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.