Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge, 28th November 2012

Since our last visit to one of our favourite local pubs,  The Hampshire Bowman, there has been mounting consternation among Pie Club members since we heard that the pub had closed. You will doubtless recall that when we visited there on 21st April 2011 the pie was rated very highly indeed, and in fact went on to win the coveted Pie of the Year award for 2011. So when we heard that the pub had reopened under new management, we felt obliged to pay a visit as soon as possible, but there was a problem.

After the wettest summer in a million years it still hasn't stopped raining, and conditions underfoot are really bad, making it virtually impossible for us to walk there. It's a delightful walk when conditions are good - not too far, but far enough to allow the walker to work up a decent thirst and a bit of an appetite - but under these conditions we decided for once to abandon our principles and go by taxi. So we met up outside The Bishops Waltham Tandoori (a fine curry house, by the way, but unfortunately they don't do pies there) and waited patiently for the taxi to arrive. Having ordered an 8-seater, a 6-seater came; the driver offered to do 2 trips instead of one, so some of us had a wait a little longer.

This was the first occasion on which all Pie Club members were present.

On arrival, things looked reassuringly unchanged:

 And as you walk into the pub the first thing to see is a sight to gladden the heart of any serious ale drinker:

A glance at the beer board confirmed that the ales available here are up to the usual high standard that we've come to expect from this pub (or at least most of them are):

When faced with such a choice of beers it was difficult to know where to start, so some of us took the easy option and decided to work our way down the list from top to bottom. Those who tried it all agreed that the Bushy's Ruby Mild was poor, probably getting near the end of the barrel, and had been reduced in price for a good reason. The other ales were all excellent, with special commendation for the South Sea Spice 3.9%, which has a subtle touch of ginger in it. The Guinness drinker remarked that the Guinness tasted a bit metallic.

We spoke to Mark, the new landlord

who did his best to allay all our concerns about the future of this pub by telling us that the only thing he plans to change is the service and staff morale, which seems fare enough. He confirmed that there will always be at least 5 ales available, and, being a free house, he intends to introduce new beers on a regular basis. And  there was evidence for this:

We'll see. He looks a bit young to be a pub landlord.

The menu looked very interesting, although smaller than we're used to, but allowances should be made for this being mid-week in winter:

 There being only one pie on the menu, Lamb & Leek, we all chose to have Lamb & Leek Pie. When it arrived it looked magnificent:

Short-crust pastry all around, holding a filling crammed with vegetables and succulent pieces of lean tender lamb and plenty of tasty gravy. The only slight criticism was that the gravy had been pre-applied, whereas we prefer it to be served separately in a jug. The accompanying vegetables, chips, and mashed potato were very nicely cooked, and there were plenty of them:

Judging by all the empty plates at the end of the meal, we all found it very satisfactory. Some of us even had room for a pudding, but there was NO CUSTARD! We had to make do with ice cream instead:

(Strictly speaking, puddings do not form part of our assessment as we are concerned only with pies and ales). 

The ambience of the pub was generally very good, although it was a quiet mid-week lunchtime so there weren't many other customers around. Mark gave us a nice welcome when we arrived; the pub was busy but not too crowded; it was easy to get served at the bar; the table service was excellent; the pub was clean; and there were still no unnecessary distractions such as music or fruit machines. A  problem for some is that this pub is a country pub and therefore attracts a number of people with dogs. In fact the new landlord owns dogs himself. On this occasion the dogs were all well behaved - no barking, scrapping, begging for food, and no dog mess on the floor. But all the same, some people don't like there being so many dogs in the pub, and our score for ambience reflects this.

On value for money the score was good. The pie was only £9. The beers are all very reasonably priced.

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 4.16
  • Filling 4.28
  • Beer 4.03
  • Ambience 3.72
  • Value 4.41
  • Overall 20.6
Congratulations to Mark. This was a very enjoyable outing for us all. The score of 20.6 is not far off our previous score for the Bowman, which was 21.5, and is highly commendable. Some of us were surprised with the final outcome, which is that the Bowman ranks only 4th in the pubs we have visited this year. With a score of 22.7, the winner of the prestigious Pie of the Year Award for 2012 is The Wheatsheaf Inn, Shedfield, which we visited on 29th May.

Congratulations and thanks to all Pie Club members for another year of devotion to the cause. There will be no formal Pie Club meeting in December because of something called Christmas, but Pieman expects that there will be a number of informal gatherings, and reminds all members that Mince Pies are actually a form of pie and expects you all to do your duty.

The next meeting is arranged for 31st January 2013.