Friday, 13 December 2013

Pie Club AGM at The Wheatsheaf, Shedfield, 12th December 2013

For the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Pie Club we chose to meet at the pub which won our coveted 2012 Pie of the Year Award: The Wheatsheaf at Shedfield.  In truth we were keen to meet there as it was a good excuse to sample one of their pies again, but more on that later. 

Pieman has asked that we do not disclose most of what was discussed at the AGM as it was a private matter, for members only, and many of the items on the agenda were of a sensitive nature. However, he has allowed us to report on one item: the decision regarding the winner of the 2013 Pie of the Year Award. This is clearly a matter of great interest to many people.  Pieman felt that we should show some compassion for the contenders and put them out of their misery by announcing the winner straight away, so here we go.

Here are the results of our investigations to date. Out of interest we show the scores of all the pies that we have sampled since that historic occasion in 2011 when we had our first outing, although obviously only those pubs that we visited in 2013 are eligible to be considered for this highly-coveted award.


2011                        DATE O/A PIE O/A PIE
 SCORE SCORE RANK RANK
The Brickmakers 20/01/11 16.33 7.50 6 5
The Rising Sun 01/03/11 19.25 7.13 5 6
The White Horse 31/03/11 16.20 7.10 8 7
The Hampshire Bowman 21/04/11 21.50 9.00 1 1
The Barleycorn 23/06/11 20.38 7.73 2 3
The Black Dog 28/07/11 19.65 7.98 4 4
The Farmer's Home 27/10/11 16.30 6.63 7 8
The Bugle, Twyford 24/11/11 20.30 8.23 3 2
2012                     DATE O/A PIE O/A PIE
SCORE SCORE RANK RANK
The Robin Hood  23/02/12 19.63 7.63 6 7
The Bugle 29/03/12 16.60 6.90 8 8
Southampton Arms, 26/04/12 19.10 7.70 7 6
The Wheatsheaf 29/05/12 22.71 9.20 1 1
The Brewery Bar, 28/06/12 20.50 8.58 5 3
The Brickmakers, 26/07/12 21.78 8.78 2 2
The Black Dog 27/09/12 20.98 8.25 3 5
The Dog & Crook 25/10/12 16.11 4.82* 9 9 * crusty
The Hampshire Bowman29/11/12  20.60    8.44 4 4
2013                  DATE O/A PIE O/A PIE
SCORESCORE  RANK RANK 
The Queen Inn 31/01/13 20.83 8.20 4 4
The Wheatsheaf 28/02/13 award event only
St James Tavern 28/03/13 19.10 6.51 8 10
The Barleycorn 25/04/13 19.37 7.59 7 7
The Crown 30/05/13 16.71 7.00 10 9
The Cricketers 27/06/13 19.63 7.37 6 8
The White Lion 25/07/13 21.24 8.82 1 1
The Brushmaker's Arms 22/08/13 21.22 8.76 2 2
The Bush 26/09/13 20.64 8.50 5 3
The Fox & Hounds31/10/13    18.38 7.87 9 6
The Baker's Arms 28/11/13    20.91 8.04 3 5

It was an easy decision to make. The White Lion at Soberton is a clear and deserving winner. Our hearty congratulations go to Alan, the landlord at the White Swan, who must be feeling pretty pleased with himself now.  Reading the report of our visit to the White Lion (which can be seen here) brings back many happy memories for all who were there, and even brings a few tears to our eyes.  We hope to visit the White Lion in February to formally present Alan with our prestigious Pie of the Year Award. We're hoping that we can persuade Pieman to join us for this outing and present the award to Alan in person, but he is becoming increasingly reclusive these days. Hopefully we will be able to entice him out of his secret underground bunker (somewhere under the streets of Bishops Waltham) with the prospect of sampling a truly excellent pie.  

With the business of the AGM out of the way we got on with sampling once again the ales and pie which had been thoughtfully provided for us.  Of course we were eager to see if the pie would be as good as it had been on previous occasions, and we weren't disappointed.  This time it was a Steak & Kidney Pie:



This was our AGM, so we didn't do a full formal assessment of the pie (for that you should read the report of our visit in 2012 here) but our informal judgement was that this pie was every bit as good as the pies we've had before.  As you might expect, the ales were mostly from the Flowerpots Brewery in Cheriton, and all in very good condition, although we did observe that prices have gone up a bit since our last visit. The ales now range from £2.70 to £3.00 per pint.  This is still exceptionally good value. To put these beer prices into context, you can have 4 pints here for less than the price of 3 pints in certain other pubs in the area.

Looking at the scores achieved by The Wheatsheaf in 2012 and The White Lion in 2013, The Wheatsheaf is still our overall highest scorer.  We are thinking of making The Wheatsheaf our club headquarters.



Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Bakers Arms, Droxford, 28th November 2013

For a special treat this time we decided to pay a visit to The Bakers Arms, Droxford.  We know that this may not be the cheapest place to eat in Hampshire, but it has a great reputation, and we wanted to see if their pies lived up to that reputation.  Droxford is a bit cut off from civilisation, so the only way we could get there was by taxi. So, at the appointed hour 9 hardy gentlemen (i.e. the whole Pie Club) met up outside the Bishops Waltham Tandoori to wait for the taxis and endure the spicy curry aromas wafting from the nearby kitchen. Luckily the first taxi arrived early so most of us didn't have to wait too long, but sadly the second taxi was late, so 3 of us had to wait a while, and by the time they arrived at the Bakers Arms the first group of gentlemen were already halfway through their second pint.


On arrival we were given a warm welcome, and presented with the choice of ales, which we found was a bit limited.


However, Bowman Ales is a fine local brewery (actually, very local in this case) and a firm favourite of ours, so we didn't find the limited choice too much of a problem.  The pub was very busy, and seemed to be fully booked, but despite that we were very well looked after by the attentive staff.  We noticed a number of nice small touches which added to our enjoyment. For example, on our table there were personalised menus for us:



As can be seen, we had a choice of 3 different pies, all individual pies made with short crust pastry and served with potatoes and mixed vegetables.  Although the menus specified mashed potatoes, we were able to request sauté or chipped potatoes instead. As we sat at our table, we were presented with another nice small touch: delicious warm bread served with unsalted butter and separate sea salt. 


We were also given a jug of chilled water and some glasses, but we weren't sure what to do with those, so we left them. It was a nice thought, though. And we were given a set of sauces to go with our pies, including English mustard, French mustard, and ketchup.


These were another nice touch, but in the event our pies were so tasty that I don't think anyone used them.  As this is the height of the game season, most of us ordered the Game Pie, but some had the Chicken and Mushroom Pie, and some had the Fish Pie. Externally, the pies all looked the same, and they were served with the same selection of freshly-cooked vegetables, but The Game Pie and Chicken and Mushroom Pies came with different gravies, just as they should, and of course the Fish Pie came with no gravy. The gravies were served separately, in individual jugs, just the way they should be.


The vegetables included small portions of carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, and celeriac puree, and they were all very nicely cooked. Although the vegetable portions were small, the pies were of a good size, and packed with meat (or fish), and the whole meal was very satisfying.


The game in the Game Pie was a mix of venison and pheasant. The Fish Pie contain a mix of several fish including Salmon and some (unidentified) white fish, in a white sauce.  The pies all had ample filling with just the right degree of moisture, but perhaps it was a bit difficult to taste the pastry because the filling was so good. The ratio of filling to pastry wasn't quite right.

Most of us were quite full after eating all this, but a few of us felt able to try the puddings.




The puddings were all extremely good.

Although the pub was busy, we were very well looked after by the staff, who never kept us waiting for food or drink. We all loved the ambience here, and the facilities were clean and tidy. Our main courses were £13.95 each, the puddings were £5 each, and the ales were $3.40/pint, so although this wasn't a cheap meal, it didn't end up being outrageously expensive, the total bill amount to £33 each (including service). And there was a final nice little touch - we were given a bowl of jelly babies with the bill!

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 

  • Pastry 3.82
  • Filling 4.22
  • Beer 4.42
  • Ambience 4.56
  • Value 3.88
  • Overall 20.91

This score puts The Bakers Arms in 3rd place out of the 10 pubs that we've visited so far this year. The competition this year is so tight that the top 5 pubs are separated by a mere 0.6 points, so this score for the Bakers Arms is by no means a bad score. What caused a lot of anguish was the scoring for "Value": Which gives better value for money? A top quality pie for £14, or an average pie for £11? Pieman is of the opinion that here there were so many nice little touches that it was worth paying a little bit extra, but of course, Pieman has to remain impartial and is not allowed to influence the judging in any way.

Our next meeting will be the Pie Club AGM, held (as is traditional) at the pub which was the winner of last year's Pie of the Year Award, The Wheatsheaf, Shedfield.  Among other items on the agenda will be a heated discussion to decide the winner of this year's Pie of the Year Award.  It could be contentious. 


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Fox and Hounds, Fair Oak, 31st October 2013

After a few outings that involved getting a taxi to far-flung places, we felt it was time to revert to tradition and try out a local pub that we could get to on the bus, so for the October outing we decided to try the Fox and Hounds at Fair Oak. We'd been past it often enough on the 69 bus, and we thought "let's give it a go", so off we went. We had quite a good turnout for this trip: there was Lord North, Stephen, Nick, Si, Tall Paul, Doug, and the whole event was very well organised by Joe. We were also joined by Eric, who is seeking to become a full member of the Pie Club, but currently has candidate status.




The weather wasn't being very kind to us, but luckily the bus stop is right outside the pub, so we didn't have far to walk. When we found our way in we were given a warm welcome, and a choice of 3 ales.  Rather a limited choice, we thought.




Unfortunately the Directors was off, so we were left with Sharp's Doombar 4%, or Purity Ales Mad Goose IPA 4.7%. The Mad Goose looked a bit strong at 4.7% so we thought we'd save it for later. As usual Tall Paul had Guinness, which was OK, and the rest of us all had a pint of Doom Bar, which most of us thought was very good, although perhaps a little overchilled, but Nick complained that his beer smelled of bleach. He got a replacement pint without any trouble, and everone else was happy, so this was  probably an isolated incident.

As we drank our pints we took stock of our surroundings, and started to worry. The place is huge. There was a big conservatory in the distance, used as a dining room, which seemed to be empty. The main bar area was large and empty, except for us, and the TV/snooker room next door was inhabited to two sad-looking gentlemen who seemed to be very interested in the bottoms of their beer glasses and not much else. The TV was on, but nobody was watching it. There was was a fruit machine there. There was background music on in the conservatory. Sadly, even though a few more customers turned up as the session continued, the ambience failed to improve.

On the Specials board there was a choice of 2  pies: Steak & Stilton, or Baked Steak, Mushroom & Stout, both at £10.95. Steak or Steak we thought.



Luckily, there were 2 more pies available on the standard menu: Chicken Ham & Leek, or Steak & Kidney Pudding with suet pastry. All at £9.95. Now you're talking!  Most of us couldn't resist the chance of having an Steak & Kidney Pudding with Suet Pastry, but Tall Paul (who always enjoys being different) opted for the Steak & Stilton Pie, and why shouldn't he?  The pies came with mixed vegetables and a choice of potatoes: new, mashed, or chipped. 





The pies looked good, and actually tasted okay, but we suspect they were mass-produced in a factory somewhere, not home-made. There was a difference of opinion about the suet pastry: it seems some people like their suet pastry crisp, and others like it soft.  This is obviously a contentious issue, and one which we need to discuss at great length.  These Steak & Kidney puddings came with crisp suet pastry. The chips probably came from frozen, and weren't cooked very well. The vegetables (cauliflower, carrots and brocolli) were cooked from fresh and were okay, although a bit tasteless. The gravy was good, and served the way it should be, in a separate jug, and there was plenty of it, which was just as well.

Several of us still had room for pudding.



Two of us wanted to have the Toffee Crunch Slice, but there was only one portion left. The lucky person who had this pudding found that it wasn't very good, and left half of it. Someone else had the Lemon Meringue Pie, and felt that that wasn't very good either. Someone else had the Cheesecake, which was okay.

By this time some of us wanted to try the Mad Goose IPA, brewed by Purity Ales, in Warwickshire. This is an ale that we hadn't come across before. It looked cloudy, but (benefit of the doubt) maybe that's the way it's supposed to look. Those who tried it said that it was okay, but nobody went back for a second pint.

The loos looked clean, but there was no paper in the towel dispenser, and no hot water in the hot water tap. The service was good - beer was brought to our table just as we like it. Whatever faults we found with this pub were not the fault of the bar staff.

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 

  • Pastry 3.84
  • Filling 3.97
  • Beer 3.84
  • Ambience 2.75
  • Value 3.98
  • Overall 18.38

With this score the Fox and Hounds leaps straight into 8th place out of the 9 pubs that we've visited so far this year. The only pub worse that this was The Crown, which we visited in May and was really bad. Despite this poor score we all actually quite enjoyed our meal, and happily went on to consider our verdict in the lush confines of ... The Crown (the beer in The Crown is good - it was the food and service which was bad).

On reflection, perhaps it does us good to have a bad experience from time to time. After a long run of excellent pies, it helps us maintain our perspective.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Bush Inn, Ovington, 26th September 2013

Having heard a number of favourable reports concerning The Bush Inn at Ovington, especially their recent Great British Pie Day event, we decided to go slightly further from home for our September outing to check it out for ourselves. Si, Nick, Trev, Tall Paul and Lord North gathered together outside the Bishops Waltham Tandoori to wait for the taxi, which (this time) arrived early and we got to the pub in good time.


We were given a warm welcome by the delightful Imogen, who we understand took over the running of the pub with her husband in March.  They seem determined to make a success of it, and we wish them well for the future. Certainly the location of this pub is perfect and the interior of the pub is a delight - lots of separate rooms with oak beams and comfortable furniture, and no unnecessary distractions. The Bush Inn is a Wadworths pub, so not surprisingly the ales were limited to Wadworths Ales (nothing wrong with that). 


On offer were Henry's IPA 3.6%, Horizon 4%, and 6X 4.3% - all very fine ales. Unusually, Tall Paul was disappointed to learn that this pub does not sell Guinness. He was offered Corvus Stout instead, but despite being given a free 3/4 pint taster, he would probably have preferred Guinness.

We were delighted to be offered our own private room for this meal, with a table large enough to accommodate 16 people, despite the fact that there were only 5 of us.


We had the best ever choice of pies.


These are all home-made individual pies, fully encased in short-crust pastry, and served with gravy in a separate jug just we way we like it. With such an abundance of choice it was difficult for us to decide what to have. Fortunately we had been given a copy of the menu in advance and we'd had several days in which to think it over. In the end, two of us had the Venison, Port and Stilton pie:


One had the Cockaleekie Pie:


One had the Meat and Potato Pie:


And one had the Trout and Watercress Pie:


The pies were all excellent, not too large but large enough, packed with lean meat tasty sauce, and came with perfectly cooked chips or mash, and mixed vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, and tomatoes). The little saucepans that we were each given contained a vegetable gravy.

Afterwards we all had room for pudding.


We tried the Hampshire Scrunch, the Sticky Toffee pudding, and the Bread and Butter Pudding, and found them all to be very good.





We were very well looked after by Imogen, even though the pub was quite busy and they were missing one waitress.  The pies were good value for money at £9.95 each and very good quality, but the beer was a little expensive at around £3.70/pint. We loved the ambience. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience dining here, and no doubt we will be back again for more. 
  
Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 

  • Pastry 4.05
  • Filling 4.45
  • Beer 3.8
  • Ambience 4.59
  • Value 3.75
  • Overall 20.64
Surprisingly this score puts The Bush in 4th place in our rankings, just behind The Queen Inn in Winchester, and just 0.6 points behind the current leaders (The White Horse at Soberton). Standards are so good this year that all four top pubs are excellent. We might have to revisit them all.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Brushmakers Arms, Upham, 22nd August 2013

It was a hot sunny day when Lord North, Stephen, Doug, Trev & Si met up outside the Bishops Waltham Tandoori  to wait for the taxi (ordered by Lord North) to take us on our eagerly awaited trip to Brushmakers Arms in Upham.  And we waited, and we waited.  And as we waited we sniffed the pleasant spicy aromas wafting over us from the nearby kitchen window, and we got hungrier and hungrier, and more and more thirsty. Eventually Lord North phoned the taxi driver and managed to get him out of bed, and after waiting more than half an hour the taxi eventually turned up. This was not the best possible start to our trip, but we shall say no more as there is now a disciplinary proceeding pending against Lord North so the matter is sub judice. At least the taxi driver accepted that the delay was all his fault, and let us off the outbound fare to make up for it.  Meanwhile, Nick (still on a health kick after his recent heart surgery) had walked all the way to Upham to meet us at the pub, was feeling very smug, and was already on his 2nd pint by the time we caught up with him. 


The Brushmakers Arms has long had a fine reputation for good food, so our visit here was long overdue. It's also not unadjacent to the Upham Brewery, which only started up a few years ago. It's probably fair to say that this brewery got off to a shaky start, and several pie club members have expressed a dislike of Upham Ales based on their earlier tasting experiences.  


As we eventually entered the pub we were given a warm welcome by the delightful barmaid. There was a good choice of ales available - when we noticed that Upham Tipster 3.6% was available on draft several of us decided to give Upham Ales another chance, as this was an ale that we hadn't tried before.  


We found the Tipster to be a fine refreshing light summer ale, and at £3/pt, not bad at all. A bit tasteless maybe, and definitely over-chilled, but on a hot summer's day this was ok.  The other ales available included Fuller's London Pride 4.1%  (£3.55/pt),  Fuller's ESB 4.6%, and Ringwood Best 3.8% (£3.50/pt). After a couple of pints of Tipster we moved on to the Ringwood Best, which was in better condition, and had a bit more flavour.

There was only one pie on the menu, a traditional Steak and Ale Pie, so we all ordered that. It came with mixed vegetables (which turned out to be a mix of fresh baby carrots, red cabbage, and a very pleasant ratatouille of seasonal vegetables, all served in separate side-dishes).


We were offered a choice of potatoes: boiled new potatoes, chips, saute, or dauphinoise. We chose a selection of different potatoes. One brave soul, who must have been feeling adventurous, even chose the dauphinoise.


All who tasted the chips and the saute potatoes judged them to be very good. The saute, in particular, had a good taste of herbs and garlic.  The dauphinoise potatoes were ok, but probably not a very good match with the rest of the meal.

When we saw the size of the pies we could hardly believe our eyes.


We each had an individual pie, measuring approx. 20cm x 12cm x 6cm, fully encased in short crust pastry, and packed with lean tender chunks of steak in a rich tasty gravy, and with a separate jug of extra gravy for each person. This was definitely a man-sized pie. By the time we had added vegetables and potatoes to our plates, we had a really good plateful. 


The pie filling was perfect in every way. The pastry was perhaps a little dry around the edges (slightly overcooked?), but with the extra gravy the pastry was also very good. 



Altogether, the meal was excellent, and at £10.95 it was really good value for money, but the main problem was the sheer volume of everything. We all struggled manfully to finish off our pies, but a few of us left some pastry (more disciplinary proceedings pending!), and we made very little impression on the potatoes and vegetables. Nobody, not even Doug,  had any room for puddings, which was a shame as there was quite a good choice available. And worse still, we were all so stuffed that we even found it difficult to drink more beer!  Difficult, but not impossible. Actually, one pie shared between two would have been ample.

The service was generally very good. There were no unnecessary distractions in the pub like TVs or music, and there was a nice touch in that a selection of newspapers were available for people to read, but a number of us had some criticisms of the general ambience in the pub, which did let it down a bit.
  
Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 


  • Pastry 4.083
  • Filling 4.675
  • Beer 3.833
  • Ambience 3.958
  • Value 4.667
  • Overall 21.216


So by the narrowest of margins (0.024 points) The Brushmakers slips straight into 2nd place in our rankings, just behind The White Lion which we visited last month. This pie obviously scored very well on value for money, and on the pie filling, which was exceptionally good, but it was let down by the general ambience of the place, and the quality of the ale, although, to be fare, we were so staffed after the meal that we probably weren't in a very good position to judge the quality of the ale. 


Monday, 5 August 2013

The White Lion, Soberton, 25th July 2013

In a radical break with tradition, Paul T decided that for our next outing we should consider visiting a pub and using a taxi to get there. So far, we have limited our visits to places that we can walk to, or get to using public transport (i.e. the bus).  The trouble with this policy is that it excludes several fine pubs in the Meon valley which are simply not reachable by public transport. And anyway, a taxi is a form of public transport.

The first of the Meon valley pubs to be visited in this way is The White Lion, at Soberton, just a few miles from our base in Bishops Waltham, and not very expensive to get to with us all sharing an 8-seater taxi.


We were given a warm welcome by Alan, the new landlord who took over from Andy about a year ago, and his staff, one of whom can be seen above, cleaning the entrance way especially for us. Once inside, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the place had been given a bit of a make-over and was looking very smart, especially in the eating areas, but of course, never mind that,  we headed straight for the bar in the drinking area.


The ales they had on included a selection of always-excellent Bowman Ales, and another of our favourites, Doombar 4%. Most of us opted for a pint of  Swift One 3.8% to start with, but after the first few pints had been drawn the barrel ran out. Oh no, we thought.  So we moved on to Wallops Wood 4%, and all agreed that this was a very acceptable substitution.

Unsurprisingly, we all ordered Pie of the Day, which we were informed was a Chicken, Ham Hock & Leek Pie served with vegetables and a choice of saute potatoes, hand-cut chips, or mash. 


We didn't have to wait long for the food to arrive. The saute potatoes (above) were overdone, but some of us like them that way. They were certainly very tasty. The mash potato (below) was smooth and creamy, just the way it should be.


We each had an individual pie, which had a short-crust base and sides, and was topped with flaky pastry. Inside, it was packed with meat and leaks.  The sauce was served as it should be, in a separate jug, and was delicious. It was a creamy mustard and tarragon sauce, which was very tasty, and made a welcome change from the usual (unimaginative) gravy. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the pie.



At first glance the portions looked not over-large, but as it turned out, they were probably just right. The landlord may have noticed the looks on our faces as we saw the size of the portions because later, in a clear and brazen attempt to influence our judgement, he presented us with 2 free side-dishes of chips (which were very good). We needed the extra chips to help mop-up the left-over sauce. We were well satisfied by this meal, but some of us still had room for pudding.


Puddings are not taken into account when assessing our meals out, but these puddings were clearly up to the same high standard as the main course, and very enjoyable.

We still like the look of this pub. It's traditional style, recently refurbished, with no music or dartboard or other unnecessary distractions suits us very well. It's clean, the service was good, and the staff were friendly. Value for money was reasonable too, with the pies at £9.95 each, and the ale at £3.40/pint.  We should have come on a Monday, because Alan tells us that all ales are £2.50/pint on Mondays. As Alan presented the bill to us there was another clear attempt to influence our judgement when he offered us each a glass of port on the house. We don't have any objections to having our judgement influenced in this way.
  
Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 
  • Pastry 4.179
  • Filling 4.636
  • Beer 4.186
  • Ambience 4.386
  • Value 3.857
  • Overall 21.24

And so The White Lion leaps into 1st place out of 6 pubs visited so far this year. This pie is a worthy contender for the Pie of the Year 2013 award, but, of course, there's a long way to go yet, as we still have another 4 pubs to visit. The only problem we have with this pub is that it is relatively inaccessible - we suggested to Alan that he should provide a free shuttle bus service for people like us, but he didn't seem keen. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Cricketers, Curdridge, 27th June 2013

it was a fine summer's day (the first of the year!) when Stephen, Si, Paul E, Nick met up in the square at Bishops Waltham to wait for the No. 8 bus to take them to their next exciting destination. The No. 8 bus has a highly circuitous route, so we had to check with the driver first to make sure that the bus was going in the right direction.  Despite the fact that we'd been waiting outside The Crown, we had all managed to avoid the temptation to go in there for a swift one while we waited for the bus. The bus driver obviously thought otherwise as he offered to tell us when to get off his bus. And he was obviously very concerned for our welfare as he where exactly to wait for the return bus, and rattled off the times of the buses. Happily, the bus stop is right outside the pub.

Having successfully managed the bus ride we met up with Doug and Paul T at The Cricketers, Durley.


This is a fine pub (run by the same people that run the Robin Hood, Durley) that we've been meaning to visit for some time, but we've always been put off by the menu, which only has one pie available, and that is a "Steak, Ale & Mushroom Pie with puff pastry with chips and veg" - not a very enticing prospect as we all have an aversion to puff pastry. However, when we mentioned this to the chef he agreed to "sort something out". He probably relished the chance to do something different. 

On arrival at the pub we were greeted by Sean the barman, a very capable and pleasant young man whom we have met before at The Barleycorn. Despite that previous encounter, he seemed pleased to see us, and offered us a beer. He really shouldn't encourage us. 


We started with a pint of Black Sheep Bitter 3.8% (£3.20/pint), which went down very well. Later we moved on to sample the Old Speckled Hen 4.1%. We didn't have to wait too long before we were shown to our table and presented with the pie, and it was a bit of a surprise:

 

It turned out that we were about to sample our first ever pasty! At this point Pieman made one of his rare interventions to remind us that our mission statement (enshrined in big letters at the top of our constitution) is "Committed to the tasting and enjoyment of savoury hot pies, puddings and pasties".  Despite this, some of us were a bit taken aback, but full marks to the chef for being a bit adventurous.

The pastry was a lovely short crust pastry, but there was possibly a bit too much of it. The filling was diced beef with swede and potato (and maybe a few other vegetables) - in other words a traditional pasty filling, and it was very tasty, but there wasn't really enough of it. The high ratio of pastry to filling made the whole thing rather dry, so we had to ask for some extra gravy, which was readily forthcoming, and served separately in a jug, just the way we like it. The accompanying vegetables and chips were very good, but the portions were rather small.  Despite these criticisms, we all managed to clear our plates (except for one gentleman who left some of his pastry) so the meal was obviously good:


Certainly the Cricketers and its sister pub The Robin Hood both pride themselves on offering high quality food* and there was nothing wrong with this meal - it just didn't quite conform to our exacting standards.

We managed to find room for puddings. There was a choice of Mango Sorbet, Caramel Ice Cream, Treacle Tart, or Eton Mess, which was very good:


The general ambience of the pub was very good. It's clean, has nicely up-market furnishings, and has no distractions such as music or fruit machines. The gardens are extensive and lovely to sit in on a fine summers day. The service was very good, although we did have to go to the bar to order extra drinks, and unfortunately the pub closes at 3.00pm (although Sean did let us sit out in the garden a bit later than that as we waited for the return bus). Value for money was reasonable, with the pie costing £10, and the total bill for 6 people (including puddings) was £132.70. Unfortunately the days when you could watch cricket at The Cricketers have long gone, but there is a nice cricketing mural inside hte pub.

The return bus journey was uneventful as we had all been paying full attention to the bus driver on our way out. It being such a nice day, the lure of the gardens at The Crown proved too much for us, so we had a couple there. We were joined there by the delightful Leslie before moving on for a few more at the Bunch of Grapes.

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall): 


  • Pastry 3.992
  • Filling 3.375
  • Beer 4.033
  • Ambience 4.083
  • Value 4.142
  • Overall 19.625

This score puts The Cricketers 2nd out of 5 pubs visited so far this year. There's no doubt about it, we prefer pies to pasties!

* The Pork Belly at The Robin Hood is excellent