Al Fresco Cuisine

While away in Scotland I ate out every evening and finding somewhere easy to park, with edible food that didn’t break the bank and all for ‘early doors’ wasn’t easy. The choices, just like anywhere in the UK fall to a range of eateries where shallow pockets meet pretentious dining. The ‘Harvesters’, ‘Marstons’, ‘Brewers Fayres’ and the like now proliferate offering inexpensive mass produced food that is almost interchangeable. One man’s ‘Harvest Chicken’ is another woman’s ‘Chicken Newyorker’ and there are variations on a theme of fish & chips, scampi in a basket or hamburgers just about everywhere.

Its better than in my youth when eating out cheaply meant scoffing chips with your fingers from a newspaper wrapping and ‘pub grub’ never rose above the towering heights of a pickled egg and a bag of plain crisps with a blue paper twist filled with salt. Those who could afford to push the boat out went to a steak house, those of us who were strapped for cash had a square deal of sandpaper clad plaice, anaemic chips and tinned peas in Lyon’s Corner House or the like.

OK… eating out is better than it was but unless you want to spend thirty or forty quid a head or more then you are either confined to the above mentioned bland land eateries, or your local Chinese or Indian restaurant… and many of these are heading up market

So most of us queue up to be seated as close to the ‘all you can eat’ salad bar as we can get, order our ‘bottomless glass’ of rola cola or half pint of non-specific beer and scan the menu for ‘early bird’ specials or ‘classic meal deals’.

If, like me, you are not a meat eater the choices are really restricted. Fish & Chips, Salmon somehow and a variation of prawns or scampi for fish eaters but true veggies get dealt the meanest hand… pasta with tomatoes or a tart with goats cheese is as far as the imagination of these mass caterers can stretch. Go to a carvery and you’ll find that many offer a veggie alternative to go with the roast veg that is completely inappropriate… who wants a Mediterranean type tart with their roast potatoes and veggie gravy? Why not offer some meat substitute like veggie sausages or a quorn-based pie? Not that I’d go for that always finding in the best places that veggie gravy and all the roast trimmings minus the meat suits me.

Away from home in the UK for more than a day and I find myself having to repeat meals through lack of choice… it really is time that these companies looked at their meat-free meals and, instead of trying to cater for some notional stereotypical vegetarian they just had more meals without meat… not all non meat eaters want root vegetables, goat’s cheese and wholemeal pastry!

There seems too, to be a growing trend in such places to ape the ridiculous overblown culinary descriptions so favoured by gastro pubs… do we want ‘mixed veg’, or a ‘panaché of crispy garden vegetables’? What is better, a ‘fillet of bass with mash and buttered vegetables’, or a ‘parvé of bass on a bed of crushed new potatoes with lemon and a diced medley of Mediterranean vegetables in a beurre blanc’? Will they ever run out of pretention I wonder… and if you, like me, had to look up parvé, it’s French for ‘paving stones’ and refers to anything rectangular!

After perusing so many menus in down market ‘gastro pubs’ I have decided on a meal for my own tea… I’m going for the broiled haricot beans with salsa pomodoro rosso on a tranche de pain grillé, gratinated with country fresh, locally sourced, mature, farmhouse, cheddar cheese. Or, to cut the crap, cheesy beans on toast.

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