Unfortunately Doug was unable to join us for this outing, so it was Trev, Si, and Joe who (perhaps surprisingly) managed to all catch the same bus. Nick already had some business to attend to in Twyford, so met us at the pub.
Some might say that this place is rather more of a restaurant and less of a pub, but as we were warmly greeted by the barmaid and shown to the comfortable leather sofas in front of the blazing log fire to sup our first pints of beer we all thought "this'll do nicely". The ales on offer were Bowman Ales Swift One 3.8% (our perennial favourite, at £3.25/pint), The Governor 3.8% (Marco Pierre White's own brew, from Manchester), Flowerpots Goodens Gold 4.8%, and Flowerpots IPA 6%. A fine selection of ales. We thought it wise to save the stronger ales until later, so we all settled down with pints of Swift One while we studied the menus.
As there was only one pie available on the menu, it didn't take us long to decide what to order. We had been hoping for a venison and port pie, but unfortunately it wasn't available as the local butcher didn't have any venison. So we all ordered the Steak and Ale Pie, or (to quote the menu) "freshly baked pie made with Hampshire beef and local Flowerpots Bitter, served with creamy potato and celeriac mash and fruity braised red cabbage £12.95":
Except Joe asked for his pie to be served with the rather more traditional peas and chips:
The first thing we noticed about the pies was that they were individual pies instead of slices from a large pie. In general we are not so keen on individual pies because if they are fully encased in pastry (as they should be) then the ratio of pastry to filling tends to be too high. In this case, however, this was not a problem as the chef had introduced an interesting variation: the pastry was thin on top but with thick bevelling around the edge, and there was a thin layer of pastry extending down the sides. There was no pastry at the bottom of the pie. The second thing we noticed was that it was puff pastry, which we normally disapprove of. The third thing we noticed was the lack of any unnecessary garnishing - no unwelcome sprigs of parsley or other greenery.
However, the proof of the pie is in the eating, and here (with the possible exception of Nick) we were all very impressed. The pastry was delicious. The filling was near-perfect, "a complex fabric of complimentary flavours" to quote Nick. The vegetables were delicious. Joe was so impressed with his chips that he let us all have a taste, and we all agreed they were perfect. Portion sizes were just right so we still had room for puddings.
The puddings were also exceptionally good. Nick had the fresh fruit pavlova with double cream, mint & coulis, which looked fabulous:
Trev had freshly baked gooey chocolate pudding with Jude's vanilla pod ice cream (delicious, apparently):
Si had Chocolate, Orange and Cointreau pot with amoretti biscuit and Jude's hazlenut ice cream. He thought the pot was a bit difficult to finish as it was so rich:
And Joe was content to have just a scoop of ice cream:
The general ambience of the pub was very good. It was modern, clean and comfortable. The service was excellent. There were a few other customers there (mostly women), but not enough to spoil our enjoyment of what was an exceptionally fine meal. There was background music, but it was tasteful, and we didn't even notice it until we retired back to the sofas for our last pint. At this point Si couldn't resist trying a pint of the Flowerpots IPA 6%, which was sufficient to render him comatose for a few hours when he got home.
The final bill came to £32.50 each, so it was not a cheap meal, and this is reflected in the scores for value-for-money.
A final small point of detail: the beer was served in glasses with built-in finger-grips! Attention to detail like that can make such a difference:
Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
- Pastry 4.05
- Filling 4.175
- Beer 4.2
- Ambience 4.375
- Value 3.5
- Overall 20.3
There won't be a pie club meeting in December, to allow more time for members to sample mince pies. So the next meeting will be on 26th January 2012. At this time 2 pie club members will be in Australia, so we can all look forward to some reports on Australian pies!