new shank — it only costs about £2.50 per kilo. Rump is becoming very trendy, so prices are going up.

“My favourite cut is breast of lamb. It is so versatile that it can be used quite comfortably as a starter or as a main course, maybe in ravioli. It has great flavour and marbling of the fat. My favourite dish would be bavette steak, cooked medium rare, with fries, Béarnaise sauce and salad, although I do like steak tartare too.”

Demetre cites fillet of beef as the most overdone and “boring” dish. “People choose it because it is the most naturally tender,” he explains. “There is no trick to make it tender, and that means it lacks flavour.”

Demetre recently helped EBLEX choose 42 less common cuts for its sous-vide range, including breast, neck fillet and rump of lamb, and bavette (also known as goose skirt), ox cheek, beef short ribs and prime hind shin muscle.

Alastair Sawday’s guide editor David Hancock agrees: “Operators and chefs often lack imagination with their range of dishes. They should look to liven up menus with different cuts and more fish options, which will keep their regular customers interested and happy.”

A Good Pub Guide survey found that lamb, most often slow-cooked and with redcurrant present in some form, was the favourite dish in 7% of pubs. Fashionable pork belly was close on its heels at 6%, though with a wider range of serving ideas and accompaniments, such as plum & star anise sauce, haggis or black-pudding mash.

Less common cuts can be purchased at good prices as they are less popular, offering better margins and more interest on the menu.

It’s not offal

The Mark Addy in Salford, Manchester, has become known for its successful use of offal and offcuts. Various dishes featuring versatile cuts have graced its menu, including ox heart and tongue, pig’s head, cow-heel pie and tripe.

Manager of the freehold James Ratcliffe says bull’s testicles with caper butter sauce (£5.50) did very well on the menu and slow-cooked oxtail with tongue & mash (£12.50) is currently a main.

“We do a lot of offcuts here and 60% to 70% of diners go for one of those options,” says Ratcliffe. “People tend to come here for something different. My mum used to eat cow-heel pie all the time, but I think people got sick of offal and offcuts in the war when rations were all they had.

“After the war they wanted ‘nicer’ cuts and I think people are only just beginning to remember the offcuts. If they stop thinking about what is in the dishes, then they are fine. It is important to offer regional dishes and different cuts — the offcuts are frequently the tastiest bits.”

Know your customer

Heading down this path is not as easy as picking a few new cuts and going with them as they may not suit your clientele. Demetre says that at Arbutus in Soho, tripe is a huge seller, but it wouldn’t shift at Wild Honey in Mayfair.

“What works will depend on where you are and how it is described on the menu,” he says. “Goose skirt, also called bavette, is really popular at Arbutus, but it wouldn’t work at our other venues.” Demetre and business partner Will Smith also run Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden.

Each of the three restaurants has a different menu to suit its clientele. The best-selling meat dish at Arbutus is the bavette of beef (£15.95), rump at Wild Honey (£16.95) and rib of beef at Les Deux Salons (£22.50).

Much can be learned about the local customer base from the reputation of the area. Arbutus in Soho is “funkier and more daring” because its clientele is more accepting of unusual dishes, whereas the customer base in Mayfair is more comfortable with well-known cuts. As well as knowing your customers’ tastes, selling a dish comes down to menu description.

“Make it sound enticing,” says Demetre. “Almost romanticise about it. I write the menus so it is all my wording and I encourage my waiters to upsell dishes too. However, the best description will not sell a dish if the clientele is not right.”

Nine out of 10 customers will go for staff recommendations, so pub chefs must ensure that waiting staff are well-versed in all the dishes. If you are unsure of how customers will respond to an unknown cut, add it to the specials board and draw attention to it there.
Reflect your region

Another problem with choosing the same cuts of meat as every other pub is that venues countrywide end up with the same dishes on the menu. The importance of local sourcing has hit home, with the majority of serious pub chefs supporting local businesses.

Renowned chef Nigel Haworth, at Northcote Manor in Lancashire, recently held a Taste of England event with EBLEX to showcase the range of benefits that derive from local sourcing. A poll found that 73% of consumers would be more likely to order a meat dish if they knew the meat had been sourced locally.

Less common is the presence of regionally-inspired dishes. “Pork belly and sea bass are getting a bit tired,” says Good Food Guide editor Elizabeth Carter.

“I get excited when I see something a bit different as I look at menus all the time and I’m looking for a bit more originality. You can go from one end of the country to the other and get pork belly and sea bass, but it would be nice to see a feel for regionalism. The real plus points are that you’re not just supporting local producers but presenting dishes that are pertinent to that particular region.”

Carter points to Lancashire-based company Ribble Valley Inns for its Eccles cakes and Lancashire hotpot as a group that understands the need for a point of difference.

The hotpot is on the menu at all four of the company’s pubs, featuring heather-reared Lonk lamb, English onions, King Edward potatoes and pickled red cabbage (£10.50). It is a top-five seller for the group.

The Eagle & Child in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, pays tribute to regional dishes with a Lancashire hotpot and braised red cabbage (£9.95), Manchester tart with banana ice cream (£5.25) and sticky parkin pudding with treacle toffee sauce and Lancaster bomber ice cream (£5.50). Parkin pudding originates in the north of England and is credited as ‘the original’ sticky toffee pudding. The Eagle & Child also sources other menu items locally, such as using Lancashire cheese on its cheese boards.

Authentic taste: Lancashire hot-pot is a traditional favourite

Greene King tenancy the Farmyard Inn near Bakewell, Derbyshire, is another pub to recognise the importance of putting regional dishes on its menu. It offers a Bakewell pudding (£3.95) among other desserts, which is chosen by four out of 10 diners.

Licensee Sean Healey says: “The Bakewell pudding/tart is part of this area and creates a lot of interest. It is important to put regional dishes on the menu, without a doubt. Most people who come to the area and stay for a few days make a beeline for Bakewell to buy some traditional Bakewell puddings to take back home.”

Do your homework

“I totally agree that ingredients need to be locally sourced and dishes made with a nod to regionality,” says Demetre. “My perception of a good pub or restaurant is one that creates a bit of innovation and does something different. When I go to pubs I continually see the same dishes — yawn, yawn, yawn. You still need belly of pork, but take the opportunity to do it in a different way — a way that can’t be done at home.”

Arbutus is famous for pig’s head and currently has crisp pig’s head, spinach & turnip salad (£7.95) as a starter. Demetre encourages chefs to use the less typical parts of each animal and recommends speaking to butchers for ideas and advice.

“As a chef it is your duty to be regional,” he concludes. “A lot of chefs just don’t do their homework.”

Case study: The Pigs, Edgefield, Norfolk

The freehold has a varied and original menu, from its smoked sprats to treacle-cured salmon and potted rabbit. Chef-licensee Tim Abbott is particularly interested in lesser-known cuts of meat, crediting them as being, in general, “much tastier” than the standard cuts.

Dishes on the menu include slow-cooked Jacob’s Ladder (beef short ribs) with horseradish mashed potatoes, cinnamon-spiced red cabbage, baby onion & Adnams Bitter gravy (£13.95), and ‘rare’ grilled skirt steak with Binham Blue butter, slow-roasted tomato, flat mushroom, hand-cut chips cooked in beef dripping & watercress (£19.95).

The latter description includes an additional note stating that the meat must be served rare due to the nature of the cut. Despite having an 8oz 28-day sirloin dish on the menu, the lesser-known dishes outsell it.

More than 20 of the Jacob’s Ladder and skirt dishes are sold weekly, compared to 10-15 of the sirloin. “The skirt delivers more in flavour and costs less for the same weight of meat as a sirloin,” explains Abbott. “We marinade it with garlic, thyme and lemon for 24 hours and serve rare.

It’s cheaper to buy in and we make about another 20% on GP — around 70% for the skirt and in the low 60s for sirloin. The Jacob’s Ladder would get about 70% GP as well and there is a lot of meat on the bone.

“It is good to use less common cuts to create a more original menu. From a chef’s point of view, anyone can cook the more popular cuts because it takes less skill, effort and love.

The unusual cuts are primarily the tougher ones and they taste better.” Abbott cooks the meat for longer and at lower temperatures in traditional ovens.

Case study: The Mark Addy, Salford, Manchester

Regional focus: black pudding potato cake with soft poached egg

The Mark Addy often lists a Manchester tart among its dessert options. This traditional baked pastry tart features raspberry jam, a custard filling and bananas. About one in three diners choose it from the menu, says manager James Ratcliffe.

The pub also serves Eccles cakes — small, round currant-filled cakes made with flaky pastry that uses butter originating from Greater Manchester. The pub serves them with Lancashire cheese or double cream for £6.50.

Black pudding is most famously associated with Lancashire and the Mark Addy knows it, serving a black pudding potato cake with a soft poached egg (£6.25).

Another of its regional dishes is steamed Lancashire rag pudding (£8), made with minced meat and onions wrapped in suet pastry, originally from Oldham and popular throughout the north west.

Following its use of offal, the pub also serves regional favourite, tripe — the stomach of a cow, sheep, pig or ox, very high in protein and low in fat. Although tripe has seen a huge downturn in the past two decades, EBLEX says national tripe sales have risen since 2009.

Ways to become more regional

  • Research the food history of your region
  • Explore supplier options in your area
  • Aim for at least one regional dish in each menu section
  • Highlight dishes unique to your area on the menu
  • Ask regulars what long-forgotten dish they would like to see back on pub menus

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