Call time on unhealthy pub food

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fast food, Potato, Pint, Britain

Brown: "Couldn’t we have just one healthy meal on the typical pub menu?"
Brown: "Couldn’t we have just one healthy meal on the typical pub menu?"
As someone who loves pubs and thinks we spend too much time drawing attention to what’s wrong with our industry and not enough championing what’s right, I always feel a bit bad about using this column to criticise pubs.

But pubs like to pride themselves on excellent service, right?

And it’s common for anyone who does to tell customers: “If you didn’t like something, please tell us. If you did like us, please tell everyone else!”

So here’s the thing, pubs: it’s about the food.

My last column, about the calorific values of a pint of lager compared to a burger, was partially motivated by the fact that I’m on a diet. If you’ve met me recently, you can’t deny that I need to lose a few pounds.

The problem is, not only do I drink a lot — even the low-calorie pint starts to add up if you have a few — I tend to eat quite a lot of meals in pubs. I recently spent the best part of a week travelling around the country combining various work things and catching up with friends and family, all of which meant that for six days I ate almost every lunch and evening meal in a pub.

I put on 5lb that week.

I also felt sluggish, greasy and stupid. In every single pub, at every single mealtime, I looked for a healthy option on the menu — just one, anything — and there wasn’t one.

Every single pub had fish & chips, burger & chips and pie & chips. If there was chicken, it was in some kind of creamy sauce or smothered in bacon. If there was soup, it was hearty and filling.

Anything potentially healthy trying to sneak through the net was intercepted and covered in cheese, just to make sure.

I thought I’d scored in one place where, in the sandwich section, among the standard steak & onion, ham & Cheddar, and BLTs, there was a tuna & spring onion wholemeal roll. Yes!

When it arrived, the ‘tuna and spring onion’ filling was in fact at least 60% mayonnaise. I couldn’t eat it without gobbets of slime sliding over my fingers and spattering on to the plate each time I took a bite.

I just don’t get why, not just pubs, but all retailers do this. I HATE mayonnaise. Some people love it and still regard it as a treat.

If you’re going to make a one-inch-thick mayonnaise sandwich with a sprinkling of tuna to half-heartedly bind it together, why not advertise it as such? Or at least list mayonnaise, the main ingredient, on the menu description? All the mayonnaise lovers will order it. And you won’t leave people like me angry, hungry and dissatisfied.

It’s not just me. A couple of years ago I was entertaining some brewers from California in a London pub and we ordered a ‘vegetable sharing platter’. When it arrived, everything on the plate was beige — not a colour that you readily associate with fresh produce.

“This is not what we ordered,” said the horrified Americans.

“Yes it is, look,” I explained, full of shame. “These are battered onion rings. These are deep-fried breaded mushrooms. These are chips, and the potato is a vegetable…” and so on, around a plate that looked a bit like Kerry Katona’s last supper.

I appreciate that many publicans may have been too busy to notice, but Britain is increasingly conscious about its weight — at least those members of society who are going to live long enough to remain valuable customers. You can’t turn on a TV chatshow or open a magazine (even a good one) without seeing a celeb who has shed pounds and is telling everyone how great it feels.

I’m not asking that every pub follows JD Wetherspoon, which created the most appallingly fascinating read when it listed the calorific values of its dishes on the menu (how on earth do you make a burger that calorific?) but followed this up with a range of vegetarian, healthy and low-calorie dishes.

I appreciate that, for many people, eating in a pub is an occasional treat where you choose to have a blowout. But couldn’t we have just one healthy meal on the typical pub menu? Just one chicken dish where it’s steamed or grilled and comes with fresh vegetables, or stir-fried without a thick sauce? Just one tasty, well-made veggie curry? Just one jacket potato filling where there’s only enough mayonnaise to make it bind, and the potato doesn’t come with a side order of chips?

You never know — those increasingly health-conscious punters might visit the pub more often if you did.

Related topics: Beer

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