For some purists, if a pub serves any food more elaborate than three flavours of crisps or, for special occasions, slippery eggs fished out of a jar of pre-war brine, then it's not really a pub. The presence of flavoursome meals and cutlery, the argument runs, is a desecration of a sacred institution, worthy of derision, boycott and, worst of all, the terrible label of gastro, the pub purist's equivalent of accusing someone of drinking lager.
It's true that some instances of gastrofication are, in effect, restaurants taking over pubs, with the existing premises remaining but the atmosphere and experience being totally transformed so that if you're after a drink and a chat you'd be better off at Starbucks. But such cases are relatively few. Far more often, providing good food and the space in which to eat it does nothing to diminish a pub's character and welcome to non-diners, while doing a lot to boost the pub's chances of survival without any appeal to the local community or the government, which is surely a good thing. And, rather than, as is often the complaint, the offering for non-diners being reduced, my experience is that it usually improves, with a better selection of beers and greater attention to their condition.
Take the Anglesea Arms, tucked away in a residential street on the borders of Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush. Reportedly one of the earliest gastro-pubs in West London, it should in theory be a hostile and unrewarding environment for the visitor with nothing but a thirst. Instead, it offers a small range of excellent beers, with regular changes of guest ales, and a pint of Harveys Sussex Best I had on a recent visit was in superb shape. The staff are friendly, the atmosphere is cosy and easy, and there's plenty of room to sit and drink and talk all evening without any hint of pressure to order hand-fed octopus in maple syrup with sun-dried chitterlings. Yes, a pub going gastro can mean a few changes. But if they're the kind of changes that create a place like the Anglesea, there's nothing to complain about.