Britain’s Best Bars “revealed” in OFM Awards 2011

TV cook Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall emerges Daniel Craig-like from the surf with what looks like a substantial sea bass. It’s the cover of the Observer Food Monthly magazine and beneath his lean, fish-policy-fighting-machine body is the banner “OFM Awards 2011, Starring Hugh’s Fish Fight Heston’s Dinner & Britain’s Best Bars.”

Surely, a national Sunday newspaper as clued-in as The Observer would recognise the turning tide of craft beer and give its awards for Best Place to Drink to one or more of the modern beer emporia – The Cask and Kitchen, Craft, North Bar, or Sheffield Tap.

As much as I applaud Hugh’s campaign against the appalling waste resulting from the absurd European rules stipulating that over-quota fish be thrown back dead into the sea rather than landed, it was the bit about bars that caused me to skip through the mag as if to the football reports.

And the winner is… Mark’s Bar in Soho. A cocktail bar. What startling innovations find their home there? What revolution-in-drinks are they at the forefront of? Pine gin, lemon verbena, and chipotle vodka, it would seem. Also, building tower fountains of champagne glasses. All the winning London bars are cocktail bars.

“FFS”, I thought. It’s OK, I can say that in a polite blog because the presenter on BBC Radio 4’s highly-respectable Today programme said it live on air. And “WTF”. It’s like The Rake never happened. I hereby unveil a new text message expletive abbreviation for your delectation: OFM. Thanks, Observer!

Perhaps these skewed, misinformed results are the fault of London-centric journos, but no, these awards are from readers’ recommendations. Pubs do figure in the regional winners; there is even mention of a local brew: Alscot Ale (from Warwickshire Beer Co.), but otherwise, beer seems of little importance. One winning pub’s recommendation included “has free wi-fi”. Even ‘Spoons has that.

The conclusion cannot be escaped: Despite overspill of punters outside the Craft Beer Co pub on Leather Lane, the craft beer revolution has not happened. Or at least, not for Observer readers. And whisky? not a dram. Make way for Hanky Panky cocktails and bergamot vodka.

In the Scheme Of Things, the OFM Best Bars awards don’t much matter, but it’s a good indicator of public opinion, or perhaps just that Southern Observer readers like cocktails. Now, I don’t mind a good cocktail bar or two, but isn’t it time a few were thrown back? Dead or alive.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall video about the Fish Fight campaign