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Food editor: ‘time to take back the term gastropub’

What a difference 12 months can make. The Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list 2016 is very different to the one we saw this time last year.

There have been 17 new entries, which, I believe, is the highest amount we’ve ever seen. But why is this? I think it’s a sign the sector is becoming more vibrant than ever – which seems impossible – and that it doesn’t pay to stand still.

That’s testament to what I’ve seen while travelling the nation over the past six months to see as many gastropubs on last year’s Top 50 list as possible (and what a pleasure it has been!).

You top 50 are serving award-winning food that’s worthy of only the highest accolades and it is little wonder customers are beating paths to your doors. When they get there, though, you’re not only wowing them with what you put on their plates, but the environment in which you serve it. You’re investing in your businesses to create destinations that are a sympathetic nod to the traditional boozer, while also challenging that stereotype we’ve moved so far from. But the food is the most important part and that’s why people visit you and your businesses.

In short, you’re setting the standard and constantly raising the bar for the wider industry.

This year’s number one, Stephen Harris, tenant and chef at Shepherd Neame’s the Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent, took Tom Kerridge’s place on the list last year. Harris’s food has been talked about far and wide and not a week goes by without his now famous slip sole being mentioned. Well done on a second year at the top, Stephen!

As well as there being a vast amount of new entries on the list, the north of England is fighting to take a bigger share of it. This year more than 20% of the UK’s top 50 gastropubs are based in the north, which is a great story and one I’m sure we will see continue.

Our deserved Gastrochef of the year is northerner John Calton of the Staith House in North Shields, Tyneside. Calton has tirelessly worked in the kitchens of others on the list, including the Sportsman, to bring inspiration and new dishes to his kitchen.

Meanwhile, in the next 12 months, the sector must take back the moniker gastropub. It has been hijacked by any pub serving food that’s a little more than substandard and it is not right. The term, apparently coined by food writer Charles Campion, is the perfect way to describe what you on the Top 50 list are doing.

The mainstream media, food critics and even some in the industry claim the word is ‘over’. This is because those who sell burgers with bacon on them or ‘posh pork scratchings’ are describing themselves in such a way, which has muddied the term.

You shouldn’t be ashamed of calling yourselves gastropubs, it’s your term and it was coined because of you, so let’s re-own it in 2016!

Congratulations to all those who made the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list and the winners of the specialist category awards. You were voted onto the list by a panel of over 400 food experts, as well as other gastropub chefs.

Nicholas Robinson is the food editor at the 200-year-old pub trade magazine the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, which organises the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list and awards.

The Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs List and Awards is arranged by the food team at the 200-year-old pub trade title The Publican’s Morning Advertiser. The headline sponsor is premium lager producer Estrella Damm and associate sponsors include Appletiser and Schweppes, Nestle CHEF and Berkmann Wine Cellars.