Chop and change: how to make pub classics healthy

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

(image credit: a_namenko/istock/thinkstockphotos.co.uk)
(image credit: a_namenko/istock/thinkstockphotos.co.uk)
Health and traditional are two big trends in food that aren’t showing any signs of going away. Operators need to find a way to pair the two factors together perfectly to keep diners returning.

Pub classics are staple dishes operators should keep on the menu, a fact that is backed up by market research experts NPD, which highlighted that traditional options are in the top four trends to keep an eye on.

Serving reliable, familiar dishes consumers know and love are a great way to pull the punters in and keep them coming back.

But, with the new year now blossoming, consumers feel the need to be health-conscious after what is usually a relatively indulgent festive period.

Operators let The Morning Advertiser​ into the secret behind tying these two gigantic trends together so seamlessly, diners won’t know what’s hit them.

Chef-patron of Parlour in Kensal Rise, north-west London, Jesse Dunford Wood, says: “Though pub dishes are either deep fried or covered in suet pastry, it can be nice to unearth them.

“Unearth fish from breadcrumbs and instead of serving a deep-fried fillet, you could do a beautiful themed cod fillet that is revolutionary and I do like a themed dish.”

Encasing meat or fish in alternative ingredients but keeping a traditional element is also something Parlour prides itself on.

Dunford Wood says: “We do sometimes do a very cool fish finger with spiralised potato that you wrap around the fish finger instead of breadcrumbs or batter, which makes it interesting but is still familiar.

“I do like spiralising. We serve golden carrot spaghetti with fishcakes, which are grilled on a hot plate and that works very well.”

When it comes to desserts, Dunford Wood highlights the importance of a dish that was once a children’s party favourite but can offer a healthy alternative to more heavy-set classics.

Funky British wobble

He adds: “We are never really going to get away from sugar, but jelly is a much nicer way of getting a healthy and lighter dessert.

“Jellies are great because they are light, give a fun aspect, they give colour along with a funky British wobble. I don’t know why jelly isn’t a bigger thing, it is great for puddings.”

Echoing Dunford Wood’s comments on cooking dishes differently to give them a healthier edge is owner of the Victoria Inn, Salcombe, Devon, Tim Hore.

He says: “Fish and chips is one of our biggest sellers but we always give customers the option to have their fish grilled instead.

“Being based down by the sea, fish on its own is what a lot of our customers come for so we do a heck of a lot of grilled and roasted fish as a healthier alternative.

“We also offer vegetarian and vegan meals for those who are avoiding meat because more and more diners want that.”

In fact, it is estimated that there are 542,000 vegans in Britain now, according to the Vegan Society, up from 15,000 a decade ago.

And 3.25% of the population who are aged 15 and over – about 1.66m people – are either vegetarian or vegan, an increasing trend that we know isn’t going to go away.

One pub owner who has taken this information on board is licensee of the Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield.

He has also made a connection between a rise in meat-free dishes being served and aparticular month of the year.

Padfield says: “In January, we always note a distinct leap in orders from our vegetarian menu. ‘Getting back on the wagon’ is therefore no longer the only preferred healthy option after the richness and excess of Christmas.

“This seems to reflect the increasing trend towards vegetarian food and healthier living – just look at the rise of Veggie Pret.

“Some 10 years ago, who would have thought that a pub like mine would have a dedicated vegetarian menu, as well as gluten-free and dairy-free menus?”

Healthy trends

He also outlines how a shift in demand from younger consumers is what pushes the healthy trends in food.

“As ever, the Millennial generation is a driving force – those of this generation who are now electing to mostly avoid alcohol, are exactly the type of customer who will ‘go healthy’ or go veggie”, he says.

While the advent of a new year can provide an excuse for focused abstinence for some customers, it is also important not to lose sight of the fact that ‘healthy living’ is a growing phenomenon, which we need to reflect in our menus all year round.

“It remains critical to provide appeal to all customers (and therefore I cannot see a time when we will not be serving our Unruly Burger with dripping chips), fried food is only a very small part of our menu,” continues Padfield.

“There is a clear demand for ‘cleaner’ or healthier food such as our poached wild sea trout (served with a ragu of white beans, clams, artichokes and hazelnuts), is flying out the door. It’s popular with everyone – not just ladies who lunch.”

The large pub chains are also getting involved in turning pub classics healthy by changing ingredients in dishes.

Mitchells & Butlers-owned (M&B) Vintage Inns offers consumers a spiced chickpea, aubergine and spinach burger in a rustic roll, dressed with a spiced red pepper sauce and served with a pesto and tomato dip.

Not only healthy but veggie-friendly too. In fact, meat-free burgers seem to be a bit of a trend across M&B brands and something All Bar One also offers.

Entitled ‘the Vegan’, the dish includes beetroot humus, fire-roasted peppers, all served in an ancient grain bun instead of brioche.

So while customers want healthy options, changing the way more traditional dishes are cooked answers diners’, chefs’ and operators’ prayers to keep that bottom line up.  

Related topics: Healthy options

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