Why don't good restaurants offer decent beer?

I wrote in my last post about some good places for beer and food, but sometimes you want something a bit more special than fish and chips or a pub grub burger (all be it very good ones).

I also mentioned
Anthony's and commended them for having a very good beer menu which was chosen to complement the fantastic food on offer. So my question is, why don't more high end restaurants offer decent beer?

Partly it has to come down to the fact that for many years the yard stick for good food has been France, and rightly or wrongly, the French way of doing things is to match wine with food. Now don't get me wrong, I love French food. But Britain has come a long way in the last few years in terms of our culinary revolution, we've now got our own fair share of Michelin starred restaurants that are highlighting to the world what we've always known; British food done well is just as exciting as any other cuisine.
Beef Wellington anyone? So why don't more restaurants, particularly those showcasing British food to the world, promote our national drink? That's not to say it's just british food that matches well, I think Thai Green Curry with a hop bomb IPA is a match made in heaven.

Brewdog wrote yesterday about this and I think it made me think more carefully about it. How many times have you been to a top restaurant and seen Stella, Becks and Corona as the only beer options on the menu? It's ridiculous that so much effort goes in to the food, and they let it be served with a bland macro lager.

Michel Roux Jnr is a personal hero of mine. He just gets it. He is so rightly proud of French food, and has a vast knowledge of food and wine matching, but has also in the last few years been promoting the virtues of good beer and food matching, and was in fact named
'Beer Drinker of The Year' a few years ago. Why doesn't this happen more often? The chefs must have good taste, and I bet they drink beer... so why not combine the two!?

So please, if you are a chef, or a restrateur, and are reading this, please take a look at your drinks menu and take as much care in the beer choices as you do the wine. You know it makes sense.

22 comments:

  1. Hi there. It's a funny one, I guess. I would imagine - off the top of my head - that restauranteurs either 1. dont know what beers to offer or 2. from a sales point of view, dont know how the beer list will take off. I guess, despite our leanings, that they think most people simply won't know what to order - which is a shame because there are people out there who will happily consult for them.

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  2. I appreciate there is a profit margin/effort ratio that needs to be considered. But i'd happily pay a little bit over the odds for a nice beer in a nice restaurant, in the same way you would with a bottle of wine.

    It just irritates me having to have a wine when I really want a beer, because all thats on offer is Becks and *gag* Corona.

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  3. Restaurants in the UK have a trading model that accepts they get busy thursday and trade dips from sunday. Half the week they are empty, and unlike a pub a larger portion of punters will want to neck the wine. Keg or bottles is the only option, and despite the rise of "craft keg" it really isn't widely available, known or demanded by the majority of none beer geeks. The draft beer is likely to be national familiar brands, and the bottles stuff that hasn't got bits in the bottom. You can bottles of London Pride in a Harry Ramsdens, though, brewery conditioned, no bits.

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  4. I think you make some really valid points here. I also agree that there is very little room for beer in resturants with a short shelf life, which means Cask and to a lesser degree bottle conditoned ale is out of the picture.

    But that doesnt mean that standard lagers are the only option. London Pride is a great bottled beer, and I think approachable semi well known brands need to feature. But why not also feature a few more interesting bottles in a short sharp beer list? Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout for with Dessert, or even a few bottles of Punk or Thornbridge beers.

    I think a lack of knowledge/effort is pushing ever more discerning beer drinkers away from top restaurants and I for one think it's a missed opportunity.

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  5. I quite agree, Neil. That is why when my Mrs and I eat out we more often than not go to a high end pub which does really good food, rather than a restaurant.

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  6. Interesting point this - yes, I completely agree that restaurants should do more interesting beers but I object to Brewdog's post giving restraurants a kicking for stocking St Austell Tribute, which for my money is a reliable, quality beer with wide appeal by a good regional brewery. And I was also very pleased to see the menu in Anthony's.

    However, it's interesting how little interest some people have in beer that you would expect otherwise: I love Jay Rayner but in his (positive) review of The Drafthouse last year he cheerfully says, "I don't much like beer. I'll have a chilled glass of rosé and I don't care who knows it."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/10/jay-rayner-draft-house-restaurant

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  7. There may very well be more demand for unusual beer if it were widely available, but I think you overestimate the adventurousness of most customers. If most customers wanted something innovative and different The Fat Duck would be replicated across the land. Instead most restaurants sell familiar fair customers are happy with. Most pub menus are little different, most ethnic cuisine restaurants have familiar menus, most posh restaurants are filled with familiar dishes. The odd dish may cater for those seeking a surprise, but when you order a rare steak are you looking to be surprised or anticipating a known pleasure? Most wine sold in restaurants is middle of the road, middle priced nice neckable grog. Most national brands of beer are not the rubbish most beer geeks think they are. Becks is an authentic German lager, Stella is brewed to an authentic Belgian recipe. These may well be safe middle of the road products but they are also quality products with brands that engender trust and familiarity. They are popular because they are consistent and good, not because they are crap and people are idiots. As for stocking unusual beer in a restaurant, you are asking them to take a risk on stocking something that might not sell. The worse beer for going out of date is by all accounts “Low C”. You’ll see weird pong in restaurants if beer geekery ever goes mainstream.

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  8. ChrisM - you've hit the nail on the head there. That's my point exactly. I don't really look forward to top end restaurants as much as I do a really top notch gastropub or restaurant with decent beer, because for me good food + good beer = happy.

    Anthony's is a truly phenominal restaurant that has had the sense to look at good beer as a high quality product.

    I'm not saying that Gordon Ramsey should start fitting cask hand pulls, i'm saying there should at least be a decent bottled beer menu on offer at any restaurant that consdiers itself half decent.

    viva la revolution!

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  9. Cooking Lager - I take your point, but I think the high end restaurants should make an effort?

    Fair enough ASK isn't going to change it's ways but there are plenty of forward thinking restaurants that I think are missing a trick.

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