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.