Everyone has one, a place that suits them, somewhere they feel comfortable, a place where they identify with. We search them out, when we find them, we bring our friends there, make it “our place”. Over time you get to know the staff, a casual “hello” develops into a brief chat and eventually a full blown conversation. Pubs that make you feel this way are hard to find, and getting harder every day.
In London everyone is in a fucking rush, doesn’t matter if they are the CEO of a major company, a minor flunky in an office or a bloke selling the Big Issue outside Sainsburys they’re in a rush, they have to be otherwise people won’t think they are important. Stop a homeless guy and he will most likely tell you that he hasn’t got time to talk he has to yell at the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in 15 minutes. Pubs and restaurants have adapted to this, they not only keep up with, but perpetuate the belief that everyone is so fucking important that if they spend more than 30 minutes eating lunch the world will fall off its axis as there is no one back at the office to put callers on hold and then forget about them.
I’m not one of these people, yes sometimes I am in a hurry but it’s only if I am running late, I accept my place in the world and I know that if I wasn’t here tomorrow things would carry on pretty much as normal. Well once they had demolished the Diana fountain in Hyde Park to make way for the Memorial Cork Gourmet Guy Cider Press & Swearing Academy. Because of this I like pubs and restaurants that don’t simply want you in and out and considerably poorer as quickly as possible, who don’t consider service to be that annoying time between ordering and paying for your meal. I like places where I feel the service is friendly and relaxed buy also professional. I don’t want stuffy, formal, starched linen service from android like waiters in priest creeper shoes (they are the ones that are unbelievably quiet and make no sound on gravel so it’s easier for them to sneak up on alter boys).
When I first went to The Engineer in Primrose Hill that was the relaxed, easy going atmosphere that stood out. Staff chatted and joked with customers but it was obvious that the customers were relaxed as they knew well that they were in good hands. I liked it a lot, and bear in mind this is a pub that only concession to cider is some sort of cloudy stuff with not a bubble to be seen, so much in fact that over the next few visits myself and Ed discussed me joining the team. Initially on a temporary basis while waiting for a new venture which involves us both to start. I said yes, despite knowing the commute was going to be a fucking nightmare. I heard Ewan McGreggor turned the job down as he felt the trek was too arduous and chose in stead to unicycle over the Andes while being accompanied by Jedward.
Ok here comes the problem and it’s a big fucking problem! The Engineer is leased from Mitchell and Butler, a monolithic organisation who own such culinary wastelands as Harvester, All Bar One and O’Neills. To date they have been happy to accept their rent and leave us alone to do what we do, which is serve food consisting of fantastic ingredients cooked sympathetically and given their own chance to shine and be enjoyed. This works, it works very well in fact. The Engineer does extremely well, it is after all a business. Tam and Abigail (the owners) are not in this as a charitable venture, in fact despite his charity work Ed Francis insists on taking a competitive wage, as do all the staff so I am not trying to portray this as a sort of puppy & fireworks store, Willy Wonka style wonderland. The work there is hard, fucking hard in fact, this last weekend we got battered in the kitchen for 4 days straight. We did obscene amounts of covers on every service, most of which we were down staff for. Tempers got frayed and people yelled at each other, egos got dented, hands got burned (mine in particular) but we pulled through and then all laughed about it afterwards over a beer and a smoke.
Now Mitchell & Butler have decided they want The Engineer back. Why? Well they look at the figures, see the net profit and they want it, it’s that simple. They have refused to renew our lease, refused a very generous offer to buy the freehold and stood firm in their demands that we hand back the keys in September. The thing is that in a technical legal sense that is their right. However as so often is the case legal and moral correctness have fuck all in common. People have worked hard for many years to make The Engineer what is is today, they have put their heart and soul into the place so why should a massive corporation simply be able to swoop in and take it all away from them. There has never been an issue with paying the rent, we have been exemplary tenants from the start. They simply want to pad their books with the addition of a net profit they did fuck all to earn. They also want to hang out in the midst of the Primrose Hill set, they want to brag to their faceless, joyless friends that Harry Enfield was in again with Paul Whitehouse for lunch, or Lisa Snowden stopped by for breakfast. They want to bask in the reflected glory of the celeb set who treat The Engineer as their local. They won’t ever fit in there, I mean most of the guys with their interesting beards and professionally unkempt hair who look a bit like a Bo-Ho Jesus and girls who have spent hours perfecting their just rolled out of bed look are not going to be impressed when a set of Brummie accountants from M&B rock up for their team building lunch.
So what can we do about it? Well basically we can make a big fucking fuss, tell them that reaping the rewards they didn’t sow with hard work isn’t fucking on. They want a turnover like that and a net profit to match then do their own fucking hard work. We can tell them that it’s not necessary or okay to make money by simply choosing the cheapest supplier on every ingredient, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to eat in one of their many establishments then you know just how shit they are, if they can come in and impose those levels of food standards on The Engineer then they can pretty much do it to every unique, local and unchained pub in the land. The vast majority of pubs are lease holds, the free hold is owned by some brewery so no matter how successful or well run a place is, whenever a brewery wants they can simply take it back from the tenants. That can’t be fucking right, can it? Do we want to see all the efforts to produce top quality food punished for doing so successfully? Are we going to say to anyone with a dream of running their own place “yeah go for it, bust you balls for years and as soon as you start to make a bit of cash it will all be taken away from you?”.
Help us, help us draw a line in the sand and say “oi you, yeah you corporate twat, fuck off back on that side of the line”. Sign our petition here http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/theengineer/, email M&B and tell them you will boycott their existing establishments (ok so thats no big deal to you but they don’t fucking know that). Annoy them, piss them off, be a nuisance, trust me it will make you feel much better. `
Join us at The Engineer on the 7th of June at 11am if you can make it.
“To the success of our hopeless task”