Friday, 25 May 2018

THE SHOE INN - Shoe lane, Exton

After several nudges from our readers, we were pushed inexorably in the direction of Exton this week to pay a visit to The Shoe Inn. We had tried to visit several times over the Winter, but both times found it full to bursting. This time I had the foresight to book a table, so nothing could stand in our way, although we did get a tiny bit lost on the way.

Due to the obvious popularity of this pub, parking can be a minor issue, but luck was with us and we secured what may have been the last space. This is a pretty pub, in the pretty countryside, with a pretty river running nearby, so if you like pretty, you're off to a good start. As I mentioned, it is always busy here, so do book. This is a prime argument for the power of diversification. What was once a traditional country pub, has now become more of a pub come restaurant, with the entirety of the space given over to accommodate eaters of food. This said, it still retains some of that old country pub charm. You are never going to get a table to yourself in a nice quiet corner, but we got the next best thing, a table in the corner without the quiet bit.

The menu was clearly of a high spec, with starters between £5 and £8 and mains averaging around the £14 mark. Whilst I debated with myself over the fish tacos, the onion, chickpea and coriander falafel or the Korean chicken burger with sweet potato fries, Dad had already made his mind up. He was to go with one of his favourites, ham, egg and chips at £10 from memory. I eventually picked the burger, having never really had much to do with Korean food. This came in at £13.

Our drinks order was taken at the table, nice bonus. We were then brought some homemade bread with a generous pot of butter, extra bonus points. We ordered food and lo it arrived. My burger was a monster. Bursting out from the confines of its bun, a feat of organic engineering was required to lift it to my mouth. For a moment I feared a collapse of burger society, but balance was found and the first bite was taken. It was good, very good. Inside the bread was a substantial peace of chicken, juicy in the middle and coated with crispy crumbs. This was topped with tomato and pineapple. After carefully placing the rest of the burger down, it was on to the sweet potato fries. They were also very good, and homemade, which is very rare for fries of the sweet potato family. Dad wasn't quite as impressed with his meal. It was good, but not of the same ilk as my choice. He believed the chips to be from a frozen branch of the potato dynasty, but the side salad was nicely dressed and the ham and eggs were good.  Incidentally, the bread was excellent. I particularly appreciated being given a good amount of butter.

Just over the road from the pub, is a lovely beer garden. We retired here after eating to discuss. Some of the service we encountered was perfect, other parts slightly less so. My food was five star, Dad's more four. The prices are about what you would expect for high end pub food, and the bread is a nice touch. Personally I felt the tables were a little too close to each other, but that's just one of my peeves. This is without question a high quality foodie pub selling wonderful and imaginative food. I would love to come here in the Summer and eat in the beer garden with the sound of the river in my ears. It's certainly worth a visit, but do book ahead.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 7
Food                    8.5
Value                   8
Verdict                 4.5*

Friday, 18 May 2018

THE CASTLE IN THE AIR - 49 Old Gosport road, Fareham

When Dad picked me up today, he had a plan, and that plan involved a trip to Fareham. He knew of a pub on Fareham quay, just the sort of place you want to visit on a warm and sunny Friday. I committed to the plan, aware that Fareham wasn't on our top five most visited areas. Suddenly eager for a taste of something new, we pulled on our invisible reviewing hats and set off.

We were lucky enough to get a parking space, and then were lucky enough to get a table outside, seemed our luck was in. It was a bit of a letdown when we discovered that you couldn't really see much of the sea from the outside seating. Summoning up our reserves of pub power we refused to be disheartened and got stuck in to the menu. There was an immediate whiff of Weatherspoons about the food on offer, and I don't mean that in a bad way. A wide selection of burgers, pub classics, (2 for £10 something), and a meal plus drink offer. There was a wide selection of options including at least three types of pie, although one of those seemed to be a peppered mushroom pie, I'm not a fan of mushrooms. Everything was advertised at incredibly reasonable prices, most meals well under £10. Once our in-depth analysis was complete, we made our choices. Dad selected the mixed grill at £12. This included rump steak, sausages, chicken, chips, eggs, tomato, I think that was it. I went for, and bear with me here, a chicken and stuffing Yorkie wrap. I've never had one before. If you give me the option of a Yorkshire pudding filled with chicken and stuffing, of course I'm going to have it, and the cherry on the top, £6. It also came with peas.

The service throughout our visit is probably best described as distracted. There was quite a lot of waiting while conversations were finished, a few confusions with prices and orders, and then there was "Garlic-Gate". We ordered some garlic bread to start. This was taken very literally, appearing a full 10 seconds before our mains were delivered. Before we talk about food, let's just confirm the value here. You can get quite a lot of food for not much money, which can only be good, but value must be effected by quality. The Yorkie wrap was a bit tough, but it did indeed contain chicken and stuffing. The chips were okay, I wouldn't call them gourmet as advertised, and my peas were peas. I did also get a pot of gravy. Dad's steak was tough and overcooked and we aren't quite sure what had happened to the chicken. He gave me some and I struggled with it. Every time I tried to eat some I was getting a mouthful of strange texture.

It's funny how things can change so quickly. One minute you're sitting in a pub garden getting excited about some great value honest pub food, then you come crashing back to earth realising that things generally are too good to be true. Coming up with a concept is one thing, but the execution of that concept is quite another. If you can turn out decent, basic food at a good price, more power to you. There's nothing wrong with that, Weatherspoons have turned it in to an art form. But if the low price food you sell is of low quality, how many people will come back? Me and Dad always have a lovely time wherever we go, but you have probably noticed by now that food wise, this one was a bit disappointing.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 5
Food                    6
Value                   8
 Verdict                3*

Friday, 11 May 2018

THE FLYING BULL - London rd, Rake, Liss

Baring in mind what I do, it's not very often I come across a pub, not a million miles away, that I haven't encountered before. This is exactly what happened whilst rummaging through tinternet for as yet unexplored pub potential. Kean to pay a visit to this unearthed treasure, I called up my brother on the gastrohub hotline and made a b-line for The Flying Bull.

The day had started out as a warm and sunny companion, but was looking a bit indecisive. We decided to stick to our original intension and brave it out in the beer garden, come what may. This is, or was, a traditional coach house, and all that character remains in the best possible way. From the open fires to the friendly service, everything felt good about this pub.

The sun fought bravely to beat the clouds away, leaving us bathed in a warming glow, made that much sweeter by sitting in a pub garden. We explored the menu from top to bottom, as well as our very own little specials board, an idea I like very much. Although there were plenty of interesting options, we both decided it was time for our own private burger-fest. Tom choosing the beef burger, while I went for the chicken coated in 13 herbs and spices. The beef version was just under £12, while the chicken came in at a pound more. Each were to be served with chips and coleslaw.

 As we drank, chatted and enjoyed the sun, it seemed that no time had passed before our food was delivered. It was one of those beautiful moments when you just know everything is going to be alright. I started with a chip and nearly fell off my bench. It was stunning, one of the best pub chips ever. I'm under strict instructions not to go on about chips, so let's leave it at that. Both the burgers were truly immense, both in taste and in stature. Tom decided it would have to be a knife and fork job. I just about managed to keep my burger under control with my bare hands, but it was close. We both agreed that these were fine examples of burgers. More than generously filled, and accompanied by some world class chips and a lovely homemade coleslaw.

The excellent, yet subtle service was also worthy of note. Whilst talking with the landlord, we found out that my chicken burger was in its first flight on the specials board, just having been added. When asked how the burger was, I said something very complimentary and that it should be added to the main menu, never to leave. Everyone working here was friendly and helpful, but more importantly it was genuine. No fake smiles here.

Having found this pub, I was delighted to find it of a high quality. Both the pub itself and the food it serves have given me more than enough reason to return. If you find yourself travelling through Rake on the London road, give yourself a treat and pull over at The Flying Bull.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 9
Food                    9
Value                   8
Verdict                 5*

Monday, 30 April 2018

THE WOODMANCOTE - Woodmancote Lane, Emsworth

This week I was joined by two friends who had yet to taste the power of pub reviews. We were to visit The Woodmancote. A pub which I had visited only once before, back in the mists of time. So today, the three of us would put on our helmets of righteous justice and review for all that we were worth.

It was immediately obvious that the pub was busy. Not all together surprising on a Friday night, but a good sign never the less. Fait was certainly on our side, as we nabbed what looked to be the last available table. We found ourselves in the snug, surrounded by some rather quirky art work. This included several pictures of cows with bananas for horns, something which tickled me nicely. The atmosphere was excellent, as you might expect in a warm and busy pub. Everyone was eating, drinking and having a good time.

Drinks orders were taken and menus delivered. As we waited for the former, we got stuck in to the latter. There was a good selection on offer, much of it at very reasonable prices. After much deliberation, and a firm decision to all order something different, we opted for the following. Michelle, chicken burger, Martin, chicken breast stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon, Me, good old fish and chips. As a rough guide to the cost factor, these all came in around £12. If the food was to be impressive, this would prove good value in deed.

As we drank, chatted and waited for our food, we all agreed that there was a lovely feel to the pub. Somewhere you could happily while away your evening. When the food arrived, there was great excitement, at least in my empty stomach. It was immediately clear to me that I had a piece of fish to be reckoned with. It was comfortingly on the large side and the batter was a master peace. Thick, crispy and tasty, surrounding a beautiful and perfectly cooked fillet of haddock. Each of us were blessed with chips from the same family, descended from that old school, proper chip branch of the family tree, or potato plant. They were a delicious part of the meals, rather than a bland carby accompaniment. If I could suggest one thing about my meal, it would be the option of mushy peas. Although Michelle had chosen to have the burger without a bun, thus rendering it less than a burger and more of a chicken breast, I am told it was wonderful and flavoursome, also served with a salad. Martin thoroughly enjoyed his bacon wrapped, stuffed chicken. Even though he isn't the biggest fan of blue cheese, he said it was beautiful, and would happily eat it again. His chicken was also accompanied by a salad, which was well dressed, unlike me.

When I last visited The Woodmancote, all those years ago, I came away not really knowing how I felt about it. This time, the answer is clear and unequivocal. This was a busy, thriving pub, quirky in places, but full of atmosphere. And the massive cherry on the top, was the fantastic food. All three of us agreed that our meals were excellent, taken up a notch by some good homemade chips. Just a further note on said chips. Martins meal did originally come with skinny fries, so he asked if they could be swopped, this was indeed a possibility. It made me think. Why offer skinny fries when you make such wonderful chips of your own? That's enough about chips. The ultimate question, as always is...Would you return? For us, that was an easy answer. We would all come back in a heartbeat. If you get  the chance, try it out yourselves.

Atmosphere          9
Service                 7
Food                    9
Value                   8.5
Verdict                 5*
Visit our facebook page

Monday, 16 April 2018

THE SQUARE COW - The Square, Wickham

It's not very often that you get the chance to try out a new pub, as in a pub that hasn't been a pub long. That was the case today, when we visited The Square Cow in Wickham. We found out about it a few weeks back, and promptly slid it up to the top of our pubs to visit list.

At first glance, this doesn't seem like the biggest of pubs, but then you find out the truth, there is another floor. In fact there are three, but the second floor was roped off. Not sure if there are plans to extend the pub over three levels. This is a very old building in deed, dating back to the 16th century, and it's history is in evidence. From the oak beams to the medieval preserved art on the first floor, you can sense the time that has passed here.

The foodie element of the pub is focused on the first floor, so up we went. We were given our menu's, including a special one, and the time to ponder our short term foodie futures. We were first struck by the very reasonable pricing, mains ranging between £8 and £12 on average. There were plenty of options, including jackets, salads and a range of burgers. I was originally drawn to the goats cheese and red pepper quiche on the specials board, only to find out I was too late and it had sold out. I defaulted to a classic chicken burger with cheese. Dad went for the pie of the day, today that meant lamb. Pies are served with a choice of mash or chips, Dad obviously went for the mash. We also thought we would treat ourselves to some garlic bread to start, giving us some extra time to take everything in.

The pub was fairly busy, and therefore, so were the staff. This however did not detract from their quality of service, which was friendly and slick. There was a comfortable feel to the pub, with music playing at just the right level. This made it easy to relax and enjoy our time. The garlic bread came before too long, and was of a generous size. It was also a good quality of garlic bread, crisp and moist in all the right places. Then it was time for the main event. Dad's pie was a very good pie, full of tender pieces of lamb. The mash was smooth and well seasoned, and the vegetables well cooked. My burger was very tasty indeed, the juicy chicken held between a nice toasted bun. My salad was fresh and well dressed with some extra effort going in to the spiralised cucumber. I had the option of chips or sweet potato fries, I went for the latter. They were also good, but as is usually the case with sweet potato fries, they weren't home made.

We had a lovely time at The Square Cow. We had no issues with the food or the service. The pricing was very good, with a good selection of food on offer. We should give one more nod to the quality service we experienced, this is so often missing or overlooked at many pubs / restaurants. We would happily return here, and are delighted to welcome a good new pub in to the fold.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 9
Food                    8
Value                   8.5
Verdict                 4.5*