Monday, 30 June 2014

The Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge, 26th June 2014

Doug's choice for our June outing was another visit to one of our favourite local pubs,  The Hampshire Bowman.  Doug probably thought that this would be a safe choice as this pub won the coveted Pie of the Year award for 2011, and did very well on our last visit on 28th November 2012.   On our last visit the pub had just been taken over by a new landlord, Mark, and we were a bit suspicious of him, but of course we were prepared to give him a fair chance to make a go of things, and he was very reassuring to us, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt. And now we had a chance to see how he was getting on.

It being a very pleasant summer's day, we decided to walk there from Bishops Waltham.  Past experience has told us that this walk is just right: long enough to work up a bit of an appetite and a bit of a thirst, but not so long as to get us all exhausted.  So, we arrived fresh, and raring to get on with it. Externally, the place hasn't changed a bit.

As we walked in we immediately felt the welcoming atmosphere that this pub has always had, and suspected that we might be in for a long session.

As before, a glance at the beer board confirmed that the ales available here are up to the usual high standard that we've come to expect from this pub (or at least most of them are), and we were pleased to see that the prices hadn't gone up since our last visit:

Mark had kept true to his promise that there would always be at least 5 real ales available, so, as is customary, we started at the top of of the list and worked our way down, except for Tall Paul, who, as usual, preferred to stick to Guinness. So except for Paul we tried the Bowman Ales Swift One 3.8% first.  This has long been one of our favourite ales, so we were a bit disturbed when we noticed that it didn't taste the same as usual. We didn't think the beer was off, but it certainly tasted different.  We don't know if this was just a one-off glitch, or a permanent change. Pieman has raised a query with the brewers, and is awaiting a response. The other ales (Bowman Ales Wallops Wood 4%Stonehenge Ales Eye-Opener 4.5%Fullers ESB 5%, and Elgood's Black Dog 3.6% (a dark mild)) were all sampled and found to be very satisfactory. Tall Paul reported that the Guinness was "very good here", which means that it must have been exceptionally good, because he can be a difficult man to please sometimes.

For the pies, we were offered a choice of Chicken & Bacon Pie or Lamb & Leek Pie, served with seasonal freshly-cooked vegetables and mashed or chipped potatoes.

We had Lamb & Leek Pie last time we visited, and we were pleased to see that the pie prices hadn't gone up at all since our last visit. Here's what the Lamb & Leek Pie looked like this time, served with chips:

And this is what the Chicken & Bacon Pie looked like, served with mashed potatoes, which were very nicely presented:

As before, the pies had short-crust pastry all around, holding a filling crammed with meat and plenty of tasty gravy, but once again we noticed that the gravy had been pre-applied, whereas we prefer it to be served separately in a jug. The accompanying vegetables, and mashed potato were very nicely cooked, but the chips were perhaps a bit overdone.

Those of us who had room for puddings had a choice of Lemon Posset, Bread & Butter Pudding, or Summer Berry Crumble. They were all consumed with much pleasure.

The ambience of the pub was generally very good, although it was a very quiet mid-week lunchtime so there weren't many other customers around, and we sat outside for the meal, so really there was no ambience apart from the one we made for ourselves, but still, the weather was good it was very pleasant. Mark gave us a warm welcome as always; it was easy to get served at the bar; the table service was good; the pub was clean; and Mark has resisted the temptation to add unnecessary distractions such as music or fruit machines. It's still a dog-friendly pub, which can be a  problem for some, but the dogs were all well behaved.

On value for money the score was good. The pie was only £9. The beers are all very reasonably priced, and we were pleased to see that the prices haven't gone up over the last 19 months.

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 4.10
  • Filling 4.13
  • Beer 3.92
  • Ambience 4.11
  • Value 4.43
  • Overall 20.7
Congratulations to Mark. This was a very enjoyable outing for us all. You have continued to maintain the high standards that we have come to expect at the Bowman, and you'll be relieved to hear that we no longer have any doubts about you.

The score of 20.7 is consistent with our previous score for the Bowman in 2013, which was 20.6, and is highly commendable (but stilll below the 21.5 they scored in 2011, when they won the Pie of the Year Award). Once again this means that the Bowman currently ranks 4th in the pubs we have visited this year. 

The next meeting would normally have been on 31st July 2014, but as several members will be at the Test Match that day (no doubt sampling the pies at the Rose Bowl), it has been brought forward to 24th July 2014.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Kings Head, Hursley, 29th May 2014

This was Eric's first time to choose the venue, and he surprised us all by choosing to go to The Kings Head at Hursley, described by Google as an "Ivy-clad Georgian inn with classy bedrooms and a rustic-chic restaurant with a Modern British menu", so ... maybe not in the same league as the pubs we usually go to, and maybe a bit too classy for the likes of us. Still, "onwards and upwards" we said to each other as we waited in our customary position outside the Bishops Waltham Tandoori  for our taxi, working up a healthy appetite by breathing deeply in the curry aromas wafting from the nearby kitchen. Once again we were let down by the pre-booked taxi, but Chase Cars came to our rescue, and soon we found ourselves in the unfamiliar surroundings of Hursley, outside the Kings Head.

On our best behaviour, we ventured inside, to be met by a very welcome sight:

In no time at all we cast aside our inhibitions as we surveyed the choice of ales and settled into our first pints of Itchen Valley Belgarum 3.9%, except for Tall Paul, who, as usual, preferred Guinness.  As we enjoyed our Belgarum, we checked out the other ales that were available: Andwell's King John Ale 4.2%,
the ever-popular Bowman Ales' Wallops Wood 4.0%, Ringwood Ales Best Bitter 3.8%, and the ubiquitous Sharp's Doom Bar 4%. All in all, a fine selection of ales which some of us did our best to sample, but others were content to stay with the Belgarum for the whole session as it was such a fine ale and in very good condition.

Eric had already discussed the menu with his friend Jimmy (current owner of the Kings Head), so we knew in advance what we would be getting. Jimmy explained to us that we weren't in the pie season so he'd had to provide something special for us. No complaints there! We had a choice of Beef Bourgignon Pie or Rabbit & Prune Pie. This put us all in a bit of a pickle as we'd never had either of those pies before on any of our outings. After some discussion we realised that "Beef Bourgignon" means "Beef with Mushrooms and Red Wine", which we all agreed sounded rather good. On the other hand some of us have digestive systems which have seen better days (it happens to men as they get older) and were rather concerned about the effects that prunes might have on them*. In the end, after a lot of discussion, 2 of us decided to try the Beef Bourgignon, 4 of us decided to live dangerously and try the Rabbit & Prune, and none of us was disappointed. The pies all came with "greens and mash" - no choice - but the Beef Bougignon pies were served with plain Mash and a red wine gravy, and the Rabbit & Prune pies came with Mustard Mash and a mustard gravy. The "greens" were broccoli. 

At first glance the portions looked to us to be a bit on the small side, but in fact they were ample. The pies were individually made, with a rich shortcrust pastry that literally melted in the mouth. The pie fillings were full of tender moist meat, and just the right degree of moisture. Even the prunes tasted good. In fact rabbit & prune is a partnership made in heaven. The sauce/gravy was served separately, in a jug, just the way we like it, and complemented the pies perfectly.  The mash and greens were done very nicely.  After we had all (without exception) cleared our plates, some of us found that we still had room for a pudding. The pudding menu lacked any of what we would call the old school favourites (which gentlemen of a certain age seem to relish), but the puddings that we tried were presented very nicely and were very tasty.

This is a very clean and tidy place to eat. Dining here is a very pleasant, refined experience, quite outside what we usually experience on other outings. We ate in a separate dining room, away from the bar, and the room was less than half full, so it was quiet and we had very few distractions, although when we first sat down we found ourselves sitting directly beneath a loudspeaker from which musak (one of our pet hates) could be heard loudly enough to make it difficult for us to hear what others were saying, but when we mentioned this to a nice waitress it was turned down (not off!) straight away, so it wasn't really a problem.  The service was excellent - actually maybe a little over-attentive at times, as we were asked several times if we were ready to order our puddings. 

Our final bill for the food came to £38 each,  (The pies were £12.50 each, puddings £6.50 each, ale £3.80/pint), so it wasn't a cheap meal (compare with our previous outing, to the Brewery Bar, where the final bill was only £28 each), but the quality of the whole experience was outstanding, .

Scores for The Kings Head, Hursley (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 4.42
Filling -  4.48
Beer   -  4.26
Ambience - 4.22
Value  - 4.23

Overall  - 21.59

These scores are in some ways quite curious as the pastry and filling were rated less good that those at the Brewery Bar, but the Beer and Ambience were scored much higher. As it is, the overall score of 21.59 is just high enough to nudge The Kings Head into first place in our rankings of pubs visited this year, ahead of the Brewery Bar by a mere 0.04 points. It just goes to show that we gentlemen appreciate a bit of class from time to time. Congratulations to Jimmy and the staff at the Kings Head, who looked after us very well, and thoroughly deserve this high score. 

* Regarding the prunes, at the time of writing, no ill-effects have been reported.