In England, almost every street corner once had a pub. In an age before television, they were the primary focal point of the community, a place where people drank beer and spirits, and the principal entertainment was conversation. But with the exponential growth, first of video, then the internet and Netflix — to say nothing of home-delivery pizza — pubs began to suffer an existential crisis. Many went under. Among the survivors, a few saw a profitable future in providing high-quality, home-cooked food to an increasingly sophisticated clientele. Forty years of vacations in France and Italy had given many Britons a taste for more elevated cuisine than Anglo-Saxon culture had traditionally supplied. And so, the “gastropub” was born.
The term was coined in 1991, when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in the London district of Clerkenwell and began serving good wines, soups, salads and casseroles from a kitchen that measured five by eight feet. Their fame spread and soon they were being aided in their venture by Pedro Chaves, a chef from the fashionable Michelin-starred The River Café, a restaurant owned by Ruth Rogers, wife of the internationally acclaimed architect Richard Rogers.
Although English gastropubs were initially an urban (chiefly London) phenomenon, they have now spread to rural areas throughout the land. For some obscure reason, the northern country of Yorkshire has more than its fair share, including no fewer than three with Michelin stars. If you are touring England’s North Country you are now assured of excellent food, outside of country house hotels (part of the long-standing appeal of which is superior cuisine).