ONE pound doesn’t go very far these days. You’d struggle to buy a take-away coffee, let alone a hearty lunch for a humble quid (although it will buy you two Crème Eggs at Sainsbury’s).

So the prospect of a homemade lunch for a plain old pound was enough to tempt me to the village of Kirby Hill, near Boroughbridge, for its headline-catching £1 menu.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but Andy Jeffery and wife Laura are practically giving it away with their recession-busting meals at the Blue Bell Inn.

There are at least 25 items on the £1 menu, covering starters, mains and puddings. Each dish costs a quid, affording the tantalising prospect of a three-course lunch for £3.

Choices include garlic mushrooms, fishcake and mixed leaves, onion rings and garlic dip and hot wings and chilli dip as starters; sausage and mash, lasagne and salad, beef burger or Irish stew for main courses (with veggie lasagne and veggie burger options too) and for afters, rice pudding and jam and plum or apple pie with custard.

As far as possible, food is homemade, although mum-of-two Laura admitted all the desserts were from the cash and carry. “They’re nicer than the ones I made anyway,” she said.

On recommendation from Andy, I ordered the soup and crusty bread and chilli and chips, with the toffee apple fudge cake and ice cream to follow.

It was 12.30pm on a Thursday, but the pub had about 30 dinners already. It’s a traditional English pub, split into several ‘rooms’, with a roaring open fire and mix ’n’ match wooden furniture.

Within five minutes of ordering, a bowl of steaming hot tomato soup arrived. I asked Andy if it was homemade, but he refused to reveal “trade secrets”. Bright orange a la Heinz, it was piping hot and came with two slices of French bread covered in spread. Next came chilli and chips – again an Andy recommendation. “Hope you like your chilli hot,” he said. Served in a bowl, the meal was a swamp of golden chips and tomatoey chilli with lots of veg and beans in evidence.

“Believe it or not,” said Laura. “It’s cheaper to put more in it. So we pack it with veg and tomatoes and lots of beans. It makes it tastier too.”

Tucking into the mountain of food, I wondered how they could do it for a quid. Or rather, how could they do it for 85p because 15p in every pound goes to the VAT man.

“We’re not worried about making money from the food,” said Andy. “We’re never going to make a fortune selling at a pound. It’s all about getting numbers through the doors.”

As with many pubs, the couple aim to make money at the bar. Drinks start at £2.40 for a pint of bitter, £2.85 for a premium lager, £2.90 for a small (175ml) glass of wine and £1.15 for half a coke. My soda and lime cost 50p, bringing my lunch bill to £3.50. The food was no frills, but it was hot, tasty and filling; no wonder the customers were coming back.

York restaurateur Michael Hjort understands why the Jefferys have resorted to the £1 menu. In difficult times, needs must.

Michael, owner of Meltons and Meltons Too, said: “The reality is that restaurants are like many other businesses and need to keep themselves in the public’s mind; the one-pound menu is a way of doing that.”

But he says discounting is not the only way to pull in the punters.

“Lots of businesses have found more creative ways of getting themselves some publicity. We did it just two weeks ago in The Press when we had some customers plucking pheasants.”

The story was to highlight the Game Festival running at Meltons Too in Walmgate.

“We also hand out vouchers to customers to use when they come back another time,” said Michael.

“What you want is to make sure that people return in a week or fortnight or month’s time rather than the same time next year.”

Jeff Baker is the head chef and owner of J Baker’s Bistro Moderne in Fossgate, York. He said everyone was feeling the downturn. Although his evening bookings are robust, he said lunchtime trade had dropped off, despite offering a grazing menu from noon with dishes starting at £4.

He said: “The casual pound isn’t about from the people out shopping in town who might pop in. They’re thinking: ‘no, we’ll have a sandwich, or go home and have something’.”

Although there is no sign of the £1 menu arriving in York, a quick culinary tour around the city centre highlighted some home-grown offers. Reeds Café boasts an enviable position, opposite the Minster. But even this little caff is feeling the pinch. “Beat the crunch with a £5 lunch” blazes a board in the window.

Not quite the £1 menu of the Blue Bell, but when you consider the fiver gets you the likes of gammon and chips (normal menu price £7.50) and a glass of wine (ordinarily £3.10), it’s a pretty good deal. It runs 10am-5pm Monday to Friday.

On Coney Street, Tuscany is offering a two-course lunch for £7, weekdays from 11am to 6.30pm. That buys salad, soup or garlic bread and a simple pizza, spag bol or goat’s cheese salad.

Down on the riverside complex by City Screen, a price war rages between Orgasmic, Revolution and Pitcher & Piano. Sandwich boards litter the pavement, screeching the latest discounts.

The P&P has its “Sale In The City 2-4-1 offer” on mains, sandwiches and salads. Revolution is taking on all rivals with its “Pizza and Peroni for £4.95” deal, listing the price of such a combo at nearby pizzerias (these all range from £7.90 to £10.25). Orgasmic is making the biggest noise with multiple offers, topped by the “gourmet lunch” at £3.95 (not available on Saturday).

La Tasca in Back Swinegate is doing a “Tapas for a tenner” deal, Sunday to Wednesday from 5pm-9pm, when you can eat as much as you like for £10.

On Petergate, Bella Italia has an “Espresso lunch” at £5.95, a price match for the lunch special at La Vecchia Scuola opposite.

At Harvilles, on Fossgate, you can try its special lunch menu for £7.95 which includes steak and chips. Loch Fyne is doing a £12 fixed-price menu, which includes two courses and a glass of wine.

Several restaurants, including Meltons on Scarcroft Road, offer early-bird or pre-theatre menus, which represent great value too. Not quite the £1 menu, perhaps, but proof enough that when the going gets tough, you can still afford to trough.

l The £1 menu runs at The Blue Bell Inn, Kirkby Hill, Boroughbridge, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm-9pm; 12pm-3pm on Sundays. Find out more at or telephone 01423 324 180.