Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Southampton Arms, West End, 26th April 2012

We'd arranged to meet in the square in time to catch the 12:18 No. 7 bus to West End.  Some gentlemen were unable to resist the temptation to stop for a quick one in the Crown while waiting for the bus, but (for once) Pieman resisted. So Nick, Si, Joe, Paul E and Paul T boarded the No. 7 bus full of anticipation for the delights that awaited them in West End, at The Southampton Arms. This was Paul T's first outing with the Pie Club and it was soon evident that he could barely contain his excitement.

On arrival we were greeted by a charming barmaid and immediately offered a choice of welcoming beers, including the always reliable Sharps Doombar 4%, the ever-popular Ringwood Best 3.8%, and (best saved until last) Ringwood FortyNiner 4.9%, as well as some other drinks favoured by our newer members.

We'd booked a table for 4, but there were 5 of us, and this seemed to cause a bit of consternation as the pub was quite busy and there weren't many spare tables. We were offered a choice of a table in the conservatory or one in the pub. Perhaps unwisely we chose the table in the conservatory. As we were shown to our table we noticed that the conservatory was full of old pensioners chewing steadily on their food, looking bored, and not talking much. Now some of Pieman's best friends are old pensioners, and he's one himself,  but this can be a bit off-putting. On the positive side, though, this probably indicates a value-for-money pub. And anyway, Paul E soon started to liven the place up a bit. Later on, Joe suggested that in future we should avoid tables in conservatories, and we all agreed.

There was only one pie on the menu (actually a Steak & Kidney Pudding), which should have made the ordering process easy. We ordered 5 pies but were then a bit puzzled when the waitress asked us if we wanted our pies with vegetables. Pieman asked if there was any alternative. She said "there's always one awkward one" and offered chips as an alternative. What? One or the other, but not both? Still confused, some of us ordered vegetables and some ordered chips.

When the food arrived we discovered that "vegetables" meant mixed veg with new potatoes, and "chips" meant chips with frozen peas.

The Steak & Kidney puddings were gigantic. The chips, peas, new potatoes and mixed veg were all nicely cooked, although the mixed veg included a mysterious yellow substance that looked like scrambled eggs. We all tasted it: it was quite tasteless and we were unable to identify it. Eventually we asked the waitress what it was and she told us it was mashed swede. The gravy was a bit gloopy, and should have been served separately, in a jug.  We all agreed that the Steak & Kidney puddings were excellent, and huge.

The service wasn't very good, but in their defence we have to concede that the two waitresses were kept very busy dealing with all the old folks and didn't have much time to spare for trouble-makers like us. We got the impression that they were mother and daughter, but we couldn't tell which was the mother and which was the daughter. They wouldn't bring fresh beers to the table for us - we had to go to the bar each time.

It is a value-for-money pub. The main courses were £7.95 each.  Most of us were too stuffed by the enormous Steak & Kidney puddings and couldn't manage any puddings, but Nick managed some Stewed Fruit & Custard (£1.95):

 Paul E had Apple Crumble with Custard & Ice Cream (£3.95), which looked good but he wasn't able to finish it:

The beer was good value for money as well, averaging around £3/pint, but due to the poor ambience in the pub (ands the fact that we had a bus to catch) we left after only having had 3 pints there. We made up for that by stopping off at the Crown on our way home. We had thought of moving on to the Rosebowl to watch some cricket, but the weather was grim so we didn't bother.  Some of us had to have a lie down when we got home, to recover from the Steak & Kidney puddings, which (did I mention this before?) were big

Scores for The Southampton Arms, West End (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 3.8
  • Filling 3.9
  • Beer 4.1
  • Ambience 3.1
  • Value 4.2
  • Overall 19.1
This is quite a respectable score. The food, drink and value for money were good, but the pub was let down by its ambience, and nobody feels any great urge to return to this pub for another go.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Bugle Inn, Botley, 29th March 2012

The plan was for the Pie Club members to meet up at the bus stop in Bishops Waltham square at 12.00 noon. Unfortunately Joe, Si, and new member Steve (welcome) arrived early, happened to notice that the Crown Inn was open, and right next door to the bus stop. This pub has only very recently re-opened after a very expensive refit, so they decided to check it out and have a quick one in The Crown while waiting for the others to catch up. 

Unfortunately, they don't serve pies there. Otherwise we would have had this Pie Club meeting in The Crown.

Nevertheless, a well refreshed Joe, Si & Steve still managed to get to the bus stop by noon to meet up with Trev and Nick, just as they were boarding the No. 8 bus to Botley. This bus goes all around the place, seemingly visiting every little hamlet for miles around, but eventually we arrived in Botley, and headed straight for The Bugle Inn.

We were welcomed by the landlord, and noticed immediately that there was a fine selection of ales available: the excellent Bowman's Wallops Wood 4%, the always popular Sharp's Doombar 4% , and (maybe a bit strong for lunch time) Gale's HSB 4.8%.   

We settled down for our first pint, some having Wallops Wood, and others having Doombar, and surveyed our surroundings. The landlord had taken us to a table in the dining area of the pub, where there were no other customers, so we had the place to ourselves, although there were several drinkers in the other bar that we could hear.  There was no garden to sit in. We had our second pint then decided it was time to order some food. As there was only one pie on the menu it didn't take us long to decide what to order. 2 of us opted to have chips instead of new potatoes. We didn't have to wait long for the food.

  The pies had the correct short-crust pastry, a Steak & Mushroom filling, pre-applied gravy, and a selection of freshly-cooked vegetables: Cauliflower, carrots, and red cabbage.  Some of us (perhaps those who were hungriest) thought they were OK - nothing special but OK - but others were quite put off by the smell, and one of our members was actually unable to finish eating his pie*.

We'd also noticed some strange smells coming from the loos (or were they coming from the kitchens?). To be fair, this pub has a Lebanese chef, and a full menu of Lebanese food available (but no Lebanese pies, which might have been interesting). Maybe that accounted for some of the strange smells.

There was a tempting selection of puddings available, but by now we'd had enough, so we decided to skip the puddings:

As we left the pub, someone suggested walking just around the corner to The Brewery Bar to see if we could get some puddings there. This is not a bad looking pub, with a good food menu (including some pies) and a fine selection of ales:

It was a lovely sunny day so we sat outside in the garden and had a pint while we considered the pudding menu.  In the end we didn't bother with the puddings, and after a couple of pints we caught the bus back to Bishops Waltham.  We quite liked the look of the Brewery Bar, and decided that it was probably worth a proper Pie Club assessment later in the year.

As we got off the bus in Bishops Waltham, someone happened to notice that the Crown Inn was open, and right next door to the bus stop. This pub has only very recently re-opened after a very expensive refit, so we decided to check it out and have a quick one in garden at the front, in the sun.  As we were sitting there enjoying our pints, we got chatting with a young couple sitting at the next table who turned out to be JK and Lucy, presenters of Heart South Coast Breakfast Show.

Lucy got quite friendly with one of the Pie Club members, but Pieman feels honour-bound to reveal no more, and certainly won't publish any photos! The Pie Club got a mention on their show the next morning.

Scores for The Bugle, Botley (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 3.3
  • Filling 3.6
  • Beer 3.6
  • Ambience 2.7
  • Value 3.4
  • Overall 16.6

* On checking the Pie Club constitution, Pieman was surprised to see that there is nothing in the rules about penalties for leaving a pie half uneaten. Pieman would have thought that the offending member would at least have to buy a round.