The great scotch egg hunt
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
We all need to eat, me included. And I like a beer, so a pub lunch is something I don’t do regularly, but I enjoy nevertheless. On the first Friday after Oxford had been declared to be in Tier 2, which means whilst people are permitted to crowd into a shop but can’t sit down for a pint, I decided to forego a takeaway lunchtime sandwich at my desk in favour of beer and a pub snack instead.
My pub snack, of course, needs to be classed as a “substantial meal”, which must be the most idiotic of the government’s many idiotic Covid regulations, which is saying a lot. Having to have a meal to have a drink is yet another nail in the coffin of the pub trade. At this time of the year, three weeks before Christmas, pubs would expect to be packed to the rafters. My experience, however was the complete opposite: most of the time, I had the room to myself.
My chosen Friday pub, the Grapes on George Street, offers a choice of qualifying snacks and has three West Berkshire ales. Though the service was fantastic, the food excellent and on the right side of substantial, and the Maharaja IPA good enough to merit another, which I would have done had I not had to return to work, the pub was depressingly (for the owners) quiet, though I did have the pleasure of meeting Horris, the new pub cat, who seems keen to assist with any meal should it prove more substantial than you were hoping for.
Whether I was inspired or just curious after my experience, I decided that it would be worth checking out some of the other offerings around the city centre, so I hatched a plan for a Saturday pub crawl.
The following day, I walked through the throng of Christmas shoppers making my way to the Kings Arms. One I had scanned the NHS Track and Trace, I was shown to a seat where I had to download the Young’s App to my phone, register an account, confirm my identity to verify my account, sign in again, add a photo, add a payment card, scan through the menu to find what I wanted, place an order, approve the payment, wait for a confirmation email, and then wait for the order to arrive.
To be fair, although it took me nearly a week to register, the beer arrived only thirty seconds after my order was acknowledged, so I shouldn’t really complain. It just felt so impersonal, and about as un-pubby as you can get.
My choices of “substantial meals” here were very much meat and pastry based, so I went for the pigs-in-blankets sausage roll, which was very nice, don’t get me wrong, but being bigger than a mouthful, was a little larger than I had been hoping. Nevertheless, it gave me the right to order further beers, which I did, and received in the same speedy manner (Young’s Ordinary, £4.30).
Having drunk and dined alone in the front room of the KA for about an hour, I made my way to the covered market to the Teardrop Bar. Now here’s a bar that doesn’t normally sell hot food, but it is surrounded by places that do, so finding a takeaway and sitting down with it is considered good enough to have a beer. So that’s what I did. I bought a pork pie (from David John butchers), and it sat very prettily on my plate whilst I enjoyed a cask Church Hanbrewery Ale X and a keg Cotswold Nutcracker Doppelbock. The pie was actually still excellent when I got round to eating in two days later.
The next port of call was the Chequers, where I was met by the ever-cheerful Kerry and was shown to a seat in the main bar. The choice of food here was extensive, but my lack of appetite led me to the chips and cheese, which was a minimalist gourmet dish with some lovely gooey camembert and rich cranberry sauce. It equated to about 50p a chip, but I wasn’t about to complain, because it allowed me a pint of Nicholson’s Pale and two of Purity UBU, and would have allowed me several more.
Normally I reach a point in the day when I decide I have drunk enough beer and its time to go home. Today, despite the desire to support another pub, I couldn’t face another pub meal, so I had to call it a day. Pub crawling these days is very filling.
It’s easy to make light of this situation, and the media had some fun and filled some column inches this week with the great scotch egg debate. But there are serious angles to this, perhaps most importantly, in a society where families are struggling to put food on the table and are resorting to food banks to keep their children fed, others are ordering food purely as a “drinking passport”, huge amounts of which sit on a table for an hour or so before being transferred untouched to the bin.
I don’t blame the pubs for this situation. Pubs, and the hospitality industry generally, have been made the whipping boys during this pandemic. If, in order for you to be able to trade, you have to adhere to ridiculous conditions, then you will do so. I understand and respect that.
The “substantial meal” malarky is just the latest hurdle put in the way of pubs looking to salvage something for their businesses from 2020. Another, the bizarre 10pm curfew has recently been confirmed to have had no medical or scientific purpose; it was purely a government whim, another from a government that becoming increasingly visibly anti-alcohol and anti-pub. This dislike pf pubs, especially wet pubs, comes despite the tax income they happily rake in from alcohol sales, and despite the fact that during an election campaign, it is still de rigueur to be photographed in a pub with a pint to demonstrate you’re a man, or woman, of the people. If I were a publican, I would refuse them entry. If I were a restaurateur I would refuse them service. If I were a Bournemouth or Brighton hotelier, when it comes round to party conference time, I would refuse them a room. The people who are supposed to represent us have set out, with no justification, to destroy an institution we love. There should be a whole host of MPs who are never welcome in a pub ever again.