A Quiet UK Revolution?
|by Barry Napier, May 2007
Britain’s pubs used to be very run-down with only soggy potato chips to accompany dubious beers and smoke-filled rooms. B&B’s were well-known lairs of dragon landladies, who allowed you to visit the town but locked the door at 10 pm!
But, things are changing. Chains have mainly taken over pubs and places to stay, but, thankfully, individuals are bucking the trend. In this article we will look at two examples of even newer offerings in pubs and B&Bs. Maybe investors should take note of what is going on in the UK.
The Organic Panda, St Ives
A young couple opening a B&B with a £1 million / $2 million bank loan was some gamble, especially as it set out to be vegetarian and ‘green’! Surely it couldn’t last? I first came across this unusual place when watching a TV programme following the adventures of Peter and Andrea. (Building a New Life in the Country, Channel Five, UK. See homes.five.tv).
Bedandbreakfast-directory.co.uk says the B&B has “stunning views overlooking the harbour and sea…Everything on your doorstep…a five minute walk from Porthminster beach… and a short stroll to the Tate (Art gallery) (and) the Barbara Hepworth Museum.” The Panda is described as using natural materials and eco-friendly products, with “beautiful, spacious, contemporary accommodation. White walls are adorned with artworks…”
Tripadvisor.com gives it a rating of 4 out of 5. But, based on only two reviews, one giving a rating of 4 and the other, 5, the average should strictly be 5 (see below).
One reviewer describes the bedrooms as “gorgeous. It is clear that a
lot of love and effort has gone into making the place how it is.”
“The owners were friendly and relaxed, which made us feel at home.”
The actual rating given was split between three x fours and three x fives, and this was averaged to 4. The Panda was not recommended for people with disabilities. By this is meant in wheelchairs, but this is not a fault – it is just a factual statement: the B&B is not specially built, but an adapted building. And, of course, it is built on a hillside leading up from the town.
The other reviewer says it was wonderful “to wake up to the smell of fresh baking, followed by just about the best breakfast I have ever had, is close to heaven.” This rating came out as six x fives and one x four. By my reckoning, then, the overall score should really be five!
The Organic Panda was nominated for the 2006 Vegetarian Society Awards, because of its vegan organic full English breakfast with locally produced fruit salad and fresh juices and home made breads. I expected to find a kind of fanaticism because of the veggie influence, but not so!
The B&B is listed in Alastair Sawday’s ‘Special Places to Stay’ (sawdays.co.uk) and in his publication, ‘British Bed and Breakfast’. So, is the Organic Panda as good as it sounds? I went along to find out…
The interior is certainly spacious and contemporary, and being an artist myself, I loved the gallery-effect given by for-sale artworks on the walls by local artists. Food is eaten at a ten-seater rustic table. Last year a British TV program asked customers if they preferred to eat at a communal table or separate tables. Most prefer individual tables – but at the Panda people like it! I think this must be down to the owners’ personalities.
Bedrooms: There are only three rooms; two are double and the third is twin. Rates are from £32.50 for the twin room in low season, and up to £40 in high.
Cost for the other rooms is only marginally higher, which is impressive. There are single person supplements as you might expect, and there are special offers of four nights for the price of three. When you think that a room in a budget hotel costs more than that, and you don’t get breakfast, the price is actually very attractive!
The three rooms are en-suite and complimentary toiletries are organic. Beds are made from reclaimed wood and carpets are wool. Egyptian cotton is probably the best in the world, so they are used on the beds. Though duvets are filled with duck-down, you can request non-allergenic bedding. Rooms have digital TV and, surprisingly, wireless internet. And there are tea/coffee-making facilities.
Food: I expected to find vegan or vegetarian-only food, but the owners are business-like and offer meat and fish as well. Bread and cakes are baked on the premises, gluten and yeast free, and I must admit their menu seems more interesting than many B&B’s I have been in. The owners are also more colourful than most. Peter is a chef and photographer, and Andrea is an artist and theatre designer.
The guest comments throw some light on what it is like in this new kind of accommodation: “you tick every box”, “love all the thoughtful touches”, “the way Peter looks after his guests is an art form”, “the most enjoyable B&B stay we have ever had”, “total hospitality”.
In my view the Organic Panda goes a long way towards being non-allergenic (except for people whose allergy is cats), whereas most B&B’s contain all the usual allergen-culprits! The facilities merge seamlessly with the service provided; the atmosphere is warm and welcoming; the food superb; the location satisfies those who love old England and the seaside.
Though the Panda was not designed to be chic, this is what it is – crisp, clean, modern. Using natural building materials, natural interiors and natural foods, it is very ‘green’. But its minimalist look and classiness automatically make it chic! And, believe me, it is very different from the majority of B&B’s, and a thousand years away from the old-style British dragon’s lair!
The Bridge Inn, Nr Dorrington
There are still straightforward grubby pubs in the UK, frequented by local crooks and vagabonds. We have beautiful, home-made-food, old country pubs. We have those chain-owned plastic pubs. And in city centres there are trendy gastro-pubs.
But have I found another new breed, and, for the UK, it could be the start of a revolution. I’m talking about the ‘chic-pub’. I’ve only found one so far, but these things have a habit of spreading the news and starting a new wave.
My wife and I were out on one of my ‘trips’, photographing and writing-about UK historic villages and towns. We booked in to our hotel, and then went out to find a place to eat. Invariably, I try to find a country pub, because these usually offer an excellent environment with good food. I avoid city and town pubs if I can. (Let that be a tip for overseas visitors!)
On this occasion we were staying in Shrewsbury, one of the top medieval towns in Britain. We had come from Ludlow, another ancient town with a mix of many architectural styles, from the 1300’s onwards, and passed a rather unassuming pub called The Bridge Inn. When on a trip I usually keep a look-out for suitable pubs to eat in, as I drive.
The Bridge Inn is between the villages of Dorrington and Bayston Hill, on the A49 from Ludlow to Shrewsbury. At first I rejected it as an eatery… what a mistake! It turned out that I could not find anything else, so we drove back to The Bridge Inn, resigned to eat at a mundane eatery with dowdy interior.
It has ample parking space, surrounded by trees, attractively lit from
lamps below. Nothing grabbed me, but it looked reasonable: Victorian façade
with an added modern-style restaurant to the left. So, we decided to try
it. Thinking I would be met by walls and ceiling yellowed by cigarette-smoke,
and the usual old seating with rips in the fabric, I was already settled
in my mind. But, as soon as we entered I was taken aback. ‘Wow,’ I muttered
to my wife, “This is going to cost us!”
Then came a second surprise. The menu was reasonably priced! (From just over £8/$16 for two courses). Somehow, the new owners had managed to completely change an old, decrepit, money-losing pub into what I can only describe as a ‘Chic-Pub’.
The interior bore no resemblance to the exterior, and certainly had no affinity with any pub I had seen before. Completely gutted just weeks before we saw it, The Bridge Inn comes as a complete surprise. Most of the work was done by the owners, to keep costs down, and they have succeeded. I always admire this kind of hard-work and dedication.
Maybe that is how they have managed to introduce what appears to be a brand new genre in pubs. It offers a mainly traditional menu, but served in a modern way, without artificially-increased prices. It is certainly a pub from the outside, but its concept is chic and your mind does a double-take when you enter, because the interior surprises you.
The interior borders on minimalist, with crisp clean lines and colours, the major concession being fresh, modern artworks on the walls. The light coloured flooring contrasts beautifully with the black chairs and dark tables, and in daytime the restaurant is naturally-lit by its almost wrap-around windows. The ‘pub’ part reminds me of a modern affluent apartment… I don’t think rowdy types would feel at all comfortable there (thankfully)!
The staff are natural, too. Clive, one of the owners, greeted us with charm and openness and, when I commented on the amazing transformation he had achieved, his response was spontaneous and enthusiastic. This was followed by an equally enthusiastic response from one of his young waitresses. (The next day, when I went back to take photos, even the cleaner bubbled-over with the same enthusiasm, in between vacuuming the floor and taking numerous bookings by ‘phone!). This is always a very good sign for customers. Happy staff send out great vibes!
We were served food in a good time. It was just after six, with only a few customers. Maybe the waiting time is longer when the place is full, but I doubt it, because the owners have organised their kitchen properly. Soon after we left, a bus-load of people arrived, all happy to be there… This is certainly the place to be! Chic without the false gastro; home-cooked food at reasonable prices and presented well; a winning combination. A brand new species of pub has been born! So, when you are on the UK discovery trail during your vacation, take the road between two ancient towns and try a chic-pub.
© Barry Napier
The Bridge Inn
|Also See:||Britain Moves to End Traditional 'Last Call' at Pubs, Allow 24-Hour Alcohol Service / June 2003|