Sunday lunch? More like a dog’s dinner…..

The Square Bottle
Foregate Street

By Barry Turnbull

I’m not sure which was the most horrific experience. The Crown Plaza, Liverpool, fleecing me of
£5.60 for half a lager and a glass of soda last week or my Sunday lunch at a JD Wetherspoon’s pub in Chester.
Both were were memorable – but for all the wrong reasons.
I was in the Wetherspoon’s in Moreton earlier this year and enjoyed ham, egg and chips for
a more than reasonable £1.29. These days it’s £4.40. But you wouldn’t know that from visiting
the company’s website – all traces of pricing have been removed and replaced with a food
calorie count.
In the past the site trumpeted offers like 2 for 1 and various meals for £2.99. Clearly, as the recession has bitten ever deep into profits the company has upped prices at a time when
more people than ever are cost conscious. Strange.
So, The Square Bottle in Chester city centre. A bargain basement lunch was on the agenda
after a stint using my daughter’s pushchair as a dodgem amongst the teeming crowds at
Cheshire Oaks shopping outlet.
First impressions were not good. The tables were littered with plates and glasses whilst menus were scattered like leaves in an autumn gale..
The reason became clear, there were just two overwrought staff on duty behind the bar. I eventually managed to place an order 20 minutes after entering the premises.
I sat down with the kids next to a table where a down-at-heel sort of chap was tackling his macerated roast with the enthusiasm of a neanderthal ripping a wild pig to shreds.
This, I realised, was not going to be an afternoon of fine dining. Oh my prophetic soul!
The food arrived. My roast pork dinner (£6.99 with a free drink) came on a platter accompanied by two tiny bowls containing apple sauce and gravy.
For a start, there wasn’t enough gravy which would have helped ameliorate this stunningly mundane dish. The broccoli had been severely punished, boiled remorseslessly until any hint of flavour or nutrition had disappeared. The peas too were turning a shade of white after presumably receiving a similar pummeling.
The Yorkshire puds were nothing like my gran used to make. Limp and floppy, probably
microwaved. The pork resembled a boil in the bag affair. A black piece of stuffing looked and tasted like lead shot.
I scoffed it along with the glass of Merlot merely to stave off hunger pangs.
My son Matthew chewed on an unappetising cheese and tomato toastie (£3.39) that
had been plonked down whole. It was saddled with a very meagre selection of chips –
I imagine  portions have also taken a beating in the effort to maintain margins.
Kate, 4, also had a few chips (£2.10) and a tub of ice cream that wouldn’t have filled a gnat never mind a growing child.
Overworked staff, no care in the kitchen, rising prices – it’s not what made Wetherspoon’s a high street success a couple of years ago.
Maybe founder Tim Martin should do an Undercover Boss style operation.
Eddie Gershon, Wetherspoon’s pr supremo, told me: “Wetherspoon has more than 100 different menu versions due to regionality and pricepoint – that’s why the prices aren’t on the website. There’s no cover-up of pricing – over 90% of our pubs have Sweet Chilli Noodles or Ham & Eggs at £3.25, . Prices have risen slightly in the last 12 months, but under the rate of food inflation.”


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