It’s often been said that some of the best, most accessible, and good-value food to be had in Britain is found in gastropubs. Twenty years ago the word didn’t exist; now, the gastropub is to modern Britain what the brasserie is to France: a place relaxed enough so you can read the papers, but good enough to feel special.
31 January saw the publication of the Top 50 Gastropubs in Britain (full list here), and the list features many of my favourite places to eat. The Morning Advertiser’s food and drink editor Nicholas Robinson said: “The list has been around for close to a decade now and it has never been so diverse. Gastropubs in the UK are the backbone of accessible and high-quality food.” He added: “Every region now has a handful of great food pubs within easy reach that Brits can count on for a superb meal prepared by chefs whose skills wouldn’t be out of place in the world’s best restaurants.”
And the winner is…
The Star Inn at Harome has been Andrew Pern’s baby for nearly 20 years. I first visited in 2008, and videoed Andrew cooking his signature dish of black pudding and foie gras. Pern describes his cooking as ‘modern without the foams’. The setting, in deepest Yorkshire, is stunning, as is the food. Down the road is the Pipe & Glass, which came 9th in the list, and sees Andrew’s former protoge, James Mackenzie at the pass; it too is a favourite.
Pern said: “It’s the third time we’ve been number one on the list and I’ve had my eye on it ever since we lost the top spot. The Star Inn is my life and the food we serve is a reflection of the seasons, as well as the great produce found in Yorkshire. It’s such an honour to be crowned the number one gastropub in the UK.”
Yorkshire didn’t have it all its own way though, at number two was The Sportsman in Seaslater, Kent. This ‘grotty rundown pub by the sea’ as owner and chef Stephen Harris describes it, is a great experience. The highest new entry was from chef @DanielClifford (of Cambridge’s Midsummer House) who stormed up the leaderboard with his newest venture, The Flitch of Bacon, which I had the pleasure of reviewing with the Guardian’s Jay Rayner last year.
Other highlights included a clutch of places in the capital, great neighbourhood places like Draper’s Arms in Islington or the Anchor and Hope in Waterloo.
So what exactly is a gastropub?
Well, first and foremost, the building has to be a pub (ideally late Victorian in cities, often older in the countryside). Any other type of structure and it’s a restaurant in my book, not a gastropub.
A key part of a gastropub is that it is still a pub. That means there should also be a bar, and an area dedicated just for drinking. If it’s all dining, it’s a restaurant, not a pub. The ambience should be less formal than a restaurant, but a little smarter than a normal pub. For rural gastropubs, a good scenic walk nearby is ideal for a postprandial stroll.
Finally, we come to the food. This should be well executed, yes, but still have an element of comfort and ease on the plate. The restaurant is a French invention; the pub, inn, or tavern, a uniquely British one. Gastropubs have succeeded in recent years because they take the quality and ingredients of the former, but offer them in the familiar and more relaxed environment of the latter.