The other day I was in a large family party celebrating a 60th birthday at the Prince of Wales pub on Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield. It had played a large part in the life of my brother in law in the late Seventies but, not having been back, he was astonished to see how it had changed.
It was no longer a drinkers’ pub but a series of sleek dining rooms with greeters at the door, a menu which wouldn’t look out of place in a posh restaurant and a wine list not shy of erring on the expensive side.
A quick look around before we found our table showed that eaters heavily outnumbered drinkers. What the Prince of Wales is today is not so much a pub but a restaurant with a bar tacked on.
When my brother in law left Sheffield this was still a boozer which had been on the site since 1834. Then early in the Eighties it was revamped, transformed and refurbished bewilderingly swiftly into a series of American-style diners.
It became the Woodstock Diner in 1982. Legend has it that waiting staff whizzed around on roller skates. Locals petitioned to save the name of the Prince of Wales. Change a pub’s name and you change a locality, if subtly. They failed. The Woodstock Diner then metamorphosed into the Baltimore Diner, Woodstock Exchange, The Real Macaw, The Woodstock and finally (phew!) back to its original name. So it really was God Save the Prince of Wales! I’m not sure when but I recall having some fun in the Sheffield Star over the pub’s identity crisis with six different names.
What is striking is that the chains which owned the pub had no regard to the heritage or locality with the names they imposed upon the pub. Today the owners are Mitchells and Butlers, whose many other brands include All Bar One, Brown’s, Ember Inns, Sizzling Pubs and Toby Carvery. They own around 1,600 pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels.
The trouble with chains is that they have no individuality. Local beers? I saw none on offer so had the Black Sheep, a beacon among the plethora of fizzy lagers. Instructively, the website ignores beers and concentrates on wines. Nor is there any indication the kitchen sources from local suppliers.
The Prince of Wales is part of M&B’s Village Pub and Kitchen sector, odd for somewhere in the middle of the suburbs, and shares its menu with others on the circuit. It has everything from pork belly with scallops and spit-roasted chicken with aioli to gnocchi and corned salt beef hash, just like a posh restaurant. To be honest, it wasn’t at all bad. My confit of pig’s cheeks with black pudding was perfectly acceptable if a little on the small side. Everyone enjoyed their food.
It was a Saturday night and the place was full. It was a splendid evening and the food, drink and service helped things along enormously. And I didn’t have to foot the bill.
Now I’m no fan of chain pubs and restaurants for all of the reasons listed above but I sometimes think they get it right more times than we foodies acknowledge. I wonder if the Prince of Wales would have been as busy if it was still that pub my relative had last seen some time around 1979? And yet something has been lost, hasn’t it?
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