Friday, March 13, 2009

This cheapening dynamic is the consequence of our retail culture being dominated by big players who dominate by gaining volume rather than establishing quality as their benchmarks for success. It's a dreadful mess.

Twenty years ago before the term 'Gastro pub' was even invented a few individuals with backgrounds in high end high profile restaurants set out in business for themselves by renting pubs and turning them into something really special and different. They opened simple, visionary, entrepreneurially driven businesses serving good value but generally excellently prepared, robustly presented, fresh produce on plates alongside beers - and for the first time great wine lists - to an appreciative audience of customers who'd had enough of stinky, sticky carpeted 'traditional' boozers doing deep fried sausages and chips in baskets and stupidly snobby ridiculously overpriced nouvelle cuisine.

For a brief few years it seemed there was a revolution taking place in British catering. Britain became touted as the food capital of the world, with the most diverse, stimulating and exciting menus being served in the quirkiest, most interesting bars restaurant and eateries. Britain was clawing its way from the depths of international culinary banality it had sunk to since the turn of the 19th century and two world wars seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of our unique food heritage.

Then corporate behemoths came along, name no names err Whitbread, Allied Domecq, Bass, and they saw the future; took the principal ideas, copied the individualist lively small businesses, dumbed it down, and stamped it out in every high street across the green and pleasant land.

Jonathan Meades was an early detractor, describing it in his Sunday Times column as early as 1996 as the "Giga Brewers" bringing the rise of culinary quality in Britain to an abrupt halt by setting a lowest common denominator of boil in the bag posing as good food and creating the national catering equivalent of Boots the Chemists on every high street.

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