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The English pub: two thousand years of history

The English pub: two thousand years of history

Philippe Gaillard - 2012-07-20

During the London Olympic Games, the obvious place to observe what makes Brits tick is the stadium. Less obvious but equally evocative is... the pub! And pub grub is actually very good nowadays.

Under the Roman Empire they were called tabernae, and in the Middle Ages they were ale houses. But British watering holes really came into their own in 1393 when they became public houses or pubs. This happened after King Richard II mandated that they make their business clear to the public by placing above the front door a distinctive sign in the form of a branch, a stick or a piece of wood. Certain imaginative publicans sculpted and decorated the wood, whence the beginnings of the splendid signs we can admire today – signs devoid of the word ‘pub’, which is replaced by a dignified name that may be inspired by royalty, animals, certain professions, historical characters or other sources. Pubs and the history of Great Britain go hand in hand, as can be seen in the countless references to this institution in English literature from Geoffrey Chaucer to Daphné du Maurier and from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens.
The English pub today
Pub patrons of yore were principally workers and farmers who would regularly meet and share news around a pint of ale, that ancient brew made without hops that was introduced to the British Isles by the Viking invaders. Today, people from all walks of life - from Scottish fishermen to City financiers to Yorkshire miners - frequent these cherished establishments.
Just like the clientele, the range of drinks on offer is far more varied than it used to be. In addition to the many kinds of beer (lager, ale, bitter, stout, etc.), pubs also serve excellent ciders on tap and boast wine lists that can hold their own against those of the best restaurants in France. Here, the expected vintages from the traditional wine-making regions of France, Italy and Spain are rounded out with an impressive array of bottles from the New Worlds: North and South America, Australia, South Africa and beyond.
For centuries, pubs were where one came to chew the fat and have a drink or two or... too many. But here again, diversity is the latest thing. They now offer a very broad range of activities, and if darts and billiards are still the rule, patrons also come to listen to live music, watch sports on the telly and, more and more often, enjoy simple, plentiful cuisine at reasonable prices in a sociable atmosphere. The finest illustration of this remarkable evolution is the fact that last October, for the first time, a British pub - The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, fifty kilometres from London - was awarded a second Michelin star.
In addition to excellent meals, many of these establishments now offer top-quality accommodation as well. You will doubtless be tempted to spend time savouring the unique welcome and ambiance of many of the hospitable public houses that we’ve visited and evaluated for you. And, as Jemma, who runs the Morgan Arms a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park warned, ‘You may never want to leave!’
Finding your way around
Our 2012 Eating out in pubs guide presents the half million visitors expected during the Olympics in London with no fewer than 530 establishments chosen throughout the UK for the quality of their cuisine. These pubs do a remarkable job of preparing local ingredients and they readily include regional specialities on their menus. Some even raise their own animals for food. They’ve also reconsidered snacks and light meals. Most are managed by passionate men and women who have succeeded in preserving the pub soul without transforming their places into restaurants. Therein lies the real challenge!
Each pub mentioned in the guide is presented with a detailed description, colour photo and information about the beer list and the kind of cuisine on offer.
The guide is available on-line at our website: www.michelinonline.co.uk/travel/pubs.htm
The Morgan Arms
43 Morgan Street (Bow)
London E3 5AA
Tel: 020 89 80 63 89
Bow Road Underground Station
The Cat and Mutton
76 Broadway Market (Hackney)
London E8 4QJ
Tel: 020 72 54 55 99
Bethnal Green Underground Station
The Drapers Arms
44 Barnsbury Street (Islington)
London N1 1ER
Tel: 020 76 19 03 48
Highbury and Islington Underground Station

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