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.