Friday 30 March 2012

The food of sweet and bitter fancy

“Let’s take Kaz out for a pub lunch, while we’re at it” she said. “The weather looks like it’s going to be lovely, and it’ll make a nice change………….”

“While we’re at what?” you might ask.

We were planning to go up-country to open up our weekend retreat after the winter, and Granddaughter Karen was coming with us to lend a hand, since Susie is still in disabled mode after her accident. (v. “ Break a Leg” supra )

Sharon (Susie’s number two daughter) had recently told us in fairly glowing terms about a picturesque little country watering hole just off the main Worcester road that she, husband Mark and the boys had been to for lunch. “OK Suse”, I said, “ Let’s try that one out – I’ll give ‘em a ring and book – they’re bound to be busy Sunday lunchtime.” Whilst checking for details online, I took a look at some of their menus, and the food looked pretty good, if a tad expensive. No matter – we don’t treat ourselves to a meal out very often. Mainly because at the kind of gastronomic and financial level within our reach, I can usually cook better than they can.
Sunday dawned into a beautiful sunny day – you don’t often get temperatures in the 70s in mid March – and the drive down was a delight, once we’d got Susie’s leg (which has impacted on our lives to the extent that it has taken on a malevolent persona of its own) into the car.

So we did the business with the caravan, caught up on all the local goss with the neighbours, manoeuvred The Leg back into the car, closely followed by Susie, her walking frame and a pair of crutches “just in case”, and at about 2 o’clock set out for lunch.

The directions on the website looked simple enough – and proclaimed that we’d see a large sign on the RHS of the main road, at which point we should turn right onto an unpaved lane, and we’d find the pub about 400 yards on the right. They even showed a picture of said sign on the website. Easy-peasy, especially as I’d seen it before, and knew roughly where it was, anyway.

Or I thought I did. We went through the “It can’t be much further – try round the next bend” routine without seeing the promised sign, until we were half way to bloody Worcester. (And why is it that when you’re looking to turn right, but aren’t entirely sure where, you invariably get some idiot driving right up your arse?) Anyway – I decided that we must have passed the turning, and so as soon as we safely could we hung a 180 and retraced our steps. It wasn’t until we got back to roughly where I thought the pub was in the first place that we saw a large empty metal frame from which the alleged sign used to hang, and a small a4 size notice with <-- PUB inscribed on it. Thanks, guys.

So we did a left onto what turned out to be a very bumpy cart track. Which normally wouldn’t have mattered, except that since The Leg entered our lives the first thing that Susie says when we get into the car is “Please be careful going over any bumps” to which protuberances The Leg (not unreasonably) objects, bigtime.

So after about a quarter of a mile of anguished groans and unladylike language, we arrived. To find that the only way into the premises was along a cobbled path about 40 feet in length. Now – I don’t suppose you’ve tried to hobble on one foot with a walking frame along an uphill cobblestone path without putting any weight on the other leg – no, neither have I, but I guess that as an experience it ranges from well tricky to dead painful. Both at once, probably. To her credit, Susie managed it, but by the time she reached the pub garden fifteen minutes later she’d had enough. So we sat her down at a table kindly vacated by a young couple who had watched her epic struggle, and I went inside to sort out food and drinks. I told them that we’d booked a table in the restaurant, explained that there was no way Susie was going to make it that far, and why, and could we eat outside?

“No problem”, they said. “let me know what drinks you want, and I’ll bring them out and explain the menu to you.” I vaguely wondered what she meant – I’m pretty good at menus by now, in a variety of languages, even including rural English, and I don’t normally need them explained. But I was soon to find out.

The main event on the menu was Sunday Roast Lunch. Fine - we agreed – we’ll have that. “But I must tell you” quoth the waitress, looking somewhat embarrassed, and no wonder – “We’ve been very busy today - the Roast Beef is finished, as is the Roast Pork, the Roast Lamb and the Roast Chicken”

As Kaz remarked later – it takes real talent to advertise a Sunday Roast and to have completely run out of the main ingredient. The RSC offering up Hamlet but without the Prince springs to mind.

“Doesn’t leave a lot”, I pointed out. “What’s left?”

“ The Salmon’s nice – or the chef can do you a fillet steak with the rest of the Sunday Roast trimmings. Or there’s a Vegetarian Bake.”

( I ask you – do I look like a Vegetarian Bake kinda guy? )

So Kaz and I plumped for the fillet steak, and Suse went for the salmon. We sipped our drinks, and waited for the food to arrive. Thirty five minutes later, we were still waiting.

When it finally arrived, Susie’s salmon looked passable, and was fairly substantial, but whereas Kaz and I were expecting a decent lump of filet each, what we were presented with was three wafer-thin slices cooked in gravy. Plus a selection of (cold-ish) vegetables. All this at a tenner a plateful.

We were going to have puddings, but the consensus was “cobblers to this” so I went in to pay the bill (nearly 40 sovs for three insubstantial one-course meals, a coke, an orange juice and a pint of cooking bitter) and three disappointed and still hungry diners and A Leg did the reverse cobblestones and cart track bit, and finally headed for home. Where I rustled up sausages, bacon, egg and chips for an early supper. Luvverly!

So, when I saw Sharon on the Monday, I suggested that if she had any ambitions to be a restaurant critic, she maybe shouldn’t give up the day job right away. “But it’s a lovely pretty pub,” she said. Which it was – a little old thatched building that looked like it had grown there. She meant well, bless her, and It would have been churlish to point out that I don’t by and large go to pubs for the architecture. Especially Sunday lunchtime.