Raise a pint to modern pub grub

Pubs have always been that welcoming “third place.” But now they’re doing it with really good food.

Smoked salmon with avocado cream cheese on a toasted bagel at Donnelly Group pubs. Photo: Donnelly Group. PNG

Think of a pub and a certain type of establishment surely springs to mind. Casual. Cosy. Egalitarian. Good beer on tap. Hearty comfort food. A kind of ye olde English vibe. Definitely some stained glass somewhere.

“For me, it’s the experience,” says Alvin Pillay, the executive chef of the Donnelly Group of restaurants. “I feel like when I go to one of our places, or any pub, it’s the level of hospitality. Anybody can feel comfortable in a pub. It’s not the chicken wings or the fish ‘n’ chips. It’s how much you feel comfortable in the space.”

It’s something Pillay has given some serious thought. After all, he’s been tasked with evolving the pub experience at a time when just about everyone else is talking about its demise.

“The hope is you go to your local two or three times a week,” Pillay says. “You’re going to have a good pint and a good plate of food. And everybody is welcome.”

The third place

The public house, or pub, is a uniquely British/Irish/Scottish type of hostelry that evolved from the tabernae the Romans introduced to the British Isles some 2,000 years ago.

It was designed to be a welcoming “third place,” neither home nor work, where people of all ages, classes and backgrounds could gather for a pint of ale, a bite of food, a spot of gossip and sometimes a place to stay. For centuries, a visit to the local was as much a part of daily life in the UK as warm beer and relentless drizzle. It is also one of the great British exports, with lively pub cultures transported to Commonwealth nations like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and, of course, Canada.

But recent years have not been kind to the British pub.

It is estimated that at one point there was one pub for every 200 persons living in Britain. But since the dawn of the new millennium, pubs have been closing faster than you can say, “Make mine a bitter.” More than 13,000 pubs have reportedly shuttered in the UK since 2000; in 2018, they were closing at a rate of 18 every week.

Fully a quarter of Britain’s public houses are gone forever, victims of smoking bans, stricter drunk-driving rules, cheap liquor in grocery stores, changing fashions and a young generation that’s drinking less than its elders.

Here in B.C., meanwhile, pubs are being forced to change with the times as they have almost since the first pub licenses were issued in the 1970s. (Back then, pubs were considered so scandalous they weren’t allowed to have windows in case the public was corrupted by the sight of people enjoying a pint.)

Some pubs, like the venerable Dover Arms, have been forced to close, largely due to the city’s astronomical real estate prices. Some, to be sure, are struggling in a market flooded with chain restaurants. But others are surviving. In fact, they’re thriving.

Their secret ingredient? Quite simply, good food.

Rise of the gastropub

“Palates have changed completely. It’s less about bangers and mash,” Pillay says. “I think there is opportunity. What we try to do is bridge that gap of what people are used to in pub menus by taking elements from the great restaurants we visit when we travel and putting that into a pub atmosphere.”

In the UK, the pubs that are thriving have either been taken over by chains with deep pockets (namely Wetherspoons) or have invested heavily in their culinary programs. These “gastropubs” still feature casual fare, but now it’s handcrafted with high-quality local ingredients and paired with fine ale, cider and wine.

In 2001, the Stagg Inn, a country pub in Hertfordshire, was the first UK pub to be awarded a Michelin star. In 2019, Michelin gave stars to 17 British pubs, including two stars to the Hand and Flowers in Buckinghamshire.

Here in B.C., Spinnaker’s in Victoria has also adopted the “gastropub” moniker. Opened by Paul Hadfield in 1984, it was the first brew pub in Canada and the first pub to use largely local ingredients. In Gastown, Sean Heather has for years made fine food (and excellent whisky) a focus at the Irish Heather. At The Gull, formerly the Rusty Gull, in North Vancouver, manager Phil Tapping has introduced well-made cocktails and bright, lively fare, with dashes of Middle Eastern flavour, to what was for a long time a pretty staid blue-collar joint.

And then there’s the Donnelly Group, which now operates 12 pubs and cocktail clubs in Vancouver, including the city’s oldest, the 94-year-old Lamplighter, as well as four in Toronto, with plans to open more.

Don’t tell them the pub’s days are numbered. Because clearly, they’re not.

Good, and good for you

Mind you, a pub can’t simply throw some chips in the deep fryer and call it a day. Not any more. Consumers have expectations, especially in wellness-obsessed Vancouver.

“We’re always thinking about health-conscious items,” Pillay says. “Salads are back in a big way. Plant-based cooking is in the driver’s seat now. Charred and grilled vegetables as an appetizer or complementing a piece of protein.”

For instance, one of the most popular dishes he’s added to the menu is the charred shishito peppers, which are grilled then tossed with olive oil, smoked onion salt and lime juice. Customers are sharing them as a snack, which is much healthier than, say, nachos slathered in cheese and sour cream.

The challenge, he finds, is adding taste without adding calories. “Salt and fat make everything delicious. But how do you make the rapini or asparagus delicious and still good for you?” he wonders.

That said, tradition is still on the menu, though perhaps with a few edits. “We still pay homage to our staples, like our chicken wings,” he says. “Options are still really important to the customer. And people love their fried food.”

For instance, The Three Brits in English Bay offers a beef and Guinness stew with puff pastry rounds in a nod to a classic steak pie. “It’s something that’s super traditional, and almost a little flip. You feel really connected with that pub experience.”

Almost as important as what’s on the plate is what’s been going on behind the scenes. Pillay has been upgrading the skills of everyone in the kitchen, bringing food prep in house and teaching his team the fundamentals of fine cuisine. In part, that’s to keep control over the quality of what they produce. But it’s also directly tied to attracting and retaining good staff, which is a serious issue for the industry. “Anything you can do to teach them skill helps retain staff,” Pillay says.

After all, a pub is all about community, and that includes the people who work there, as well as those who drink and dine there. And that means the food should make everyone feel as good as it tastes.

“For me the definition of pub food has always been quality and value. And then the cultural attributes of everything that is English, Scottish and Irish. That pub DNA,” Pillay says. “At the end of the day, it’s showing more care for what you do. And it just translates to the guests’ experience.”

Charred shishito peppers on the menu at Donnelly Group pubs. Photo: Donnelly Group.  PNG

Charred Shishito Peppers

This recipe from Donnelly Group’s Executive Chef Alvin Pillay is great on its own or as an accompaniment to cheese and charcuterie boards. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Smoky Onion Salt:

4 Tbsp (60 mL) smoked Maldon salt (lightly crushed between your fingers)

2 Tbsp (30 mL) granulated onion

1 Tbsp (15 mL) smoked paprika

Charred Peppers:

1 lb (454 g) shishito peppers

Cold pressed canola or really good olive oil, to taste

Smoky onion salt, to taste

1 fresh lime half

Make the Smoky Onion Salt: In a small bowl, thoroughly combine all the ingredients and set aside.

Heat a cast iron pan or grill to high heat. Sear the peppers on high heat for 15 to 20 seconds per side; leave them slightly undercooked to maintain a pleasant texture.

Remove from the heat source, place into a bowl and lightly toss together with oil and Smoky Onion Salt to taste. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime

Serves 2 to 3

Smoked salmon with avocado cream cheese on a toasted bagel at Donnelly Group pubs. Photo: Donnelly Group.  PNG

Smoked Salmon Toast

Donnelly Group’s executive chef Alvin Pillay suggests using the excess avocado cream cheese below as a dip for spring/summer vegetables.

Avocado Cream Cheese:

1 cup (250 mL) cream cheese, softened

2 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes

1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped dill

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Kosher salt to taste

Smoked Salmon Toast:

1 everything bagel, split

Avocado Cream Cheese to taste

6 oz (180 g) cold or hot smoked salmon

8 cucumber ribbons, thinly sliced

3 radishes, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp (30 mL) thinly sliced  red onion

1 avocado, cut into medium size cubes

Lemon zest, to taste

Fresh horseradish, to taste

Maldon sea salt, to taste

2 Tbsp (30 mL) fried capers

Fresh dill, to taste

Make the Avocado Cream Cheese: In a small bowl or stand mixer, thoroughly combine together all the ingredients and set aside.

Toast the bagel to taste and generously spread each half with the avocado cream cheese.

Layer the remaining ingredients, starting with the smoked salmon, and continuing with each vegetable element (cucumber, radishes, onion and avocado). Season with the freshly grated lemon zest and horseradish, then sprinkle with Maldon sea salt and garnish with fried capers and sprigs of fresh dill

Serves 2

Westcoast Greens Salad on the menu at Donnelly Group pubs. Photo: Donnelly Group.  PNG

Westcoast Greens

This composed salad combines sweetness from the roasted beets, acidity from the fresh grapefruit and floral notes from the turmeric dressing. Recipe from Donnelly Group executive Chef Alvin Pillay, who suggests serving it alongside grilled wild salmon.


6 oz (180 g) mixed sweet lettuces (iceberg and romaine), roughly torn

1 cup (250 mL) roughly chopped radicchio

2 golden beets, roasted, peeled and cut into chunks

1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments

2 Tbsp (30 mL) toasted and chopped pistachio

1 Tbsp (15 mL) roughly chopped fresh dill

1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped fresh chives

Turmeric Dressing:

1 fresh turmeric, roughly chopped

1 shallot, cut into quarters

3 Tbsp (45 mL) honey

1/3 cup (80 mL) apple cider vinegar

Zest and juice of 2 oranges

1 cup (250 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh dill

1 Tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh cilantro

Kosher salt to taste

Make the dressing: In a high-speed blender, purée all the ingredients except olive oil and herbs until a smooth consistency is reached. Lower the speed to medium, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

Remove the dressing from the blender, stir in the fresh herbs and season with salt. Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the salad: Thoroughly wash and dry the greens.

In a mixing bowl large enough to fit all the ingredients, toss together the radicchio, beets and grapefruit segments with enough dressing to lightly coat.

Add in the lettuces and lightly toss, taking care not to bruise the lettuce. Adjust with more dressing if necessary.

Plate the salad and top evenly with pistachios and herbs.

Serves 2

Источник: Vancouversun.com

Источник: Corruptioner.life


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