2015 review: the year in pub food

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

2015: the year in pub food

Related tags: Pub sector, Pub food, Best food pub, Chef, Inn, Public house

As 2015 draws to a close, Daniel Woolfson takes a look back at some of the events and trends that shaped the sector throughout the year.

Pubs tackled the gluten-free issue

The surge in demand for gluten-free dining and availability of free-from menu options across the entire eating-out sector reached peak levels this year following the introduction of the EU's Food Information to Consumers Regulations last December.

But the willingness of the pub sector to adapt to this demand has been varied. While many higher end, food-led pubs threw themselves, head first, into gluten-free catering, the Publican's Morning Advertiser ​(PMA​) recently reported that only 6% of consumers thought pubs offered the best range​ of free-from dishes, falling markedly behind the restaurant sector in adapting to the changes posed by the legislation.

In July, celebrity chef Phil Vickery of This Morning ​TV fame hit out at what he saw as "ignorance and arrogance"​ among chefs when it came to considering customers' gluten-free wishes.

He told the PMA: "​The biggest problem is that chefs think they know it all and just see [coeliac disease] as a fad. It's not a fad, it's a disease."

And while a poll of PMA ​readers​ discovered that an increasing number of licensees thought it was necessary to cater for the gluten-free market, a considerable portion still thought otherwise.

Fires and closures

This year saw a number of newcomers tackling the higher end of pub food with great success but, sadly, also saw several successful businesses come to a close.

Acclaimed chefs Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike sold their award winning Suffolk gastropub​ the British Larder in February, citing a desire to focus on other projects. Pike was soon after recruited as chef director for the aggressively expanding group Oakman Inns & Restaurants.

The British Larder was taken on by new owner Brendan Padfield and reopened as the Unruly Pig.

Tragedy struck only two months later when the pub was severely damaged by a late-night fire​, which destroyed roughly one third of the site.

However, after extensive repairs and renovations, the Unruly Pig opened for business in late November having already been given a coveted listing in the Good Food Guide​.

Great British Menu ​winner and Top 50 Gastropubs alumni James Durrant also decided to call time on his Hampshire gastropub the Plough, Longparish​, saying the business had not been financially viable.

Sustainability was the hot topic

With growing public interest in establishments' ethics and provenance, the Sustainable Restaurant Association warned in September that food-led operators who failed to engage with sustainability issues could be putting their businesses at risk.

Andrew Fishwick of award-winning London pub the Truscott Arms told the Restaurant Show​ that incentive needed to come from the government.

Moving sectors

A large number of chefs from Michelin-starred establishments turned their gaze to the pub sector this year with a spate of high-profile openings.

Jon Rotheram and Tom Harris, who both previously worked with Fergus Henderson, opened "East End boozer" the Marksman in Hackney​ to widespread critical acclaim.

Daniel Clifford, owner of two Michelin-starred restaurant Midsummer House, Cambridge, opened the Flitch of Bacon in Essex.

Chris and Jeff Galvin, who own a string of restaurants across the country including the renowned Galvin at Windows, announced they would open their first "pub de luxe" in London’s Spitalfields market​.

The pub, called HOP, will be followed by the opening of their second pub, the Green Man, Essex, in 2016. Speaking to the PMA​'s sister title M&C Allegra Report, ​Chris Galvin said he thought it was "no wonder" pubs were closing given what he saw as a lack of food standards across the trade​.

Award winners

Steven Harris's "grotty boozer by the sea" the Sportsman, Seasalter, was crowned the top gastropub​ in the country at 2015's Top 50 Gastropubs awards, which saw three-time champ Tom Kerridge step back from the competition to present the awards.

The Top 50 Gastropubs 2016 winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on Monday 25 January at Anglian Country Inns site Hermitage Road, Hitchin.

Later in the year, Harris took on an executive chef role of sorts, overseeing the menu development for highly anticipated wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot​.

And John Calton's North Shields pub the Staith House was named Best Food Pub at the Great British Pub Awards.

Looking forward

Overall, it's been a tremendous year for pub food. A number of larger chains have moved away from the "ping cuisine" they were traditionally known for, placing greater importance on fresh ingredients and local sourcing.

Innovative operators and phenomenally driven chefs have continued to prove that the pub can be a vibrant, forward-thinking dining establishment worthy of critical acclaim.

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