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.