Chefs and licensees don't hold back when asked about the worst crimes against pub food. Gripes include combining cuisines and serving food in fryer baskets.
Licensee of the Swan, in Bampton, Devon, Paul Berry is very clear on what he doesn't want to see served in a pub: “It has to be dry pies, can’t think of anything worse. Why can’t pubs send extra jugs of gravy out? Who wants to eat anything dry?
“The other one is undressed salads, how hard is it to get this right? It amounts to a bit of laziness or being badly trained.”
Meanwhile, the great plate debate has been a contentious subject in the pub trade in recent years, and the industry has previously been lambasted for its overuse of serving boards.
Caroline Kimber, licensee of the Butchers Arms, in Hepworth, West Yorkshire, said her biggest gripe was “miniature fryer baskets to serve chips in and miniature pans on the plate”.
And Kimber wasn’t the only operator who disagrees with the 'alternative' ways of serving pub food, as Heath Ball, licensee of Great British Pub Award winner and Top 50 Gastropub the Red Lion and Sun in Highgate, north London, explained.
He said: “Serving food on anything other than plates such as slate etc is one of my biggest gripes as who wants to eat off slate or from a fryer basket - too many gimmicks.
“Time should be spent on making sure the flavours of the dish are right.”
Over serving dishes
Ball didn’t stop there, though, and added how changing too much in classic pub food dishes also grinds his gears.
He said: “Another is over-serving dishes. Chefs feel they have to add their own twist.
“One example was a pub I went for dinner at, and I really struggled to find food I wanted to eat. Everything was just over thought and in my opinion, trying to be too clever.
“I ordered the steak and chips but they couldn’t even leave that classic dish alone – they served it with snail butter.
“You have to ask yourself what’s wrong with classic sauces like peppercorn or Béarnaise sauce?”
Not keeping things simple and trying too hard with “over stylised presentation and exotic combinations” is a bugbear of the licensee of the Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield.
He said: “The worst thing? Not matching food to ability. If a pub has a cook and not a formally trained chef then I would respectfully suggest they should play to their strengths.
“I recently ate at one of my favourite locals where they served a trio of rabbit but it was not their finest hour.
“Whereas if they had just served a great rabbit pie with seasonal greens, I would have been so happy and gone back for more another day.”
Padfield highlighted how the Unruly Pig does things differently. He said: “We try to keep things simple. We don’t do swishes and foams, but focus on flavour and the quality of the ingredients. Less is often more in my book.”
Misjudging the best times for food to be served throughout the year is something chef-patron Jesse Dunford Wood of the Parlour in Kensal Green, north-west London doesn’t like.
He said: “Slightly misplaced seasonality. It may be petty but I am a big believer in seasonal food.
“When the English asparagus season is over and a pub has it on the menu for three months after, I struggle to understand where they get their veg from.”
But, this wasn’t the only problem Dunford Wood had with pub food and he also get involved in the plate debate.
He said: “Racquets, slates, ping pong bats - people do get carried away with that. I may be guilty of not using plates sometimes, but we do 95% of the time.”
Taking things internationally, Brett Sutton, licensee of the White Post, in Rimpton, Somerset, doesn’t agree with pubs that try to combine different types of cuisines.
He said: “The biggest thing I personally hate, and you see it in pubs that are trying to be better than they are, is mixing food cuisines and using terminology that makes no sense.
“Escalope of salmon with Thai crust, dhal, crumbled feta and arrabiata sauce. So, Thai meets India, is introduced to the Greeks and Cypriots and is finished with an Italian sauce.
“You see it loads. Why? Confusion not infusion springs to mind.”