For better or worse, our pubs are changing. Whether it's the creeping effects of gentrification or simply an industry belatedly adapting to survive, many pubs are unrecognisable from 20 years ago.
And besides the distinctly less 'cancery' quality of the air, few things have changed so drastically as the humble bar snack.
A radical new wave of snazzy bites have arrived in our watering holes, featuring rogue ideas like fresh ingredients (!) and cutlery. But is this gourmet development all it’s cracked up to be?
When this serious issue was raised over a post-work pint our team was split. So, we tasked two of MP’s finest to hash it out properly, like real men do, in a passive-aggressive, tit for tat article.
The Glorious Future
Corduroy clad and perennially thirsty, Ralph Harwood unashamedly champions 'toff tucker'.
Satisfying your hunger is a serious business. Like winning the Premier League, or getting out of bed in the morning, it’s not something you can do in half measures.
Picture the scene - it’s 2-pint o’clock on a Wednesday evening. You’re keen for a third (and the inevitable fourth) but you’re feeling a bit peckish.
Don’t be fooled by a bag of spud flavoured salt. The sodium chloride will have you gasping for a seventh pint before you know it, and you’ll be woken up at 5 am by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in your tummy wondering if you actually drank seven pints of sand last night.
Will anyone ever truly know what a 'Cheese Flavoured Moment' is?
It’s all very well “getting a bag in for the lads” when you go to the bar but nothing fills you up like a pork pie at the pub. Not only is it delicious, but you only need one of them. It’s why they were invented after all.
In the 1820s, farm workers in Leicestershire (bear with me…) needed something to fill them up at lunch which could be preserved through the day. Enter stage left all the tastiest meat from local pigs encased in jelly (hold the ice-cream) and a buttery pastry crust. 5-6 mouthfuls and you were set for the rest of the day. “I'm alright, thanks” was a phrase uttered by exactly no one when offered a pork pie on their break from tilling the fields.
Want your pork in a different format? Forget crisps smothered in the powdered essence of bacon. Try a sausage roll.
And these aren’t even your star strikers in the Wanky But Frankly Delicious Pork Snack XI.
Heaven on earth.
When Paris Saint-Germain set about signing someone to help them win the Champions League this season they didn’t say to each other, “ruddy hell lads, someone get Lee Cattermole on the blower ASAP.” No. They repeatedly hurled Scrooge McDuck style swimming pools of cash at Barca until they signed fucking Neymar. The finest available player on the planet.
And do you know what Neymar is in pub snack terms? That’s right – he’s a scotch egg.
Superb technique (you try getting a perfect golden crust at home, mate), a full range of skills (perfectly balanced flavours, deliciously juicy sausage meat), and it’s got a runny yolk. That’s right, the thing you were dipping soldiers in until you were 8 and have been yearning to do ever since.
When was the last time you opened a packet of Quavers and found a runny yolk in there? Exactly.
It’s not all pork, of course. Other snacks illegally dismissed as “toff tucker” include cheese twists, deep fried fish, spinach and ricotta bites, and olives (we’re not talking pea sized olives you get in a packet btw, I mean those olive steaks that require bar staff to rent a fork-lift truck in order to remove from the Kilner jar).
And then there’s chips. Fries, chunky, thrice cooked – I don’t care how you fix them, everyone loves them. Dipping your weird little bag of “Scampi Flavour Fries” in a ramekin of mayonnaise – not on, mate. Get out of the pub.
Next time you’re idly perusing the back of the bar as you await your order, divert your eyes away from the bright coloured bags of nonsense and take a look at the blackboard. You’ll find snacks that fill you up, are made with real actual food, and that you can legitimately submerge in chutney.
You’ll quickly find that you’ve got yourself out of bed and you’ve won promotion. Welcome to the Premier League.
Not For Me, Clive
Putting the boot in off a Shaob Akhtar sized run-up, it's MP Editor Pete Starr.
Having moved to London 6 years ago, the proliferation of new wave bar snacks is a trend I’ve been acutely aware of. To the blissfully ignorant, this is the rise of often preposterously priced ‘homemade’ versions of normal foods. They’re invariably served on something demented like a section of reclaimed Victorian drainpipe along with a contemptable thimble of a fictional condiment.
Man papped at exact moment he realised he'd dropped his entire Christmas bonus on some pastry.
When I talk of trendy snacks I’m on about those massive scotch eggs the size of Vincent Kompany’s asteroid-like cranium, pork pies so hefty they required planning permission, whitebait, triple cooked chips*, arancini balls and any other twee shite with mac ‘n’ cheese arbitrarily lumped on top of it.
*I still don’t know what the hell these are or why they exist.
And I wouldn’t normally mind. If people want to spunk their non-existent pensions on a ramekin of olives whilst they enjoy a wobbly pop, then so be it.
But a couple of recent episodes have pushed me over the edge - barmen who’ve belched out those acrid words “we don’t do crisps”. They pour my pint, oblivious to the deranged snarl that used to be my face, before offering a lazy gesture in the direction of a chalkboard full of new wave nonsense behind them.
It should be noted here, I’m no mere Luddite. I’m not yer Da, aimlessly raging against something because it’s new or foreign, per se. I was the first bairn in my entire school to rep a pair of Cica Lights – I’ve been dominating home clothes day with my penchant for the Avant-garde since ’95. Cut me, I bleed progress, man. I mean it's mainly blood. But there are definitely some radical ideas in amongst the gushing plasma, cells and platelets.
No, I’m spitting feathers over the shift from combinations of carbs, blubber and brine in foil packets reigning supreme, because what’s replacing it is guff. It's all gone too far. Here’s why:
Sharing Is Caring
If you don’t share snacks at the pub, you are a dick. Sorry Mike Pence, but that’s the truth. Irrespective of your politics, when drinking with friends at a pub you enter a hard-line socialist pact. Things are shared, whether it’s a ribald yarn, your darkest fears or several packs of Monster Munch, that’s just how pubs work.
Ever tried splitting a pork pie with fermented radish and served with a cognac jus between 5 lads? Yeah, have you chuff mate.
A second deeply worrying trend is just how much mess a couple of brief bites in your average gastroboozer conjures. Trendy snacks require plates, often a ramekin, and cutlery. This is too many things.
“Anyone fancy a game of Pogs? Or how about knuckles? Bit of beer mat flipping? OH HANG ON, WE CAN’T. PAUL AND DAN BOTH GOT A FUCKING ARTISANAL SAUSAGE ROLL IN AND WE’RE NOW DROWNING IN A SEA OF MUSTARD STAINED SAUCERS, CHEERS LADS.”
Magic Money Trees
We’re still crawling out of the arse end of a recession our parents cheerfully caused whilst dear old Gramps continues to ensure the housing market remains the biggest stitch up since S Club 7 beat Shanks & Bigfoot to Best Breakthrough Act at the 2000 Brits.
Real wages have been falling faster than Alec Trevelyan for over a sodding decade, trains are now so mind-bendingly extortionate that DJ Khaled plans to film his next financially braggadocious music video on a Great Western service from Reading to Paddington, and you’re telling me that something to nibble with my pint will set me back the cost of a second pint?
One of my locals genuinely lists ‘Hummus and Toasted Breads’ for £5 as a bar snack. I know pubs need to make their margin somewhere but, as mark-ups go, on something I’d back my three-year-old nephew to knock out, that’s bordering on obscene.
In my mind, if you pay more than £1.50 for a bit of bar tucker, you’re a dangerous lunatic.
STOP TRYING TO TRICK ME INTO BUYING A STARTER WITH MY PINT, I'M NOT A MENTALIST.
Still not convinced by my arguments? It’s ok. Lie to yourself.
Go on, pretend you actually prefer a packet of vegetable crisps these days.
Do it. Say it out loud. Tell the person nearest that you think root vegetable crisps are better than Space Raiders.
Whatever. Even if you somehow dredge up the gall to utter that in public, deep down you know it’s a sham. And that there’s no way you’d ever be able to tell if your smug chips had only actually been cooked twice.