From gagging on meal deals at Fasty McNasties to applauding the current culinary emperor’s new clothes at the latest venture to be sanctioned by the Michelin man, Venue goes forth and samples the rich and varied eating out opportunities round these yer parts on your behalf. Selfless? That’s we food critics. While many experiences take us on a trip beyond our wildest prandial dreams, some are far, far worse than our most vivid kitchen nightmares. As a result of such research, while I still don’t believe that you can judge a book by its cover, I can confidently claim to measure any restaurant’s worth by its menus. And I’m not very keen on big chain ventures. And I’m a bit of a snob.
So, I was less than pessimistic about the prospect of an early dinner at The King of Wessex: the big JD Wetherspoons pub that dominates the atrium (as those vast, soulless spaces at the ‘heart’ of every new ‘multifunctional leisure facility’ is called) of Bath’s Kingsmead Complex. To be honest, I was writing the review the moment my Obnoxious Teenage Companion and I set foot in the door: meal deals – yuk. Curry, Grill and Sunday Clubs – ditto. Beer’n’burger offers – aargh, I’m a no-list celebrity, get me out of here! “Calm down, dear – it’s only a really good value for money pub that ‘normal’ people really like”, said OTC, bringing Michael Winner into a Wetherspoons for the first and probably only time in the great man’s life. “And anyway – check out the website!”. And before I knew it, he was poking away at his iPhone/BlackBerry/electronic Ouija board thingie and reeling off all manner of tantalising facts and figures akin to the kind you find writ large all over every available space at every restaurant worth its (low) salt. “The fish is sustainable!”, he yelled. “The eggs are free range, AND they save water and recycle oil and, like, reduce energy!”, he screeched. “AND they do gluten-free food and local ales, AND you can work out all the fat and calorie content and everything! It’s fantastic! AND it’s dead cheap! And the film starts in half an hour so we can just order some food and get on with our lives?”.
Thus put firmly in my place, I ordered fish and chips and he ordered chicken, leek and Wiltshire ham pie and we both shared a gert big slab of sticky toffee pudding (all utterly unremarkable), and with a bottle of wine the whole shebang came in at less than £18. So yes, it’s cheap. And yes, this is a chain that goes commendably large on, like, ethical responsibility and stuff (which earned them an extra star in each category). But while the food isn’t exactly a nightmare experience, there’s nothing more that can be said in it’s favour apart from the fact that it fills you up. And it’s cheap. And apparently, ‘normal’ people really like it. Go figure.