Saturday 28 September 2013

Pub lunches

I don't know if Paul was trying to out-do my mother, or if he just missed having me as a lunching companion, but as soon as I got back from Australia he started taking me out for better-than-average pub lunches. We'd have a rough idea of where we wanted to go for a drive, do a bit of research on local pubs and set off.

Bunnings & Price are a pub chain that is starting to make inroads in the area. We'd been to one of theirs, The Old Orchard, a couple of times, and quite liked it but we'd heard that The Cricketers was better and more consistent. The menu at both is way too long for everything to be freshly made, unless their wastage is obscene, but I think we chose pretty well.
Paul had a steak and ale pie with parsnip mash and "seasonal" vegetables. The broccoli and cabbage did seem to be freshly prepared, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that if you ordered this dish in December or May you'd still get broccoli, carrots and cabbage. But the pie was well-filled and had both top and bottom crusts, so Paul was happy.

It was a Sunday when we visited The Cricketers, so I had a roast. I was very pleased to see crackling - why do so many places serve roast pork without? - and aside from the somewhat overcooked Yorkie it was very good.
The only pudding Paul would agree to share was the sticky toffee. The cake was light and fluffy but the toffee sauce was a bit pale; it gave sweet stickiness without any of the interesting caramelly notes that make sticky toffee worthwhile. There was a baby screaming its lungs out in the front bar, so we didn't linger over dessert, but generally we thought The Cricketers is a valuable addition to the local pub landscape.

A bit further afield from us was The Woolpack, in Stoke Mandeville. Even though we'd seen their website, I think we were both a bit taken aback by how un-pubby the dining room was. It's certainly had the full modern British gastropub makeover, and aside from the spelling mistake on the mirror behind the bar, it looks great.
Like the mirror behind the bar, though, the food could have done with a little more attention to detail. Paul's whitebait was fine, but my beetroot-cured gravadlax left a bit to be desired. The fish itself was excellent, firm and meaty with a delicate cure, but the teacupful of aggressive horseradish and half-jar of vinegary capers did their darnedest to dominate. And pea shoots like that are a bit of a pet hate of mine. I always feel like a cow in a field when I try to chew through them. So while in theory the whole garnish was edible, an awful lot stayed on the plate.
Paul's main, from the specials list, was the best dish of the day. Seabass, with sweet potato wedges, a cucumber and mango salsa and broad beans, not an obvious combination of flavours but very well balanced. Loved that they'd gone to the effort of peeling the inner skin from the broad beans.

My main again could have done with more attention to detail. Spitroast chicken with aioli, Asian slaw and frites.

The chicken itself was lovely. It was perfectly cooked, moist and well-seasoned. The head of sticky, sweet roast garlic and half lemon on the plate were also very welcome. Everything else was misguided.

Why would roast chicken with roasted garlic, aioli and lemon juice also need a pool of over-reduced gravy? Why would delicious skin-on chips need a dusting of some crumby seasoning that made them taste like those nasty frozen oven wedges? And why on earth would you think that a slosh of fish sauce on oxidised vegetables would make an "Asian slaw"?

It's a bit out of our regular stamping grounds, but I would definitely go back to The Woolpack. When it was good it was very good indeed - the less-good bits showed how good the rest was. I also suspect that we may have got them on a day when they were cutting corners a bit, so I would like to give them a second chance.
The Royal Standard of England, on the other hand, is an old favourite that keeps drawing us back because it is genuinely lovely.
We shared a charcuterie platter. It was a little skimpy on the cornichon, but the rillettes, ham and saucisson were all excellent. A charcuterie plate is usually more about careful shopping than good cooking, but it's still a treat when it is done well. With a side salad this would have made a nice lunch for one, but it was also an excellent starter for the two of us.
Unfortunately, we'd forgotten that the portions at the Royal Standard are huge, and a starter was pretty much unnecessary. Paul's melting, slow-cooked Welsh lamb shoulder could have fed both of us amply with an extra vegetable dish.
My chicken & leek pie (called Midsommer Murder Resurrection pie, for reasons that escape me) was also generous and delicious. Really good chips, delicious buttery cabbage. No need to eat another meal that day.


Rachel said...

I love that buttery cabbage in one of your photos. Wonder how easy it would be to replicate? Saute some onion in butter, thinly slice cabbage and lightly saute? Would that do it?

Alicia Foodycat said...

Rachel - Not even that complicated! Butter, finely shredded savoy cabbage and just a touch of water. Half saute, half steam. Then season. When we make it at home we add a grating of nutmeg.

Faux Fuchsia said...

I want to go!

grace said...

savory pies, hooray!


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