Wetherspoons has recently taken to calling itself ‘The posh pub company’. Now that’s a brave marketing team.
These things are posh: Croquet. Sicilian lemons. Mayfair Hotel bars.
These things aren’t: Darts. Nutella. Wetherspoons.
It will take more than a strapline to pull off a Wetherspoons brand repositioning. But, visit The Gatehouse in Highgate and at first glance it’s not such a giant leap of the imagination. It has a theatre upstairs! Real flowers on the tables! Reformation poets on the wall! Gin served in teacups!
The frontage of the Gatehouse may actually be mock tudor, but like much of Highgate, it reeks of history. The pub is thought to date back to the 1300s. It was once next to a tollhouse and has its very own ghost.
We dropped in on a wintry Sunday, after a quick half at The Wrestlers, that celebrated pub just down the road. And if we’re really honest, there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of difference. Both are chock full of wooden panels, interesting ales and children named Noah or Maya.
With the cosy, candlelit snugs near the bar full, we made our way to the conservatory at the back for Sunday lunch. And what a lunch was promised! The bespoke, handwritten menus at this Spoons seem targeted to appeal to the appetites of red-cheeked punters just off a bracing walk on the Heath like us.
[PIC OF MENU DESCRIPTION]
Our fellow dinners included a group of intellectuals discussing Marx and Engels (probably) over a bottle of red, a Tim Burton-esque couple (stylish nerd with psychobilly girlfriend), and a father making the most of his (rare?) contact time with his children by plying them with astonishing amounts of food.
And then it all goes a bit wrong.
On his third attempt, a baffled Italian waiter finally brings us our correct meals. The Sunday Roast bears no resemblance to the mouthwatering menu description. Aunt Bessie has been left in charge of the Yorkshire puddings, the roast potatoes have that odd Wetherspoons texture, and the thick slabs of beef have the consistency of rubber.
The steak pie is tastier, but its pastry bears what looks like the imprints of a Fray Bentos foil case.
There lies the conundrum for both the Wetherspoons marketing team and the manager of The Gatehouse. A brand is a promise to your customers. The Gatehouse has done a fine job in tailoring its venue for the Highgaterati. It’s probably a great place to visit on a dark, cold evening to sup an ale under candlelight before disappearing upstairs to watch some Dickensian magic. And for that it deserves a rating of 5 spoons.
But perhaps head office needs to give this venue more freedom to tailor its menu to deliver the magical food it promises. Especially when the roasts being brought to the tables up the road at The Wrestlers looked and smelled amazing at little difference in price.
If Wetherspoons wants to be the ‘posh pub company’ it needs to focus on following through on the details of that promise. Wetherspoons has a HQ based in Hertfordshire. It’s take on posh reminds us more of that county’s favourite daughter, the aspirational – but definitely not ‘Posh’ – Victoria Beckham.
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