It’s arguably Britain’s favourite pub chain. But a newly-opened branch of Wetherspoons has prompted a brutal review by a Sunday Times restaurant critic that has opened up a fierce debate about food snobbery and class.
Food writer Marina O’Loughlin admitted she used the pub behemoth as a “shorthand for all that’s bad about ‘British’ food and chain catering” despite never having eaten at one. So, in tandem with a self-confessed ’Spoons fan, she visited its new Ramsgate outpost in Kent – a decaying Victorian building turned into a “basic nirvana” – to test her prejudice.
The vibe? “All the vomitous carpets, hastily erected wood panelling, fruit machines and reproduction art a cheap beer devotee could desire,” O’Loughlin writes of her first impression.
While the Purple Rain cocktails tasted of “Calpol and diabetic coma”, the wait was forecast to be 40 minutes and the clientele likely to be dominated by “families and sad old men”, it was the food that triggered the most despair.
The calorific menu was “institutionalised lunacy” when “Topped chips” tipped the scales at 1,422 calories. “It’s a Project Fear of a menu,” she thinks.
Ordering pepperoni pizza, the critic described how it “skites off its plate” after being “dumped on the table”. “I suppose it’s all the respect this oily number deserves,” she notes.
The breadcrumbed scampi was described as “stiff orange coffins emitting an ooze of vaguely fishy goo”. But the worst dish was the “side” (author’s quotation marks of ribs (“who orders a side of ribs?”): “It’s the sort of thing you might scoop out of the bottom of Hannibal Lecter’s recycling bin.”
The experience wan’t all bad. “The terrace that wraps around this ravishing piece of seaside architecture is quite the place to sit with a pint, looking out to sea,” she continues, though “only if you smuggle out a picnic”.
In conclusion, O’Loughlin was “no convert” and unapologetic, arguing that food snobbery means “the chains and moneymen with their spreadsheets and battery chickens won’t always win”.
“Yes, it’s cheap, but, to quote my mama, I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it,” she writes. “This is cheap not because it’s good value, but because it’s nasty. At least I can now slag it off from a position of authority.”
Comments on the Times’ website suggested the review had divided opinion.
But the sense O’Loughlin had gone a sneer too far was evident once the writer released the review on social media.
Have you ever EATEN in a Wetherspoons? I now have. Oh. My. God. @TheSTMagazine https://t.co/Er11g1lrCk
We eat at Wetherspoons all the time. It’s affordable, and they are great with my autistic brother.
Am really happy to hear that R. Esp about your brother which is lovely. But I address the ‘affordable’ thing in the piece
There are many other options where the food isn’t horrible, cynical, profiteering crap. But always always https://t.co/M4Vc35Ac6e
I don’t mind that you think we eat crap, that’s your prerogative, but I still think you missed a trick here.
Load of snobby bullshite. Tim Martin ( not a man I agree with on many issues) has created a fantastic British institution with his chain of pubs. They offer people a familiar place to go, where notions of class are rightly left at the door and all are equal. #spoonslife is king
October 29, 2017
… some pointed out that few will have thought otherwise about the quality of the food …
I’m a big fan but this was like reviewing ryanair. It’s shit, we all know it, but there’s a market. Was ever thus. Why waste space on it?
Because it has many, many fans. Because perhaps I was wrong about it having never eaten there. Because it’s how a lot of people ‘dine out’. Because I should know these things. Because it’s the biggest pub in the UK and therefore newsworthy. Because… oh look I have 280 chrctrs!
October 29, 2017
… while a travel writer suggested food did not always have to be a “voyage of discovery” …
The Wetherspoons to-do touches on something I hate about foodie culture: Not every meal has to be great or even good.
For most people, the vast majority of meals just have to be OK. They serve a purpose of filling you up while tasting alright.
“Fuck it, that’ll do” is an absolutely fine approach to 95% (probably more) of meals. It doesn’t have to be a constant voyage of discovery.
In my field, this also applies to hotels. Most of us don’t care about art/ design in hotels – just want somewhere cheap/ decent/ central.
O’Loughlin herself tweeted some of the criticism, with comment …
Getting a lot of this. A lot! It’s cheering up my ortolans on artisan sourdough no end pic.twitter.com/8X3Hp6xScw
I know a Wetherspoons manager, even he didn’t recommend eating in a Wetherspoons. https://t.co/Ftn4JJ0ypg