Wednesday 3 December 2014

A pair of pubs

We're pretty familiar with, and not very impressed by, most of the pubs in our immediate area. Some that were really good have gone downhill and some were so disappointing that they don't get a second chance. So we're exploring a bit further afield, partly as a lure to get Paul's mum (who loves a pub) over for a visit.

Paul spent a while working in Marlow last year and assured me that it was a good place to find a pub. Marlow is, of course, the home of the Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers, but I figured they'd probably laugh at me if I phoned on a Saturday morning and asked for a table in two hours time. It is still on the wishlist. But Paul spotted The Queens Head so we headed for that.

We were very happy to see an open fire and even happier to get a table during a very busy service. The menu was very promising: things like oxtail ravioli, rabbit and partridge suggested that it wasn't your average pub. The prices pretty much confirmed that they weren't aiming for the jacket-potato-with-fillings, 2-4-1 meals pub clientèle.

Paul had a whole roast local partridge with bread sauce, root crumble and cranberry jus. The root crumble was served in one of those adorable little cast iron Staub cocottes and the cranberry jus was in a little jug, allowing the meat with fruit avoider to avoid it completely. He loved it and was fantasising about getting a couple of the cocottes until I brutally burst his bubble with the information that they cost upwards of £50 each for regular retail punters.

I had a ploughmans. The two little triangles of cheese and half boiled egg were a bit unprepossessing, but fortunately a second dish containing a generous pile of thickly sliced ham arrived. The ham was excellent but everything else was a bit underpowered - bland chutney, tomatoes that tasted of November and mild cheddar. I was pleased that the salad leaves were dressed though!

We also shared some sweet potato wedges with blue cheese dip. The wedges were cut very unevenly and a couple of the largest ones weren't cooked through, but the flavours were excellent. Infinitely nicer than the usual bought-in wedges with the weird spiced coating.

I definitely want to go back: at first glance I think their strength lies in the more seasonal, unusual dishes rather than the pub staples and there is a lot more I would like to try.

We were pretty pleased about the success with the Queens Head but didn't really trust our luck to finding another pub of that quality off our own bats. So we bought a copy of the Michelin pub guide -  and actually delayed setting off on a pub-seeking venture until it had arrived.
I know nothing about ecclesiastical architecture - why would they need three crosses on the roof? Holy Trinity Seer Green
I haven't quite got to grips with how the pub guide is laid out: it's not immediately clear what areas each bit covers. But as far as I could make out, the closest recommended pub to us is the Jolly Cricketers, at Seer Green.

I was pretty optimistic. Not only because of the Michelin recommendation or the tasty-sounding menu, but because while we waited to be seated I noticed that the cups on top of the espresso machine were mismatched floral china, which I thought was absolutely charming.

We pretty quickly decided to go for two courses and to hell with dinner.

Paul had  smoked mackerel pate, followed by venison with kale and barley. The little taste I got of the venison was lovely! Even though all the pieces look pretty much the same, apparently there were two distinct textures from different cooking methods. I thought the barley looked a little unplump and thought it might have been undercooked, but Paul said not.

I had squid followed by fish and chips. The squid was crisp and light, not at all rubbery and despite the huge amount of chilli sprinkled on it, it wasn't overwhelmingly spicy. The dipping sauce wasn't particularly pleasant, seemingly a sludge of soy sauce and grated ginger. I think a nicely balanced nuoc cham-style sauce would have worked better.

The fish and chips at the Jolly Cricketers is very grand, and I suspect a trap for conservative eaters who don't read the menu. It's grilled cod with battered cod cheeks, sauce gribiche and crushed peas. I thought it was excellent. I tend to get a bit tired of batter about half way through a normal portion of fish and chips so this was just enough batter to suit me. And the cod cheeks were lovely little morsels. The chips arrived in a separate bucket and were HUGE, more a quartered potato than a proper chip. I loved the grilled lemon. I loved the perfectly seasoned sauce gribiche.

With the bill we got little squares of cherry cake and strawberry jelly, which was another charming touch. We also got significant entertainment from eavesdropping on the table next to us, who were planning their family Christmas. Obviously we can't guarantee the floor show for next time, but the food is definitely worth a visit.


Bettina Douglas said...

It is not a culinary question: but having drawn our attention to the three crosses (and slightly different designs as well)I think you should find out the answer!

Joanne said...

Good pub food can definitely be hard to find! I'm glad to hear you found two tasty places!

Anonymous said...

Surrounded by amazing produce and bad pub food (not all but a lot). I am in Devon,Edge of the Moors, best fishmongers , best meat Riverford Organics, you name it.My last pub meal was way overpriced, not that amazing either. Our local pubs are beyond belief , not tried the Treby yet, mixed reviews. Just a good pub meal is all I want though, not to much to ask surely? Good post.

Barbara said...

Pub hopping sounds like fun to me. I'm sure it's hit or miss, but isn't that always the case with foodies like us?
Hate to admit I'm living under a rock, but had no idea Michelin had a pub guide!


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