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
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.