Beware the “pub grub” fad, warns Michelin starred restaurateur

The supposedly traditional ploughman's was in fact invented in the 1960s, says Steve Harris

A Michelin starred east Kent restaurateur has warned against chefs succumbing to a “pub grub” fad gripping the industry.

Steve Harris, who runs The Sportsman in Seasalter, argues that diners want good meals rather than whatever trends food writers deem fashionable.

He spoke out after the publication of the latest edition of the Good Pub Guide which extolled the virtues of traditional English pub meals such as ploughman’s lunches and pies.

Mr Harris points out that the ploughman’s was invented in the 1960s as a marketing tactic to sell more cheese.

He said: “There is a new generation eating out in pubs that doesn’t feel threatened by the modern food being served.

Award winning chef Steve Harris

“What they, and I would argue most people want, is well-executed food rather than a strict and narrow range of dishes that correspond to a Little Englander view of the past.

“For many young people, travel, food and eating out is an important part of their lives, and they want to see this reflected in more adventurous menus.”

Mr Harris and his brother Phil took over The Sportsman at Faversham Road in 1999 and have had a Michelin star since 2008.

Much of the food the Sportsman serves comes from the immediate land and sea near it and its “intention is to serve good food in relaxed and informal surroundings”.

But Mr Harris worries that too many commercial chefs having turned their backs on the fancy offerings of a decade or so ago are being tempted by an imagined return to a golden age of pub food.

He went on: “The Good Pub Guide editors suggest that chefs in pubs should ‘ditch the fancy food’, which they claim is putting customers off, and instead cook more traditional food such as bangers and mash, pies, and ploughman’s lunches. The ploughman’s was actually invented in the 1960s by a PR person to flog more cheese, but I get the point.

“There is a belief in a type of pub grub which harks back to a romantically mythical time when everything was rosy and this country’s fair inns dealt in Solid English Food.

“But it would also be a bit silly if every pub in the vicinity served the same food, especially dishes that are easily cooked at home. Just like other businesses, a diverse offering is the key.

“Pub owners have a commercial imperative which means that if we are no good, we go bust – whether we get a good rating in the guides or not.”


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