Monday, 31 January 2011

The Old Inn, Hutton

The Old Inn in Hutton village is a place I have driven past twice a day for more years that I care to think about.  Hutton is a Britain in Bloom village - they seem to win an award every year! And there is a strong sense of community - every year they have their own cider making festival, where villagers are encouraged to donate their unwanted apples in exchange (if they want it) for the cider that is then produced. What a wonderful cooperative idea! 

The Old Inn is the only pub in the village (unless you count The Walnut Tree on the outskirts - which most people don't!)  The Landlord, who took over a couple of years ago, used to have The Coopers Arms in Highbridge (when it was a proper pub and not the dive it has since become) so he knows a thing or two about running a pub ...

It's a Saturday lunchtime, a gaggle of locals surround the bar and one or two couples are sat at the tables finishing or awaiting meals. Once again it's either a pint of Thatcher's Gold or Stowford Press on offer. I take the Gold. And a seat near the woodburner. The Old Inn might be so named, but it's not as old as some parts of this Doomsday Book-mentioned village, everything is clean and tidy, although the decking at the front looks to have had a fair few cigarette butts stuffed between the gaps and looks to be a fire risk to me!!

A red light above the kitchen door signifies that my tuna baguette is ready and the waitress/barmaid brings it over.  Again, it's a foot long white baguette, the tuna and mayo filling leans more to the tuna side than the mayo, which some might find perfect, but I like a good even mix! The salad garnish comprises a handful of mixed leaves - including rocket (yay), 2 slices of cucumber, some sliced pepper, half a tomato and some cress.  And what seems to be the obligatory handful of crisps. Once again, half the baguette is consumed and the rest goes into the napkin for dinner.

Although this time, I don't get to eat it for dinner, as I walk into the house later I am greeted by the dogs - one of whom (unbeknownst to me) sticks his head into my handbag, extracts the napkin-wrapped leftover and swallows it with what must have been one bite.

I shall give a mark out of five for the cider availability, another mark out of five for the tuna baguette, and a further mark out of five for the general atmosphere of the pub ...
So on that basis The Old Inn scores ... 2 - 3 - 2

The Cross Ways, West Huntspill

So, closer to home for my next expedition then! It's a Wednesday, the middle of my first full week back at work, and I'm too tired to cook (that's my excuse!). The pubs in town don't really do food - so if you want a decent pub meal you have to drive.

Luckily the Cross Ways isn't too far away, and despite two changes of owners since the "glory days" when Mick Ronca had it, it still does a good pint (of beer) and good food.  Of course, it's changed a lot since then, it's been opened up, new windows, new paint, new toilets ... in a way it's lost some of its charm, but the open fires are still there, the staff are lovely and the locals are the same old faces! Unfortunately Wednesday seems to be the main catering staff's night off and it's left to a young eager-to-please chap to fulfill our order.  Mine was easy ... "I'll have the tuna mayonnaise baguette please" ...

And a pint of Thatcher's Gold ... It seems to me that a lot of pubs now make a big thing about how they have "local farmhouse" ciders on sale.  However, the ones that really, genuinely do are few and far between - I'm afraid that as far as I'm concerned Thatcher's are no longer the business they were, they are fast becoming the new Taunton Cider company.  A view I've held even before I saw the very early morning delivery of french apple concentrate being delivered to the factory in Sandford.  But I digress ...  The Cross Ways do sell a couple of other types of cider - they have Long Ashton (or is it Stowford, I can never remember) on tap, and they may have even had some Black Rat - but I was still feeling a bit fragile, so further research will have to take place!

After an hour wait (yes ... an hour, but it was quite busy and the young lad was trying his best!) the food arrives.  My tuna baguette is more a six inch wide slice of thick white French stick with ample tuna, mayonniase and spring onion filling served with a salad garnish (lettuce, cucumber and tomato) and a handful of crisps.  I have to cut the baguette into more manageable mouthfuls, and once again have to resort to a napkin and the handbag for half of it ...

Yes, the bread was thick and not what I would call a baguette but the addition of the spring onion gave it an extra little kick, but an hour wait is pushing it!

And now for the score ...  (You will recall that I am giving a mark out of five for the cider availability, another mark out of five for the tuna baguette, and a further mark out of five for the general atmosphere of the pub ... So on that basis The Cross Ways scores ... 2 - 2 - 3  (Although I am going to have to go back to double check the cider and on a day when the "real" chef is in the house.)

The Ship Inn, Porlock Weir

That's the bottom Ship Inn, not be to confused with the top Ship Inn which is actually in Porlock village itself ...

And it's a very, very cold Sunday in early January - the 9th to be precise.  I've had the dreaded flu bug since Christmas Eve and this is the first time I've ventured out for a "car ride".  I've no idea where we are going, it's a mystery tour ... although as we go towards Minehead and I'm told that's not our destination it becomes pretty clear where we are going, because there's not a lot of choice left!

The car park in Porlock Weir still charges on a Sunday, in the middle of winter, even when there is no one else around apart from a few hardy fishermen.  We put some money in the meter and survey the surroundings. Beach, channel to let boats in, weir, sea, public conveniences, harbourmasters office, craft work-spaces and shops, a few houses, really posh hotel/restaurant (closed - we're here out of season remember?!), tea rooms (ditto) and ... pub!

After a brief look at the beach and harbour we wander in.  A small wood stove is burning ineffectually in the middle of the bar and it's really cold in here! Still not to worry, I order a pint of Cornish Rattler (it's that or Bulmers, so much for the range of local real ales and ciders) and study the menu.  It's a while since I've eaten anything due to being poorly and the idea of a "full meal" doesn't appeal, the only thing I've managed to eat in the last few days has been a bread roll with some tuna and mayonnaise in it.  So, despite the allure of pub staples such as "Steak and Ale Pie", "Ham, Egg and Chips" or even from the "Specials Board" "Cheese Omelette" I choose the tuna baguette ... and thus unbeknown to me, my mission starts ...

I have to say it was lovely, a foot long white baguette, plenty of tuna, plenty of mayo, served with a small side salad and coleslaw. However, it soon becomes  apparent that I'm not going to manage to eat it all, so I surreptitiously wrap two-thirds of it in a couple of napkins and slip it into my handbag for later.

The pub itself had a slight olde-worlde feel, due in part to the afore-mentioned woodburner but also the low beams - however the addition of a really rather cheap and nasty dining room (think fish and chip bar circa 1968) really let it down. I spotted a table marked numbered "68" which made me realise that cheap dining room and outdoor seating would make this an horrendous place to eat in high season.

However, for a cold, cold early January it was nice to sit (with my coat on) and look out of the window at the fishermen.  After the meal we set out for a nice walk around Porlock Weir. It was lovely weather for walking - so cold you had to walk briskly to keep warm!  The "beach" is shingle, there is a sort-of island (Turkey Island?) over the harbour bridge with a little row of cottages on it and a couple of half-collapsed pill boxes.  Walking around the island and back over the bridge brings you back to the harbour master's office and the row of craft work/shops where I imagine in the height of the season you can see the artisans at work and purchase from them.  There's also a bulk chinese/thai food production facility and a ladies clothing shop.  Walking on and you reach a path which stretches through the marshland and onto a coastal walk.  But I was getting colder and so after we'd walked in that direction for a while it was time to turn back to the warmth of the car.

I suppose I should be giving the results of my survey some sort of a score ...  I shall give a mark out of five for the cider availability, another mark out of five for the tuna baguette, and a further mark out of five for the general atmosphere of the pub ... So on that basis The Ship Inn scores ... 2 - 4 - 2