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 …)

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