Maury and I decided, for the latest in our occasional beer-and-beer-and-food-and-beer sprees, to try the Cobra and Mongoose. Which is a gastropub.
Which of course came up as we were sitting there, surveying our menus, with our pints of local 8.7% microbrews served in improbable Mason jars.
“This is a gastropub,” Maury said, arching one eyebrow as he scanned the food list.
“Not a word I much like,” I said. I looked up and surveyed the surroundings, a pastiche of British Raj and modern Hounslow references somehow reminiscent of the dining room decor of the Pale Man from El laberinto del fauno (misnamed in English as Pan’s Labyrinth).
“Don’t like the air of gastrointestinal, gastroenteritis, gastroileostomy, and so on and so on?”
“And gas,” I said. “It doesn’t help that gastronomy, the source of the gastro, has the stress on the second syllable whereas gastropub has it on the first like all those words having to do with medical things and conditions.”
“You just can’t quite stomach it,” Maury said. Gastro comes from Greek γαστήρ gastér ‘stomach’.
“And it somehow makes the pub, which by itself is fine, sound like burbles from the belly, or a brief eructation or burst of flatulence,” I said.
“I assume you don’t mind that it’s macaronic,” Maury said. By this he meant that it mixes roots from different languages – in this case the pub is short for public house, and public comes from Latin publicus by way of French.
“I do not,” I said, eyes fixed on my menu, “but I’m not sure whether I mind that it’s macaroni.”
“Macaroni?” Maury arched an eyebrow. “I see burgers.”
We exchanged menus. They had separate menus for starch and meat and had given us one of each. Cute. The third menu, lying on the table, proved to be not wine but vegetables. We left it untouched. The beer list was scrawled in chalk on the wall, with daily specials written in dry-erase marker in stall number 3 of the washroom.
“Everyone is doing burgers,” I said, looking at the meat menu. “Oh, look, they also have steak and kidney pie and bangers and mash and all that sort of thing. What’s the deal with the gastro? This is all pub.”
“Fine restaurants are now taking those items onto their menus,” Maury said. “So they are gastro. And apparently it has come full circle now. I think I’ll have the pancakes.”
“What’s special about them?”
“They don’t say. Except that there’s an asterisk. Oh. With foie gras. Hm. I’ll try it.”
“Oh, look,” I said, “Bavarian sausage. Apparently a Gasthaus thing. Which is what a gastropub might have been if they had taken less of gastronomy and the other end of public house.”
A heavy-lidded waiter who evidently went to Medusa’s hairdresser arrived to take our order on his iPhone. Maury went with the pancakes. I went with the sausage with a side of chicken-fried fat. By the time we had taken the foam off our third pints, our gastro had arrived.
“Curry,” Maury said. I looked at his pancakes. They looked normal and plain. “I believe the griddle is seasoned with it,” he explained.
“I remember a restaurant near where I used to work that served curry-flavoured pancakes. Not intentionally.” I started into my sausage. “Currywurst,” I said. Indeed, there was a dusting of curry powder all over the top of the sauce.
“I thought they said Bavarian,” Maury said.
“Currywurst is a Berlin thing, yes, isn’t it,” I said. “They’re all over the map.”
We mounted a proper assault on our food with the aid of pints number four. I further polished off 75% of the jar of Major Grey chutney that they had deposited on the table. By the end of the meal my gastrointestinals were burbling.
“Who do we have to thank for this trend?” I said at last.
“It started in Britain in the early ’90s,” Maury said. “A pub in the London area that decided to start serving acceptable food.”
“And still keep that popular pub atmosphere,” I said.
“Pub,” Maury said. I almost said “What?” but I realized that he was dealing with a gastro issue when he added “Pubbbbbrrrrr.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “How do your guts feel?”
“Like a cobra and a mongoose getting to know each other,” Maury said. Then he raised an eyebrow, raised his index finger, stood up, and sprinted to the W.C.