Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Prince of Waterloo, Winford

After a pleasant morning visiting a cemetery in central Bristol thoughts turn to lunch … there are plenty of pubs around here, but after the sublime peace and tranquilty I’ve enjoyed already today I can’t face the hustle and bustle of a busy place.  

And so perhaps today is a good day to pop into The Crown at Churchill for some real cider and a sandwich?  Alas, a traffic jam on the A38 before the airport coupled with the fact that the clock is ticking means a diversion is in order.  And so we head out towards Chew Magna, stopping off in Winford to visit the Prince of Waterloo.

For such a huge pub it also manages to pull off the quaint look – thanks to the proliferation of wood, beams, low ceilings and flagstones.  There’s a restaurant, a normal bar, a lounge bar and what is described as a “sports bar” – an area with a big television, chairs and squishy sofas – something for everyone indeed!
So what’s on offer for the discerning cider drinker? The Prince is another one of those “real ale” pubs – priding itself on a changing stock of beers – but when it comes to cider it’s Blackthorn, Thatchers Gold or Stowford Press.  Ah well. I had a half of Stowford yesterday, so I’ll go for the Gold today.
Because it’s Sunday the pub is in full swing offering two course lunches – including a choice of  beef, lamb, chicken or pork with all the trimmings for £8.95.  But I don’t want a big meal and ask about sandwiches.  The barman is a bit confused, but the manageress is sat our side of the bar enjoying her day off and she tells him to hand over the light lunches menu.  I can choose from a tuna and mayo jacket potato, a tuna, mayo and red onion salad, a tuna and cheese Panini, but the only baguettes on offer are cheese salad, BLT, ham or sausage and onion.  More negotiation ensues …

Ten minutes later my tuna and mayo baguette arrives, complete with salad garnish of lettuce, peppers (all colours), onion, tomato, cucumber and cress.  Oh, and a handful of those tortilla things I keep having to try despite the fact that I know I don’t like them. Sadly I'm not very hungry (probably something to do with the lashings of birthday cake I had last night) so half the baguette is placed neatly into the handbag for consumption later in the day.

On hand to entertain me I have the local football expert who berates the members of the village football team for their performance in the game yesterday and I also listen to the latest gossip about who has been arrested for what lately - being cheeky to the local police officer seems to be a favourite past-time here! 

Cider – 3
Tuna – 3 (can’t understand why it’s not an option on the menu!)
Atmosphere – 3

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Plough Inn, Congresbury

The Plough lies in the shadow of its bigger, brasher neighbour The Ship & Castle. I first came here last year to recover from a long and tortuous cycle ride along the Strawberry Line and on that occasion  I joined a mass of “professional cyclists” (you know, the ones who wear lycra and aren’t puffing from over-exertion) to have a drink and snack.  I loved the place instantly. The Plough Inn wouldn’t know a make-over if Lawrence Llewellen Bowen slipped over in the doorway carrying a tin of paint and some scatter cushions and that’s why I love it.

The serving areas are two small hatches, just wide enough to show off four pumps each, and the place is a series of little interconnecting rooms – some decorated with photos of Congresbury from yesteryear  (notice that the pub hasn’t changed!) and others displaying old farming implements as befits a pub named after a farming implement.  There are flagstones on the floor, shutters on the widows, open fires in the winter and nicotine-coloured lincrusta on the lower walls.  As well as being popular with the aforementioned cyclists it’s also a popular haunt for older locals. And it’s not hard to see why.  Whilst the Ship & Castle is now very much a gastro-pub The Plough maintains its position of being a traditional pub – but don’t let that make you think that the food isn’t up to much, because it is. The specials board offers such delights as venison, rabbit and chicken pie, chicken cassoulet or pheasant breast braised in cider.  However, I’m going to have what I had the last time I came … and I’ve been drooling about it ever since.

The tuna, cheese panini melt.  Yes.  I know it’s not a baguette. But it’s shaped like a squashed baguette. And for such a simple thing it’s simply delicious!  It comes with the obligatory side salad (which also includes sweetcorn) and a large handful of the most perfectly cooked chips imaginable.  When it comes to chips I’m incredibly fussy*. I don’t eat squishy chips. I don’t eat fat chips. I don’t eat big chips.  I eat crunchy chips. Small, crunchy chips. Small, crunchy, crispy chips.  And there are a fair few small, crunchy, crispy chips here. 

And what shall I have to wash it down with?  Hmmm.  On offer we have Stowford Press or Thatchers Dry on draught. Or Thatchers Katy and Gold in bottles.  That’s not to say there weren’t bottles of Magners and.or Bulmers, but if there were I didn’t notice them!  The proliferation of Thatchers cider in these parts seems to be at the possible expense of other smaller and more local producers.  Congresbury used to have a thriving cider farm some years ago and a few miles down the road in Hewish you’ll find Ben Crossman still making proper 6% farmhouse cider from apples grown in the family orchards.  All these independent pubs make such a fuss about selling real ale – I really think there could be an opportunity for the same pubs to stock a true local farmhouse cider as well as the over-processed stuff.

But I digress again.  I  mean, there are some who believe that Thatchers Dry is a proper traditional farmhouse cider … but to me it tastes as it looks – as if it is piped direct from the men’s urinal. I can’t help it. I find the orangey colour a little disconcerting and it always has a slight tang of mould – as if it has been made from all the apples that were bruised and battered and didn’t make the Gold grade. But I stoically soldier on and finish the glass - before ordering a pint of Stowford Press to see if that’s an improvement. It isn’t really, although I do wonder if next time I could purchase half a pint of each and mix them to make a truly palatable drink …

* There are those that say when it comes to food I am incredibly fussy, but don’t listen to them.  

Cider – 4
Tuna – 5
Atmosphere – 4 (Today it was full of locals – I prefer that to having to share space with the cyclists – I always have a problem knowing where to look when it comes to men in lycra …)

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Red Lion, Babcary

Sunday, nice day, must be due a walk and a pint of cider somewhere interesting!  The pub walk book is consulted, Babcary comes out top of the list and off we go.

The walk takes us through muddy bridleway after muddy bridleway before forcing us to get our feet wet trying to find the stepping stones through the ford that the book promises. I decide that in fact I’d rather use the bridge in the adjacent field, so crawl under a barbed wire fence (well actually, I lie on my tummy and pull myself under) to get to it.  The walk isn’t as interesting as some, but that may have been due to the time of year – there’s not a lot of wildlife or plantlife to view - although I do keep peering into the stream and ditches that we pass to see if I can see any signs of frogspawn, I am disappointed that I can’t.  The lack of leaves on trees and shrubs also means that I can’t play the hedge dating game.  And did I mention the mud?  Rather makes me wish I’d worn my wellies.

I try to wipe the worst of the mud off my boots when we get to the Red Lion, but it’s an impossible mission.  Most of it is dry, so I sneak to the toilet to try and wash the remains off.  This is top-of-the-range Range Rover and green wellington country, and it’s bad enough that, even if I had brushed my hair this morning (which I haven’t), the close encounters with several trees on the way here has merely served to accentuate my pulled-through-a-hedge-backwards look …

And of course it’s Sunday – everyone and anyone has popped in for the roast. I spy Stowford Press on draught, order a pint and sneak off to find a quiet table that looks suitable for scruffy oiks.  If I were a beer drinker I think I would be happy – they have a number of real ales available, and those on offer change on a frequent basis.  However, once again the cider drinker is left unloved.  Oh yes, I could have had a bottle of Gaymers Orchard Reserve … but any cider that ends with the letters “ers” isn’t really a cider in my opinion – no wonder Thatcher’s are going down the route of mass production.

The main menu offers attractions such as liver and onions @ £10.75 or a beef burger @ £8.25, but a small board next to the bar offers sandwiches … and rather exotic sandwiches at that! Roasted red pepper, tomato and hallumi, Hand carved honey roast ham, eggs and mustard, sirloin of beef with caramelised onion or chicken  and bacon with cheese.  No tuna. No crab. And no baguette! I choose the chicken.

It arrives, served in a ciabatta roll, with a large handful of crips and a delicious dressed salad that includes gherkins (yuk) and tiny pickled silverskin onions – makes a change from a handful of mixed leaf!  The steak is also served in a ciabatta, with hand cut rustic (i.e. unpeeled) chips.  It takes me an hour and and a second glass of cider, but I manage to leave the table without any of the roll in my handbag. That’s a first!!

Cider – 2
Tuna – (0) Chicken ciabatta – 4
Atmosphere – 2 (More of a dining pub than a pub pub)

The Pilchard Inn, Burgh Island

Across the water from Bigbury-on-sea you will find Burgh Island – although technically it’s only an island when the sea comes in.  It’s also the site of a restored 1920’s hotel and the setting for a couple of Agatha Christie’s detective.  I looked into booking a couple of nights in the hotel last year and was on the verge of doing so until I realised that I could have two weeks in the Maldives (including flights) for the same price …

But being in the area and spotting that the tide was out meant that we had to investigate … and if further encouragement were needed the Pilchard Inn could be seen in the distance just inviting us for a closer look! The area has a history steeped in smuggling and treasure and also used to be ripe for shoals of pilchards - fishermen used to launch their boats from the island shores. Now the pilchards and the fishermen have gone but the Inn remains, cashing in on the romanticism of being a “14th century smugglers Inn”.

We wander up to get a closer view of the hotel. The gates are locked shut  and warning notices inform us that the hotel area is “for guests only” … as are the benches with the views across the bay.  Everything seems to shout “Not for the likes of you”, so we decide to pop into the pub since the doors have just opened. On entering we find a very small snug area with seating for 18 – but across the other side of the bar is a larger room with a roaring log fire.  However on enquiry we are told that this area is for “Hotel Residents only”- more segregation!

But we are early and lucky enough to be able to get a table and the pub boasts a small selection of real ales together with two ciders – Thatcher’s or Heron Valley.  Yes, I’ll definitely have a Heron Valley!  The small bar quickly fills up and those who arrive half an hour later are forced to sit outside, it’s sunny but there is a nasty nip in the air … the hotel guests seem to have decided to stay in their rooms; their bar area remains empty.

Ah well, better make the most of having a table. No tuna baguettes here, still crab country you see.  But the crab baguette is beautifully presented – even if it has been taken from a huge pile of ready made ones! -  it’s wrapped in a napkin tastefully secured by a piece of string and obviously trying very hard to look rustic and 14th Century!  Rather amusingly I discover that, as well as serving the baguettes prepared at the hotel and sent down to feed the peasants, the Inn also offers evening food on a Friday night – but only for hotel residents - who perhaps want to live life a little close to the edge and visit a common pub for the evening!  It’s enough for me to decide that I really would rather go for the two weeks in the Maldives!

Cider – 3
Tuna – (0) but crab baguette 4
Atmosphere – 1

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Aquarium Bar, South Sands

Technically not a pub, but the bar of a hotel, the Aquarium Bar is named after the rather large fish tank which is built into the wall next to the bar. It is home to the biggest lobster I have ever seen, a couple of flat fish hiding in the sand and some snails.  Not exactly exotic, but in the event of an emergency it’s nice to see that there would be a bit of food available. The bar looks out over South Sands beach, which is situated just outside of Salcombe. I’m told property prices here are second only to those at Sandbanks, Poole and looking at the view I can well believe it!

So after a brisk walk up and down the surrounding hills to get here what better way to relax than with a cider. There’s nothing on draught, but a quick enquiry leads to the assertion that I can have a bottle of Bulmers … my face gave my feelings on that away … well, we also have some bottles of a local cloudy dry cider if you prefer?  Oooh yes please. 

It turns out to be Heron Valley. I take a sip – it’s delicious!  Cold and refreshing. Would I like another?  I don’t mind if I do.  This time I ask if I can have the bottle as well, which tells me that a full ten varieties of apples are used in the cider process – bearing further wonderful original names as well as the usual Dabinett and Kingston Black - Fair Maid of Devon, Hangy Down Clusters, Foxwhelp, Browns, Sheeps Nose, Ten Commandments, Pig Snout and my favourite – Slap me Girdle!

Much like fellow Devon producer Luscombes, Heron Valley also do a roaring trade in organic apple juice and ginger beer.  But I can fully recommend their cider – as an added bonus it is totally organic, without any of those sulphites added.

The bar is quiet today, it is a Friday after all and the holiday season is yet to begin in earnest, but I can imagine that it gets packed out in the summer months.   I consult the menu … no Tuna baguette here.  We’re in Crab country again – and Salcombe Crab at that!  A Salcombe Crab sandwich on brown sounds lovely.  And it is! Served with a small side salad of rocket and balsamic and a handful of crisps it tastes delicious. Although half is secreted in my handbag for afternoon tea …

Cider - 3 (Not much choice, but then you don’t need much choice when the cider tastes as good as this!)

Tuna - (0 – not on the menu) but Crab – 4 (The only way it could have been better is if it was Tuna …)

Atmosphere – 2 (Much too posh to be a proper pub, but the wonderful view made up for that!!)