Better off at a Berni

A week or so ago I wrote a post about Black Forest Gateau.

Whilst preparing the post I was distracted for a short while as I remembered occasionally eating out in the 1970s at a Berni Inn.

Berni Inn was a national chain of pub-restaurants founded just one year after the end of war time rationing in 1955 by Italian brothers Frank and Aldo Berni  and  was based on the American concept of dining out. The production line model – cheap, clean, consistent and quick.

The Wimpy Bar restaurant chain opened in the UK at the same time but I have never been a fan I have to say. McDonalds and Burger King didn’t arrive until 1974.  Pizza Hut turned up in 1980.

After giving the matter great consideration and a sleepless night I genuinely cannot remember eating out until at least the mid 1970s.

We always ate at home mostly for two reasons, Mum and Dad were not especially well off and rather crucially there was nowhere to eat out even if they could. For twenty-five years after World War Two had ended there were very few restaurants in the UK available or affordable for family dining and children weren’t allowed in pubs anyway. I have seen the period described as the ‘lost generation of English restaurants’.

Frank and Aldo marketed the Berni Inns as somewhere to go for a reasonably priced and hearty meal with a reliable product in a mock Tudor decorated dining room that was suggested might be a better experience than eating at home.

I am fairly certain that if I suggested such a thing to Kim then I would get a Geordie Kiss  but lucky for him he seems to have got away with it!

In 1972 I went out for a meal with three pals to celebrate leaving school and going off to University but except for the odd pub chicken or scampi in a basket meal after that I really don’t think that I went to a restaurant again until after 1975 when I had left university, got a job and a car and a girlfriend and discovered the Berni Inn.

If you were out to impress this was the place to take a girlfriend on a first date, or later on, if the date worked out successfully, to any sort of subsequent celebration or anniversary.

If you of my generation and ever dined at a Berni Inn then for sure you will remember the most popular combination on the menu – Prawn Cocktail, Steak Garni and Black Forest Gateau possibly with a bottle of German Blue Nun white wine. This combination was voted the UK’s favourite meal option right through the 1970s and 80s.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Well having brought up the subject I shared memories with Kim who also has fond memories of the time and we decided to make a Berni Inn tribute meal for Valentine’s Day.

But we updated it just a bit. We started with the prawn cocktail but added the avocado to the dish. The avocado was introduced to the UK in 1968 but wasn’t immediately popular and it wasn’t a part of a Berni Inn prawn cocktail and I am fairly certain that they didn’t add a liberal sprinkle of cayenne pepper either.

We slightly reinterpreted the traditional main course as well and substituted fried onion rings for the garden peas. I was pleased about that because to be honest I am not much of a fan of frozen garden peas and never been very successful at eating them without scattering them all over the table.  We also had oven baked chips instead of frozen.

Frozen oven chips were introduced into the UK by the Canadian company McCain  in 1968 and very quickly they were supplying supermarkets and the catering industry across the country.  I am certain that they were used in a Berni Inn main course.  Most places served frozen oven chips in the 1970s.

The first McCain processing plant was in Scarborough which must have been a bit of a shock to the people of Yorkshire who make the finest ‘proper’ chips in the country, maybe even the World.

It remains their UK Head Office.

Even today If you eat a McDonald’s or a Burger King french fry then it will almost certainly have come from Scarborough and that is how Yorkshire keeps control of the chip.

Finally for dessert we passed on the chore of making a Black Forest Gateau because there was no way we could eat a full one between us and Kim presented a chocolate fudge brownie with raspberries as an alternative.

So now we will have to decide where to eat next weekend. Maybe a ‘Little Chef’ Olympic All Day Full English breakfast.

39 responses to “Better off at a Berni

  1. aha plenty of the American invasion lol!!

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  2. Thanks for the trip back to the mid-70s.

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  3. Aha, your nostalgia fest was a good idea, but I suspect won’t last many sessions,

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  4. You are right about frozen garden peas. If you have long enough chips you can actually play hockey with them if the conversation flags.

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  5. Your first picture makes me wish I had been able to afford eating out in 1970 🙂

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  6. Recreating for Valentine’s Day, great idea and what fun!

    I think the prawn cocktail always got a bum deal coming out of the 80’s… such a great dish!

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  7. I can’t remember eating out until the mid 1970s either, except on holiday such as in boarding house dining rooms or when we were out on a trip somewhere. As an 8 to 15 year-old I felt embarrassed and hated it – I thought everyone was watching me and listening in. One meal in a pokey crowded cafe on the Isle of Wight still gives me PTSD if I think about it too much.

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  8. Happy Days! I confess I’ve never eaten in a Bernie Inn.

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  9. What a blast from the past! Didn’t Berni Inns offer Irish coffees, too? These were the pinnacle of sophistication and decadence at the time, if I remember correctly!

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  10. I remember the Berni Inns. It was usually a special occasion when one went there until one became “sophisticated” and learned to look down on them in favour of bistors, trattorias and tavernas (I’m speaking of London here as it’s the only experience I have of that time). I don’t think the concept of eating out was much in play until the wage scene improved, and when we did have a celebratory ‘eat-out’ we went to Lyons Corner House Brasserie (a step-up from the self-service section), later on it was Quality Inns as they gave unlimited coffee.

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  11. I’m so glad you included onion rings, they just go alongside steak so well. I don’t like frozen peas either, however, I am a fan of tinned garden peas especially the cheap ones from Morrisons! There’s just something about those, probably it’s the better flavour.

    I like the chicken sandwich from McDonald’s but I’m not a fan of their burgers, I used to be until I began making my own cheeseburgers and then I went off theirs. Today I keep a supply of my low fat homemade in the freezer.
    We haven’t eaten yet so now you’ve made me feel very hungry.

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  12. Wow, you have done some amazing research here! Loving the nostalgia. I don’t remember that advert – the woman is certainly giving him a murderous look and is about to clatter him with the pan. We used to go out for lunch in dept store restaurants and for “high tea” at the seaside. When I was a teenager we got taken for basket meals in hotels but my parents (teetotal Methodists) were obviously uncomfortable around bars. When I went to university I had my first lasagne in Mama Mia beside the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and was blown away. Never looked back.

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  13. I like your style (despite being pretty sure I wouldn’t want to recreate the Berni Inn experience)!

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