Friday, 25 April 2014

The Brewery Bar, Botley, 24th April 2014

On a fine spring day in April a large gathering of excited gentlemen (Nick, Trev, Paul E, Paul T, Si, Joe, Doug, Stephen) assembled outside The Crown in time to board the No. 8 bus to Botley, heading for The Brewery Bar in Botley. This time we had no trouble finding our way to the pub as we had fond memories of our previous visit there in 2012.  As has become customary on the No. 8 bus, we invited the driver to come and join us, but he declined our invitation as he had some concerns about leaving a bus full of passengers parked in the middle of Botley for a few hours.

As always we were given a warm welcome by the landlord, and presented with a difficult choice of ales: There was Silver King Ale 4.3% from the Ossett Brewery in Yorkshire, Abbott Ale 5% from the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds, and Bath Ales' Gem 4.1%.

The Gem was an amber ale and seemed a little too sweet for some of us. The Silver King is a lager-style golden ale which found more general approval among us, except for Tall Paul who, of course, stuck to his preferred Guinness (and reported that it wasn't quite up to scratch).

The Brewery Bar is a funny sort of place.  On the face of it, it has so many things about it that we disapprove of (Sports TV on continuously with the sound turned down, fruit machines,  pool table, etc) that we would normally avoid such a place, but they always seem to serve an interesting range of beers from around the country, and their pies are among the best available anywhere. Today's pie was a Steak & Guinness Pie, served up as 2 pies, to be shared between 8 hungry gentlemen.

The pies came with a bowl of assorted vegetables (carrots, broccolli, caulifower) which had been freshly cooked to perfection (au point, as someone said).

And we had lashings of chips, which were also freshly cooked and done to perfection.

The gravy was served separately, in jugs, just the way it should be, and the end result was a lovely plateful.

The pie was as near perfect as could be: tasty short crust pastry enclosing tender pieces of lean steak in a rich gravy, with a few whole mushrooms, and a definite hint of Guinness. Most us us didn't have any room for a pudding, but a few of us managed to try some, and found that they were very good:

Once again we found that the ambience of the pub was good.  It's clean, tidy, and the service was excellent. Our final bill for the food and 4 rounds of drinks came to £28 each, including service, which we thought very good value for money (The pies were £8.95 each, puddings £4.75 each, ale £3.50/pint).

Scores for The Brewery Bar, Botley (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 4.69
Filling -  4.54
Beer   -  3.91
Ambience - 3.85
Value  - 4.54
Overall  - 21.54

This was another excellent afternoon - a nice traditional pub with attentive staff, good beer, and another exceptional pie.   For The Brewery Bar this score represents a significant improvement over their 2012 score (which was 20.5, and still not a bad score), and puts them straight into first place in our rankings of pubs visited so far this year, and is actually the 3rd highest score achieved by any pub that we have ever visited (beaten only by The Wheatsheaf and The Brickmakers in 2012). So, well done to the Brewery Bar!

On our return to Bishops Waltham we adjourned to The Barleycorn to take advantage of their happy hour, which seems to last all afternoon.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Brickmakers Arms, Swanmore, 27th March 2014

We are always mindful of our historic heritage, so for this outing we decided to return to our roots with a visit to The Brickmakers Arms, the site of the Pie Club's very first outing on 20th January 2011, and, indeed, a memorable follow-up visit on 25th July 2012. The Brickmakers has always been one of our favourite pubs, mainly because it is so close to home, but also because they always seem to have an excellent range of beers available, and their pies aren't half good. It being a nice day most of us decided to walk there, the walk being just the right length to alloiw us to work up a bit of a thirst and a bit of an appetite.  We met up in the pub, and were pleased to see Doug, who for understandable reasons has had to miss our last few outings.  The welcome was, as always, very warm.

We were immediately confronted with a bewildering choice of ales: Marston's Pedigree 4.5%St Austell Tribute 4.2%Jennings Lakeland Stunner 3.9%, and the ever popular Bowman Ales Wallops Wood 4.0%.  There was nothing for it - we were going to have to try them all, starting with the the lightest, and working our way up to the heaviest.

While we were doing this we considered our next difficult decision - we had a choice of Pies! We had a choice of traditional Steak & Ale Pie (nobody chose this), Venison Pie (there were only 4 of these left, so 4 of us chose this), or Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pie (the rest of us those this). All came with mixed vegetables (cabbage, beans & carrots), and a choice of Mashed Potato, fat chips or thin chips.

This is a venison pie with mashed potato:

This is a venison pie with fat chips:

This is a Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pie with fat chips:

This is a Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pie with thin chips:

The gravy was served separately, in jugs, just the way we like it, and there were actually two different gravies served up - one to go with the Venison Pie, and the other for the Chicken, Bacon & Tomato pie.  We were also provided with (for the first time ever) a jug of vinegar for the chips, and two jars of mustard.

The Venison Pie was judged by all who tasted it to be very good, although Trev remarked that "it was a bit deer" (geddit?).  But there was some difference of opinion about the Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pie. Some felt that the tomato taste was a bit overpowering, and couldn't taste the chicken or bacon. In fact it tasted a bit like a pizza topping, and could almost have been a calzone.  We also noticed that although both pies had a short crust pastry, they were different. The pastry on the Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pie was shorter. We queried this with the chef, who was kind enough to explain that both pastries were made with identical recipies, but one (the Venison Pie) was made using plain white flour from Sainsbury's, but the other was made using plain white flour from Lidl. So in future we're going to have to make a point of finding out the provenance of the flour in the pastry!

The portions were a good size, but not excessively large, so we all managed some pudding, and there was quite a range available:

After pudding, we were offered a free chocolate brownie to share between us (a nice touch), and we had free mints presented with the bill (another nice touch), which came to £266 between 8 of us (including 10% service which had already been added to the bill).  The pies were £12.50 each. A pint of Wallops Wood was £3. So value for money was about average, but the service was very good, the pub was clean, busy but not too noisy, and overall ambience of the pub was very good, and it was a most enjoyable outing.

Scores for The Brickmakers Arms, Swanmore (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 3.89
Filling -  4.18
Beer   -  4.23
Ambience - 4.08
Value  - 3.61

Overall  - 19.98