Pubs can offer many excellent things, as are being amply revealed in our Pubs of the 00s series. However, culinary invention is rarely one of them. Even self-proclaimed gastropubs rarely get further than putting ‘twists’ on the standard pub options — sausages, pies, burgers, sandwiches, fish & chips. Some of them just chuck the word ‘posh’ on the front of each and have done with it. This is because pubs should offer comfort and stability, and that’s what people want from them.

The Spirit Group (the managed arm of Punch Taverns) have, however, waded into the murky territory of food science, which they should really have left to the experts. Their winnovation is not to throw the word ‘posh’ before things but instead ‘vegetarian’. Now of course, in theory I applaud this. As a (recently lapsed) vegetarian, British pubs have been excellent in offering choices for those who do not wish to eat dead animals, albeit within the strictly limited repertoire of the pub menu as mentioned above. At its most unadventurous this may mean offering a green salad, or replacing meat with Quorn wherever it appears.

So if Punch Taverns wish to substitute fish with cheese (halloumi in this case), I can only be intrigued. Halloumi is a sturdy cheese, one that doesn’t melt easily, so would seem to be ideal for this project. The problem is in the execution. Three very large chunks of halloumi have been battered and deep fried. This is already too much for one digestive system to bear, but it also strips the halloumi of its distinctive salty taste and squeaky texture.

Ultimately, if I hadn’t already left behind my vegetarian resolve, eating this hideous slight to the glory of both fish and halloumi would surely have started me questioning the faith. I can only think that Punch bears some grudge against vegetarians. Can we have the Quorn back now?

(Incidentally, the pub we were in, the Imperial, is not one that appears on the Top 25 list, but it was on the shortlist. For the area, just off Leicester Square, it’s a comfortable pub which offers a pleasant environment for a pint of ale, especially now that they’ve removed the TV screens. Just be wary of that menu.)