The cost of living crisis is grim. As well as the subsequent fall in consumer confidence, hospitality businesses are also faced with such woeful happenings as rising energy bills, staff shortages, and pandemic-related debt. Needless to say, pubs and restaurants need the support of those able to give it.
Yet eating out is getting harder; more expensive. In my role as editor of Knife & Fork Media – owner of the Good Food Guide – I published a feature recently that noted the average cost of a meal out has increased by £20 to £50 in the last four years.
It comes as no surprise that many publicans and restaurateurs are raising prices to counter endless business pressures. Who can blame them? It’s either that or close. But some larger groups, such as Tom Kerridge’s – one that also happens to be buoyed considerably by his celebrity status – are able to offer flash deals to get bums on seats.
Kerridge, not enamoured by the thought of empty restaurants, announced a new £15 set lunch last month. The offer extends to his Bar & Grill in London, his casual Bull & Bear restaurant in Manchester, and his pub The Coach in Marlow – the Buckinghamshire village where he made his name. Dishes are playful and are riffs on school dinners – think lasagne, cottage pie, jam roly-poly.
Some have criticised the move, asking why owners would step away from the fundamental value of what they offer in the downturn. Kerridge said the decision is one with only one aim: to fill his restaurants, break even as a baseline, and make a bit of money where possible, keeping his staff optimistic all the while.
To me there doesn’t seem to be any right answer and it is easy to become disaffected, forlorn, tired. I love writing about food and drink, pubs and restaurants, and feel immensely lucky to be able to do so. Caring this much takes its toll.
And so here is a sign of support for Kerridge. So often he has been lambasted for his pricey menus – £80-plus steaks, £70-plus fish and chips. I like the idea of his democratising lunch menus, opening up his cooking to more diners during a challenging time for Britain.
Here’s Kerridge’s cherry chocolate pud, another comfort:
SELF-SAUCING CHERRY & CHOCOLATE PUDDING
4 tbsp cherry compote (from a jar)
200g pitted fresh cherries
175g butter, softened, plus extra to grease the dish
175g soft light brown sugar
3 large free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
30g cocoa powder, plus extra to finish
A pinch of salt
80g dark chocolate, finely chopped
50ml whole milk
30g cocoa powder
50g soft light brown sugar
250ml boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Grease a deep 28x23cm baking dish well with butter.
Spread the cherry compote over the base of the dish, tip in the cherries and spread out evenly.
Using an electric whisk, beat the butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one by one, whisking well after each addition. (Don’t worry if the mixture begins to curdle at this point; once the flour is added it will all be OK.)
Add the vanilla extract, flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt, chopped chocolate and milk and continue whisking until you have a combined batter. Spoon this mixture over the cherries and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon.
To make the sauce, tip the cocoa and brown sugar into a heatproof jug and mix together. Pour in the boiling water and stir well until smoothly blended.
Carefully pour the sauce all over the pudding mix in the dish and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the pudding is cooked. To check, insert a skewer into the middle; it should come out clean.
Remove the dish from the oven and leave the pudding to cool a little for a few minutes before serving. Dust the surface with sifted cocoa and serve with whipped cream, crème fraîche or ice cream.