In the era of the triple-cooked chip and tempura haddock, dining pubs and traditional boozers have been given a battering for shoddy service.
The compilers of the latest edition of The Good Pub Guide, published this week, have been deluged with complaints about the rudeness of bar staff and interminable delays for orders as consumers pay the price for staff cutbacks.
Criticisms have included “a very smelly roaming dog, grubby or cheerless surroundings, overpowering TVs, piped music, a poor choice of beers plus a whole load of shortcomings in food”.
Despite widespread complaints about mediocre dishes, prices have risen by an inflation-busting five per cent with cooks seeking to justify the increase with more elaborate fare.
The guide says: “Ambitious dining pubs have transformed the old favourites with dishes such as fish and chips being changed to mussels, pork being swapped for lamb and beef burgers becoming venison burgers.
"Good old ham, eggs and chips becomes home-reared rare-breed gammon with free range eggs from their own hens and triple-cooked chips. Those triple-cooked chips turn up again with beer or tempura-battered fresh haddock with home-made tartare sauce.”
There is some reason for cheer in the West Midlands, which has the cheapest beer in the country. Drinkers can expect to pay an “extraordinarily cheap” £2.45 a pint – compared with £3.08 in Surrey, the priciest place in England.
The second cheapest region for beer is Staffordshire (£2.54 a pint) and Worcestershire is also described as “very cheap” (£2.61). Beer in Warwickshire is in the “average” category at 2.82 a pint. Nationally, the average price of a pint has increased four per cent to £2.80.
However, Birmingham’s pubs continue to punch below their weight. Just one, the Old Joint Stock, a popular haunt for corporate quaffers opposite St Philip’s Cathedral, is deemed worthy of a main entry in the guide.
Editor Fiona Stapley insisted two other city pubs – The Bartons Arms, Aston, and The Wellington, in Bennetts Hill, in the city centre – were “almost” main entries. She appealed for Brummies to get in contact with positive reports about their favourite locals and lobby on behalf of outstanding pubs. “We need a little bit more support,” she added.
During the recession, the hospitality sector has cut jobs by four per cent but Ms Stapley said “over-economising” in pubs had led to problems with service. She said: “It has been a tough year for pubs and they have got to keep their costs down. One of the mistaken things they have done is cut staff numbers.”
Some things cost nothing. Ms Stapley said: “If you don’t get a welcome or a smile that is one of the things people hate, more than dirt. That will totally ruin a pub trip.”
The Black Country leaves Birmingham in the shade with four “fully inspected” entries in the guide. There is praise for The Turf at Bloxwich, The Vine at Brierley Hill, The Old Swan at Netherton and The Beacon, at Sedgley, which is singled out for its traditionally brewed Sarah Hughes beers.
The Crabmill at Preston Bagot is the Warwickshire County Dining Pub of the Year, selected for its “imaginative menu” of salt and pepper squid with lime mayonnaise and seared duck breast with spiced confit onions.
Worcestershire’s Dining Pub of the Year is the perennially popular Bell & Cross, at Holy Cross, run by England football team chef Roger Narbett and his wife Jo.
The other winners are: Staffordshire – Hand & Trumpet, Wrinehill; Herefordshire – The Stagg, Titley; Shropshire – The Fox, Chetwynd Aston.
The Good Pub Guide 2011 is published by Ebury Press at £14.99