So, the new The Good Food Guide 2012 has solemnly banned the use of the word gastropub. This led to a lively debate this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme between David Eyre, co-founder of the Eagle in Clerkenwell, often cited as the original ‘gastropub’, and Allegra McEvedy, food writer on the Guardian. Eyre reckoned the word sounded like a disease and said a pub should just be called a pub. McEvedy said the dreaded word was a useful signal to distinguish it from most pubs that still serve awful food. With all due respect to the GFG, Squidbeak begs to dissent from the ban and will continue, carefully, to use it.
Our understanding is that it signifies a pub that, while still welcoming customers who want to drink without having a meal, generally serves robust modern British food, perhaps with international touches. It cuts out the formalities of reservations, uniformed staff, tablecloths, wine waiters and amuse gueules and doesn’t expect the punter to dress up as if going to the opera or church. Nor does it have sausages and beans and lasagne congealing under heated lamps; that is just a boozer with ‘crappy food’, a phrase for which McEvedy was called out for bad language in the debate. If it serves food with more palaver then it becomes a dining pub, and if you can’t get a drink without food then it’s just a restaurant that happens to be in the shell of a former pub.
Gastropub may be an ugly word; it may have misleading overtones of gourmet gastronomy; it may be a bandwagon and certainly there are plenty of identikit gastropubs that fall short of the best standards, but it is still a helpful indicator of the broad aspirations of the place. We know what it means. And besides, the best gastropubs have hugely broadened the landscape of eating out in Britain. Until a better word comes along, it will stay in our lexicon.