Friday 2 October 2015

Posh pub grub

The Hop Vine in Burscough is well known
for its food, but is still a good real ale pub.
An interesting post on Curmudgeon's blog was about how some pubs have gone upmarket by switching the emphasis of their trade to food. Not just any old pub grub, but quality food that is correspondingly expensive. With the layout of the pub clearly arranged with diners in mind, such pubs aren't particularly welcoming if all you want to do is have a drink. I added a comment, which I reproduce it here:

I've just done a tour over two days of ten of our local country pubs [in West Lancashire], many canalside, to distribute our local CAMRA mag, and also to take notes and pictures for my pub articles for the local paper. I took friends with me as my drinking was seriously limited by driving; they were my surrogate drinkers, and we spent some time in each pub chatting to bar staff and licensees.

All the pubs did food, and only one, a residential hotel with a real ale bar, asked if we'd be eating, but there was no problem when we said no. All were welcoming and friendly, and I got the impression that all, including the hotel, had a core of regulars who came in just to have a drink. Perhaps that's the difference: when a pub ceases to have such regulars, it has completed the transition from pub to restaurant where drinkers are seen as table blockers rather than customers.

The Mount Pleasant, nearest pub to where
I live: good food, but still a real pub.
Although there are quite a lot of food pubs in the local area, I can think of only one that might fit into the upmarket food category described by Curmudgeon: the Sparrowhawk in Formby, which used to be a popular wedding venue and is now primarily a restaurant that serves real ale. I've never been because: it is out of my way; I prefer not to drink in restaurants; and I've no wish to pay the high prices for beer. I can drink elsewhere locally for 50% to 80% of the prices they charge. This isn't a criticism of the venue: the Sparrowhawk has its own market, and that's fair enough - horses for courses, after all. It was never intended to be a local.

For myself, if I choose to have a meal in a pub, I prefer the kinds of pubs I visited in Lancashire to any gastropub. Curmudgeon specifically mentioned Cheshire, which in parts is much posher than Southport. That may explain the number of pricey food pubs he has encountered.

I've just found a webpage called "Leading Gastropubs Southport". The nearest is 12.4 miles away.


  1. The Sparrowhawk is owned by Brunning & Price, who have often gained plaudits from CAMRA - see the Old Harker's Arms in Chester on P72 of the current GBG. I get the impression that some of B&P's more recent conversions since their acquisition by The Restaurant Group are noticeably less "pubby" than the original chain.

    I entirely agree that a food-led pub can still be welcoming to drinkers, and plenty of pubs achieve that. But a growing number do give the impression that non-diners aren't really welcome, and that sadly includes pubs owned by the local family brewers.

    And if I want to have a ploughman's with my pint, I'd much prefer to sit and eat it at a table in a lively bar than in solitary splendour in somewhere resembling a restaurant. It's not a sharp divide between drinkers and diners.

  2. Martin, Cambridge2 October 2015 at 22:00

    I'd happily eat Brunning & Price's food if money was no object, but would rather not eat it in their upmarket pubs where I often feel out of place and find it all a bit polite - many others like that formula.
    Quite happy to pop in for a drink though.


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