Monday, 15 December 2014

AGM at The Wheatsheaf, Shedfield, 11th December 2014

After another year of dedicated devotion to duty in 2014, the gentlemen members of the Pie Club gathered together at The Wheatsheaf Inn, Shedfield for their annual general meeting.  Our choice of venue was, of course, an acknowledgement of the very special place in our hearts occupied by the Wheatsheaf.  We will never forget that momentous pie we were served in 2012 which won the Pie of the Year Award that year. Add to that the excellent range of Flowerpots Ales available here at very low prices and we have what has become the spiritual home of the Pie Club and the gold standard against which all other pubs are measured.  Knowing that our hosts, Tim and Sally, had laid on another very special pie for us, we were eager to get the formal business of the day completed quickly so that we could get on with the much more important business of tackling another Wheatsheaf pie.

We agreed that in future our annual award for excellence would be "The Pie Club Pub of the Year" rather than "The Pie of the Year". This is a more accurate reflection of the fact that our award is based not just on the quality of the pie, but also on the overall experience of the pub visit.

We then went on to consider which pub should receive this coveted award for 2014. Here are the scores for each of the pubs that we visited this year:

  1. The Black Dog, Waltham Chase (27/11/2014): 22.34
  2. The Bucks Head, Meonstoke (25/09/2014): 22.32
  3. The Kings Head, Hursley (29/05/2014): 21.59
  4. The Brewery Bar, Botley (24/04/2014): 21.54
  5. The Ship Inn, Owslebury (23/01/2014): 21.13
  6. The Rising Sun, Swanmore (30/10/2014): 21.07
  7. The Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge (26/06/2014): 20.70
  8. The Queen Inn, Winchester (24/07/2014): 20.58
  9. The Brickmakers, Swanmore (27/03/2014): 19.98
  10. The Hurdles, Droxford (28/08/2014): 19.20

It was a very close contest, with the Black Dog in Waltham Chase winning by a very narrow margin. Our hearts go out to Nicki and Shaun at The Bucks Head, who must have thought that with their bold imaginative move of serving us 2 pies each they had the award in the bag, and perhaps in any other year they would have won, but they were just pipped at the post by Peter and Kathy at the Black Dog with their equally bold and innovative idea of offering us a Sausage, Bacon & Black Pudding Pie. Commiserations are due to all the other venues - there were no bad pies here, and everyone did very well.  

Congratulations to Peter and Sally at The Black Dog for a well-deserved win. We are looking forward to our next visit to The Black Dog, in March, when we will present the award.

Now on to more important matters.  While we were deliberating over our AGM, we were well assisted by the excellent range of beers which were available:

We found that these ales were a great help in our decision making. Meanwhile, Sally had prepared a special Steak & Kidney Pie for us. When it was brought out for us there was a moment of respectful silence followed by a buzz of appreciation as we saw just how good it was. 

We helped ourselves.  Made with short crust pastry, and served with perfectly cooked carrots, brocolli and new potatoes, with a jug of gravy on the side, this was as near perfect as a pie can possibly be.

The end result was inevitable - a full set of empty plates and very happy gentlemen:

To use our usual methods to evaluate this experience would be an insult to all concerned. This experience is sublime. It is beyond evaluation. Suffice to say, this pub will continue to be the spiritual home of the Pie Club, and sets the standard by which all other pubs are measured. We are looking forward to our next visit to The Wheatsheaf, which will probably be in December for our next AGM, unless we can think of some excuse for not waiting as long as that. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Black Dog, Waltham Chase, 27th November 2014

Having been turned away by one of our local pubs, we felt the need to go somewhere where we would be rather more welcome so for our November outing we returned to The Black Dog, our third visit to this very popular pub in Waltham Chase. Our first visit to this pub (in July 2011) was okay but we felt that there was some room for improvement. When we visited again in October 2012, soon after the current landlord (Peter) had taken over, we found that it was much better, so this time we wanted to see if Peter had continued to improve the place as he said he would.

Several of our members are still on a bit of a health kick, so they built up a bit of an appetite and a thirst by walking the 2 or 3 miles to the pub. On arrival they were given a warm welcome by our hosts, Peter & Kathy, and offered a good choice of ales, some of which were new to us:

There was Black Dog Ale 3.8%  from a mystery brewery in Trent, Brains' Reverend James 4.5%, and York Brewery's Guzzler 3.6%, as well as Green King IPA. The Black Dog Ale was a smooth dark ale, very drinkable, but after a long walk several of us preferred the Guzzler, which was a light hoppy ale. Both beers were in very good condition and served well.

Now, for the main business of the day, the pie, we were in for a special treat! The chef had prepared for us something which we had never experienced before - A Sausage, Bacon & Black Pudding Pie! A few of us expressed some doubts about the wisdom of eating such a thing, but when the pies were served up we all agreed Who Dares Wins!

We couldn't help noticing that it was covered in green stuff, but despite that it was a superb looking pie and we couldn't wait to get stuck in. It was served with mixed vegetables and a choice of chips or mashed potatoes, with extra gravy served separately in a jug, just how we like it.

After we had finished loading up our plates with the vegetables and potatoes, the meal looked excellent, and we could barely restrain ourselves (so we didn't).

The pie filling was delicious - moist, with slices of sausage which we think we recognised as coming from a local butcher, bacon adding a salty piquancy, and black pudding complementing the whole ensemble.  In fact the filling was so good that when it came to the scoring, a few members awarded it an unprecedented 5/5. The short crust pastry was also very good. A few members suggested that it might have been better if we had been served individual pies rather than slices from a big pie, but the problem with this is that individual pies tend to have a higher ratio of pastry to filling, making the pie rather dry and stodgy. In this case perhaps we could have done with a slightly more pastry, but when the filling is this good, who cares?  The vegetables were all nicely cooked, and all too soon our plates were clear (and we'd even eaten all the green stuff).

Some of us still had room for puddings, so we chose from the pudding menu and found that the puddings were all up to the same high standard as the pie.

We all thought the meal was excellent, and we really appreciated the effort that our hosts, Peter & Kathy, and the chef made for us.  We would have personally congratulated the chef as we were leaving, but he was nowhere to be seen. The pub itself has a very good ambience (although we did notice some background music playing), and the service was very good. The food and beer very reasonably priced, with the beer at around £3.70/pint, and the pies at £9.95, so we felt it was very good value for money. Surprisingly, after such a good lunch, we managed to walk all the way back to Bishops Waltham, and finished up in The Crown, but that is another story. 

Scores (max of 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 4.44
  • Filling 4.74
  • Beer 4.43
  • Ambience 4.03
  • Value 4.7
  • Overall 22.34

Congratulations to Peter & Kathy - we can see that you have put a lot of hard work into improving this pub, and your efforts have paid off. Your score puts you straight in at number 1 in our charts, a whole 0.02 points clear of the previous leader, and puts you in a very strong position to scoop the "Pie of the Year" award this year. And please pass on our congratulations to your chef.  

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

We've been banned!

It seems that our review of our last visit to The Barleycorn Inn in Bishops Waltham, back in April 2013, has upset someone, because when we tried to book a return visit there for our next outing, it was made very clear to us that we were not welcome there and they refused to take our booking. 

We find this difficult to understand because (1) it was actually quite a good review (otherwise we wouldn't have wanted to go back there for another visit), (2)  if they'd let us know just what was wrong with the report we might have been able to fix it, or at least publish their comments, and (3) why turn away good business?

We always aim to give honest reports, albeit written in a light-hearted manner. We are aware that for us it's just a bit of fun, but for the hard-working staff in the pubs that we visit it's their livelihood, so we strive to be fair and accurate, and if our hosts are not happy with our reports we will always either publish their comments or correct the report. All they have to do is tell us. 

If we have unwittingly offended anyone at The Barleycorn then we apologise. It is never our intention to be offensive. Similarly, we apologise for any factual inaccuracies.  If it is our opinions that were found to be objectionable then we stand by what we said.

So, sadly, we were unable to return to the Barleycorn for our November outing. Instead, we returned to The Black Dog, Waltham Chase.  This visit will be the subject of our next report.