Introducing something new, strange or exotic to the bar snacks menu can provide an interesting experience for customers.
1. Potato skins
Whether baked or deep fried (or preferably both), the potato skin could well be the pub industry’s answer to the vol-au-vent. Fill them with mac ‘n’ cheese, chorizo & cheddar, ham & ricotta or pretty much anything that involves cheese. Got a local cheese maker? Then you’re laughing. When done right, a crispy, generously filled potato skin is the ultimate accompaniment to a pint and the football.
There’s a reason the snails we eat in restaurants resemble lumps of flavourless, tough meat — it’s because they mostly come out of tins. A surprise to some, but Britain has a healthy production of fresh escargots, from the likes of Helen Howard’s farm near Canterbury or the Walker family in Dorset. David Walker frequently supplies pre-cooked and pre-buttered snails to pubs, so all chefs have to do is stick them under the grill for a few minutes.
Preparing any meat raw requires a degree of skill and ceviche is no exception. If you’re interested in not giving customers dodgy tummies, freshly caught fish (preferably of a sustainable grade) is key here — so not just any old trout off the shelf. What’s more, to ensure you get the correct tangy bite and hit of chilli synonymous with good ceviche, slice the fish and prepare the dish moments before it goes out to service.
4. Avruga caviar
Here’s something you don’t often see on pub menus. Don’t be put off by the name, though — while caviar would be an unrealistic proposition for most licensees, Avruga, one of caviar’s cheaper substitutes, is usually around one-sixth of the price of the real deal. Sometimes customers want to sample a touch of class (or at least the idea of it), and caviar is a way to provide it: try Avruga served with poached oysters, toasted blini with crème fraiche or as a fish salad dressing.
5. Hush puppies
You’re more likely to find these numbers on other side of the Atlantic and they do taste a bit like America. Essentially a savoury doughnut, the hush puppy can be spiced up a little by introducing a guest ale into the recipe. They generally require some kind of dipping sauce to go with — perhaps a chilli jam or a herb and garlic mayo.
6 .Tomato sorbet
Sorbets are more commonly seen towards the bottom of the menu, but when summer sets in, a refreshing (both in terms of taste and originality) adaptation into a first course can be just what the punters are after. Dust off that old ice cream maker, source some sweet tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes from the vine, and you may end up with a real crowd-pleaser.
7. Spring rolls
As easy as they are to find off the shelf, spring rolls are surprisingly simple to prep yourself. And, like the potato skins, there’s a lot you can do with them. Inexpensive cuts, like lamb neck or ox tail, provide great fillings, while spring rolls are easily adapted to suit vegetarians too — surplus veg and grains such as mushrooms, cabbage, noodles, rice, chilli and spring onions work wonders.
Where the French have croquettes, the Spanish make croquetas — their version using a béchamel sauce instead of, typically, a potato filling. The result is a far more indulgent dish. Got ham from yesterday’s roast lying around? Or just some leftover mash? Maybe there’s some mixed veg otherwise going to waste? Whatever your ingredients, combine the leftovers, some béchamel and breadcrumbs and you’ve already got the makings for a potentially knock-out dish.
9. Bone-in marrow
What’s that? A rich and buttery offal, roasted, begging to be scooped from the bone, and best complemented by a slice or two of toasted sourdough? Kicking off a meal rarely gets better than this. Taking notes from the finest, Fergus Henderson’s St John serves bone marrow with a parsley, caper and shallot salad — and it’s legendary. What’s more, your local butcher is likely to be happy to part with his marrow bones (not his personal ones, of course) for a small fee.