A successful Boulevardier keeps his admirers guessing as to his age, but sometimes clues can be drawn from memories…
Growing up I would attend child friendly social clubs with my parents where snacks were generally confined to crisps (plain, salt and vinegar or cheese and onion), salted or dry roasted peanuts or pork scratching. Crisps were usually kept below the bar in their transportation cardboard boxes, whereas nuts and scratching displayed on cardboard banners, tempting consumers with pictures of large breasted women in bikinis.
The social club we attended was cultured and had the addition of a ‘Fish Man’, i.e. a man with a large wicker basket full of trays of prawns, whelks, crab sticks, and cockles. Once you chose your fare he would adeptly slice open the plastic top with a plastic fork and spear the produce with said fork and present for consumption!
One of the club managers also developed her services to include cheese rolls, or rather slabs of cheese in half a French stick, and jacket potatoes. She was the kind of lady who believed in feeding everyone with generous portions which mirrored her generous spirit.
Once old enough to frequent public houses without parental accompaniment, I would enjoy the snacks on offer which had progressed. Bacon bits and scampi bites felt exotic. The latter would coat your hands in eau de fish, so best consumed towards the end of the evening or where the pub had good strong soap in the bathrooms.
It would be remiss not to mention the advent of McCoys, which quickly established themselves as the crisp du jour with their crinkle cut and flavours such as flame grilled steak. Gourmet delights were enjoyed as an addition to Pernod and black.
In the last few years with the arrival of Gastro pubs, bar snacks seem to have also scaled the social ladder.
With journalistic pursuits in mind, I headed out to the pubs of Crouch End to carry out some research, and perhaps enjoy a sherry (where available) in each establishment also.
It was a beautiful summer (early) evening, and my outfit was simple. Denim shorts, an Amy Winehouse T shirt and Papillo Birkenstocks in Paul Smith pink. My hair was quiffed and I was full of confidence.
I planned a sensible and logical route starting at Villiers Terrace. There were no patrons inside and only a few on the outside deck.
‘A glass of your finest restorative sherry’ I responded to the offer of service from the barmaid, followed by ‘Do you have any bar snacks?’
She poured the sherry and directed me to a chalk board on the wall next to the unlit open fireplace. I could have ordered coca cola chicken wings, chorizo quesadillas, olives, mixed nuts or crisps ranging from £1.15 to £.425… For bar snacks I hear you cry!
I quaffed my sherry to deal with the shock and headed to The Maynard.
The Maynard is one of my favourite Crouch End haunts and falls into the Gastro pub category. A few more customers meant I could look at the snacks on offer without being accosted by willing staff. Sea salt and herb peanuts or chilli crackers were in tall glass jars ready to be decanted into small terracotta pots. Crisps were also available in packets of the Piper variety. Piper market flavours such as cider vinegar and sea salt! (I wonder if the taste of cider and sea adds to the salt and vinegar tang we know well).
A few minutes stroll around the Clocktower and I arrived at the Kings Head, which was pretty vacant. Rather than stop for another drink I glanced the peanuts, chilli crackers and wasabi peas all in big glass jars, of course, and all before the barmaid had time to spot me. I muttered something about meeting friends and headed out again!
A little further up the hill and I crossed the road and into Railway Tavern, decided to be braver, ordered a drink and asked what bar snacks they had, and explained I was writing about the changes in bar snacks rather than feeling the need to consume any!
‘As long as you are not from a rival pub’ the barmaid quipped, and with a smile handed me an extensive menu, typed beautifully and encased in a shiny plastic coating. The choice was vast. I could have eaten chicken wings with BBQ sauce, nachos, scotch eggs, cajun king prawns, mini falefels, loaded potato skins, onion rings or even a full cheese or Italian meat platter. I thought I might mention the false advertising in that these were not snacks but a veritable feast.
If there is one place in Crouch End where I thought I might find original,unadulterated bar snacks it’s the Harringay Arms. This pub has not responded to the modern decor of expensive (looking) furnishings, menus and chandeliers but retains a raw, drinking den persona. I was not disappointed! No glass jars in sight but rather cardboard holders held on the wall displaying scampi bites, twiglets and bacon bites.
And finally I headed on to the Queens and managed to take the below photo, as my tapping fingers weren’t working! Not sure if that was due to fatigue or the 3 sherries and 2 glasses of wine swallowed in a short time!
The Boulevardier left his perch and walked the short distance back to Middle Lane and proceeded to pass out, ahem I mean, fall asleep on the sofa, smiling and satisfied at his journalistic prowess.