Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Woodman Inn, Lower Upham, 26th November 2015

We visited this pub quite recently, in January 2015, when we were quite impressed by the place, although it had only recently been taken over by a new landlord and it was still in the throes of being brought up to date, having been somewhat neglected by the previous landlord.  Unfortunately we have heard disturbing rumours that the landlord has lost heart (and maybe a bit of money) and has decided that he can't can't carry on running this pub, so it is now up for sale.  Having been somewhat alarmed by this news we decided to return for another look, and maybe for one last tasting of the produce of the estimable Upham Pie Company.

Once again most of us decided to work up a bit of an appetite by walking the 2.5 miles to Upham. It's a nice walk, or would be if there weren't so many HGVs thundering past on the main road. By the time we arrived at the pub we were, as usual, gasping for a pint, and we were presented with a good choice.

There was the ubiquitous Ringwood Best 4.0%, the very pleasant Ringwood Boondoggle 4.2%, and the respectable Ringwood 49er 4.9%, all of which we have sampled many times before.  And there was Cracklerock Crackerjack 3.8% from a new brewery just down the road in Botley, which proved to be Crackerjack!  They also had Guinness on draught, and my learned friend Tall Paul reported that it was very pleasant.  We were pleased to see that the beer prices hadn't gone up since last time, and once again we were impressed by the quality of the beer.

For the pies we were offered a choice of 4: Steak & Ale, Steak & Kidney, Steak & Stilton, or Chicken & Ham, all supplied by the estimable Upham Pie Company just up the road. This time we noticed an interesting development that the pies were available in two sizes, medium (at £7.95) or large (at £10.95). Naturally, as we had had the medium last time we chose the large this time. The pies came with vegetables and a choice of mashed or chipped potatoes, and gravy was served separately in a jug on the side, just as we like it, but disappointingly there was just one type of gravy available for all the different types of pie.

The pies were certainly large and very tasty. In fact they were so large that several of us left some of the pastry. The fillings were all very good, packed with tender meat and with just the right amount of tasty sauce. Interestingly, the filling scored significantly higher this time.  The pastry was good too, but there was just too much of it for some of us, although needless to say, the Vegan was the first to clear his plate again and he didn't leave any pastry. Interestingly, our scores for the pastry were lower than last time - this is probably no reflection on the quality of the pastry (which was short crust just as we like it) but rather more determined by the quantity. 

And (respect to this man!) the Vegan was the only one of us who felt able to have any pudding - apparently the Chocolate Brownee was very good.

In all other respects the pub was very much as it was last time we visited. It's still a very pleasant pub, but we noticed this time that there weren't so many other customers there, which is a shame because pubs like this deserve support.  Once they've gone they're gone, and we'll miss them!

Scores (max of 5 in each category, 25 overall):
  • Pastry 4.13 
  • Filling 4.48
  • Beer 4.44
  • Ambience 4.38
  • Value 4.43
  • Overall 21.87 (was 20.96 last time)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Horse & Jockey, Hipley, 29th October 2015

After September's memorable outing to The Wheatsheaf there was a widespread feeling among Pie Club members that the job is done, we've achieved our objective and found the perfect Pie & Pint combination, so why bother any more? But new member Mike was keen to make an impression so he organised an outing to The Horse & Jockey at Hipley. Nobody had any idea where Hipley is, but it's 6.5 miles away from Bishops Waltham so we went by taxi.  Even after we got there we still had no idea where it is, but Mike explained that it's in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Wickham and Waterlooville. 

It's a very nice pub, run by Dick and Lesley, who were very friendly and welcoming.

There was a good choice of ales: Ringwood Best, Ringwood Fortyniner 4.9%, Brakspear Bitter 3.4%, and Thwaites Lancaster Bomber Ale 4.4%.  We tried all of these and found them all to be very well presented, although we thought perhaps they were a bit too chilled. We queried this with Dick, who explained that the ales were chilled to 12c in the cellar, so that by the time the ale reached the glass it should be a little warmer, and at the right temperature (14c) by the time you're halfway through the pint. So I suppose that means if the ale was too chilled, it was our fault for drinking it too quickly. The Brakspear was particularly good.

We had a choice of pies including a Chicken Leek and Bacon Pie and a Steak & Ale Pie, but Mike had lured us here with the promise of a good old-fashioned Steak & Kidney Pudding with Suet Pastry, and nothing was going to deflect us from that. So we waited patiently for the food to arrive.

When it arrived we were immediately impressed by its size. We had individual puddings, each of which was possibly big enough to feed a family of four. They looked good too, although we weren't sure what to do with the green stuff on top. When we queried this the waitress explained that it was one of our 4-a-day. Fair enough.

The pudding came with mixed vegetables (broccoli, courgette, carrot) and a choice of mashed potatoes, dauphinois potatoes, chips, or new potatoes, all served in separate side dishes, and with extra jugs of gravy for those who needed them. The end result was a real plateful.

The puddings were excellent - stuffed full of tender chunks of steak, but there seemed to be an uneven distribution of kidney between us. Somehow Trev seemed to get all the kidney, and everyone else got very little. No wonder we call him Lucky Trev, among other things. The pastry was also very good, but there seemed to be an awful lot of it, and we needed extra gravy to help it down. In fact the pudding was so large that none of us was able to clear our plate, except for Mike, who is a vegan.

We were all so stuffed that only 2 people wanted any pudding, and we noticed that the puddings were also very large.

So, we had a good satisfying hearty big meal in pleasant surroundings. This is definitely the place to come for a big meal. The Steak & Kidney Puddings were £10.25, and the ales were around £3.80/pint so the prices were reasonable and the quality was very good. The general ambience was pleasant, and the pub was clean throughout, with no unnecessary distractions. It's quite a large pub, with several rooms and we were in a room by ourselves so as to not distract the other diners, which was probably just as well.

Scores for The Horse & Jockey (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 4.36
Filling -  4.56
Beer   -  4.28
Ambience - 4.185
Value  - 4.50
Overall  - 21.88

Now this is a very respectable score, and puts the Horse & Jockey in 3rd place among the pubs that we've visited so far this year. It's no Wheatsheaf, but we'd happily revisit this place (if we can find it again) to try out their other pies. If we do ever go back we'll be sure check online first to see if they have any special offers on. We were a bit miffed to find out later that we could have had a 20% discount off the price of the main meal if we'd quoted a code that was available online. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Shedfield, 24th September 2015

Perhaps in order to help us get over our disappointing experience last month, Joe organised this month's outing and decided to take us back to our favourite pub of all time, The Wheatsheaf Inn at Shedfield, midway between Botley and Wickham, and conveniently on the 69 bus route.  We have, of course, been here many times before: Our first visit was in 2012, quickly followed by a 2nd visit in 2013 (when we presented them with a well-deserved "Pie of the Year" award), and for our AGMs in 2013 and 2014. Although their pies have long been highly revered in our memories, it was time for a formal re-evaluation, as we know from bitter experience that things can change over the years. All the same, it was with great expectations that we approached the pub this time.

The Wheatsheaf is a free house, owned by the same people who own The Flower Pots Inn in Cheriton, home of the well-respected Flowerpots Brewery, so a good selection of well-presented good-value real ales is always to be expected, and we were not disappointed.


Having a choice of 6 real ales available at these prices in such a small pub is truly remarkable, although we have noticed that the prices have crept up since our first visit in 2012, when the beers ranged from £2.50 - £2.90. Needless to say, we felt obliged to check the quality of all these beers, and as expected, we found them all to be very good. As usual Tall Paul stuck to his Guinness, which in this pub is canned and served with an agitator, and as Tall Paul says, this can often be preferable to draft Guinness as it is more consistent.

Joe had pre-arranged* with our hosts (Tim & Sally) that we would have a Steak & Kidney Pie for 10 people this time. In the event only 9 of us were able to attend, so we had plenty of pie to go around. When Sally came in bearing the Pie there were spontaneous gasps of appreciation.

It looked every bit as good as it has done on previous occasions, so we knew we were in for a treat. It was accompanied by a dish of fresh vegetables and another of boiled new potatoes (no choices here!).

Joe did a great job of serving the pie up, and managed to avoid causing any arguments between us over unequal portion sizes (perhaps because we could see that there would be some pie left over for second helpings).

 There was extra gravy served separately in jugs, just as it should be, but it was hardly needed. This meal was as near perfect as is possible to imagine. The pastry (a short crust pastry made with butter and olive  a few mushrooms, oil, according to Sally) was perfectly cooked, tasty, light, and melted in the mouth (and such a contrast to our experience last month). The filling was large chunks of tender lean steak, delicious morsels of kidney, all enveloped in a perfect tasty gravy.  Our only possible criticism was that perhaps it could have done with a bit more kidney, but that is not to detract from the overall perfection of this pie. 

As usual, the first to clear his plate was Mike, our resident vegan (and newly-elected permanent member - congratulations Mike!).

Second helpings were had by some, leaving an empty pie dish. Doug was saddened when he learned that this pub does not do puddings, so he scraped whatever he could from the pie dish instead. The lack of puddings does not effect our ratings for this pub, as we have never included puddings in our evaluations.

Thankfully the ambience of this pub hasn't changed one bit. It's just the way we like it. And the value for money is still almost unbeatable, with beer at £2.80 - £3.70/pint, and the pie coming in at £9.50. 

Scores for The Wheatsheaf Inn (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 4.88
Filling -  4.83
Beer   -  4.84
Ambience - 4.65
Value  - 4.86


Overall  - 24.06

Our search is over: We have found the perfect Pie/Pint combination and we need look no further. This score not only means The Wheatsheaf beats all the other pubs that we have visited this year, but is actually an all-time record score, unlikely ever to be beaten. It beats the previous all-time best score (22.71 scored by The Wheatsheaf in 2012) by a full 1.35. The closest contender other than the Wheatsheaf is The Black Dog in 2014, which scored 22.34, which is  beaten by a full 1.72.

Needless to say, we're already looking forward to our AGM this year, which will be held in the Wheatsheaf as usual, and we're quite sure that the winner of this year's "Pie Club Pub of the Year" award will be The Wheatsheaf!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Roebuck Inn, Wickham, 27th August 2015

Pieman organised our August outing, and decided that it was about time that we visited a pub which we had never been to before, and after a bit of research devised a plan to visit The Roebuck Inn near Wickham. Getting there was not easy as it involved a bus ride to Wickham Square then a 30 minute walk along the Meon Valley Way (a disused railway track that runs north from Wickham up the Meon Valley to Droxford and beyond). As we got off the bus at Wickham we noticed that The King's Head was nearby and might prove to be a useful place to wait for the return bus on our way back home (and so it turned out to be).  However, in the event the journey turned out to be quite easy, and as we approached our final destination we noticed that as usual we had worked up a bit of a thirst and a bit of an appetite.

Those of you with long memories may recall that the Roebuck used to be quite an odd sort of place, run by a couple of ex-theatrical types, with a mini-theatre in the back where they used to stage occasional entertainments. Pieman visited it once several years ago, just to see what it was like, and never went back, which says a lot. However, the place has been taken over by new owners, and after a complete refurbishment it re-opened about a year ago, and it is now very smart.

On arrival 10 thirsty men immediately wanted a beer, and were confronted with quite a choice: Wallops Wood 4% (relabeled as Roebuck Ale) and Swift One 3.8% from the ever popular Bowman Ales, London Pride 4% and HSB 4.8% from Fullers, New Forest Ale 3.8% from the Downton Brewery, and Skew Sunshine Ale 4.6% from Suthwyk Ales.  It's unusual for a pub to have such a wide choice of real ales available on draught, and the Roebuck is to be congratulated on this. All the ales that we tried were in very good condition and served well. But unfortunately Tall Paul (our Guinness drinker) was disappointed  as they were unable to provide him with any Guinness as they were between barrels, and they had no bottled or canned Guinness available either. Now Tall Paul is not one to panic when things like this happen, so he asked for a Peroni instead, and they were out of that as well!  Unfortunately this incident spoilt our appreciation of the beers in this pub, which would otherwise have been excellent, and has been reflected in our scores for the beer.

The pub has been completely renovated and is now very smart inside. There is a dining room for normal customers, but we were pleased to see that we had a separate private room to ourselves, with a table for 10, and several easy chairs and a sofa for us to relax in as we waited for our pies. This used to be the room where the mini-theatre was. It's now a very comfortable room reserved for discerning gentlemen.

Now for the pies: We had a choice of Steak & Onion Pie or a vegetarian pie. Of course we all chose the Steak & Onion Pie.

We had individual pies, and you can see from the photos that they were rather an unusual shape, being a lot taller than the average pie. This is fine (we like a bit of variety), but in order for the pie to keep its shape and not collapse the chef had to use a cold water short crust pastry to give the pastry some strength and rigidity. Nice try, but unfortunately we felt that the pastry was too hard and curiously rather tasteless, so this spoilt the pie.  On the other hand the Steak & Onion filling was excellent - lots of lean tasty chunks of steak.  The pies came with mixed vegetables (cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot) and a choice of chips or mashed potatoes, which were all very nicely cooked. We'd asked beforehand that the gravy be served separately in jugs on the side, which is how we prefer it, but we may have caught them out here as it seems they only had 3 very small jugs available, so we had to keep on asking for refills (not a real problem, though). Despite our reservations about the pastry, we all enjoyed our pies. We noticed that our guest, Mike, who is still on his vegan diet, was first to clear his plate.

For puddings we had a choice of Warm Chocolate Brownie, Bread & Butter Pudding, Rhubarb & Frangipane Tart, Strawberry & Rose Water Eaton Mess, or Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce, all at around £6.50. Although we don't normally judge the puddings in our reviews, these puddings were all really rather good.

The pies were £11.50 each, which is not unreasonable, but the beers were a little expensive at around £3.80/pint. The pub has been totally refurbished and is now very smart. It looked quite busy in the dining room, but we had a room to ourselves and it wasn't at all noisy. Some of us liked having a room to ourselves because it meant we could let our hair down without annoying other customers, but others complained about the lack of atmosphere there, so you can't please everyone, and we had problems judging the ambience, but the service was good, the delightful barmaid coped well with us, the facilities were clean, and generally we were very impressed by the place.

Scores for The Roebuck Inn (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 3.42
Filling -  4.40
Beer   -  4.07
Ambience - 4.08
Value  - 4.17

Overall  - 20.10

Sadly, we really didn't like the pastry, and the beer score was marked down because of the Guinness problem, and the Roebuck Inn has suffered as a consequence. It's score of 20.1 puts it in 6th place (out of 7) in our rankings of the pubs that we have visited so far this year, only just beating The Robin Hood. However, this does not mean that we did not enjoy our meal here, and we can still recommend it as a good place to go out for a meal. Presumably the Guinness problem was only temporary, and although the pie was not to our liking we did notice several other interesting items on the menu, which might make a visit worthwhile.

We found the walk  along the Mean Valley Way seemed quicker on the way back, and popped into The King's Head for a quick one while we waited for the bus back. The King's Head is a nice enough pub, but they don't do pies there. And it would have been just a quick one if we hadn't missed the bus.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Brickmakers, Swanmore, 30th July 2015

For our July outing Trev decided to take us all to The Brickmakers in Swanmore, just a short 20 minute walk down the road from Bishops Waltham.  This pub has great significance for the members of the Pie Club as it is of course the site of the Pie Club's historic first outing on 20th January 2011, when it scored 16.4, and, indeed, a memorable follow-up visit on 25th July 2012, when it scored 21.78, and a third visit on 27th March 2014, when it scored 19.98. In terms of scores this place has had a bit of a chequered history, but truth to tell we've always enjoyed visiting this pub because its so close to home and their beers are always good.  Our reason for visiting this place again was that Trev had heard that they are now offering home-made pasties as well as the more traditional pies. Never before have we had a chance to sample a pasty, despite the fact that our constitution clearly states that we are "Committed to the tasting and enjoyment of savoury hot pies, puddings and pasties". 

We were joined on this outing by a special guest, Mike, who immediately confounded us all by telling us that he was on a temporary Vegan diet in order to try to lose some weight. If he is hoping ever to become a full member of the Pie Club he should learn not to say things like that. 

As we approached the pub we noticed that it is now called "The Brickmakers", whereas in the past we have always referred to it as "The Brickmakers Arms".  We're not sure when this change took place, but we're happy to go along with it.

On arrival we were warmly welcomed by the very attractive barmaid, and confronted with a tempting choice of ales.

The ales were the very locally brewed Upham Ales Punter 4%, the also very locally brewed Bowman Ales Wallops Wood 4%, as well as Ringwood Best 3.8% and Ringwood FortyNiner 4.9%. It was a difficult choice between the increasingly-popular Upham or our old favourite Bowman, so in the end we decided to drink both of them.  Both were fine beers, served well at the correct temperature, and went well with the meals.

As we were trying out the beers the landlady rushed in carrying trays of freshly-made pasties and explained to us that they were traditional home-made pasties made with short crust pastry, beef and vegetables, and they were big. We couldn't believe how big they were. But as well as the pasties we had a choice of pies: Venison Pie, or Chicken Ham and Leek Pie, all served with mixed vegetables and a choice of mash, thin, or chunky chips.  It was a difficult choice for many of us, but not for Mike, who said that as he was on a vegan diet he'd have the Venison Pie.  Hmmm, ... we're still not sure that we want him as a full member.

The pasties were big, packed full of tasty moist filling enclosed in short crust pastry, and much appreciated by all who had them. The mixed vegetables included Mange tout, French beans, shredded cabbage, and maybe some other green stuff.

The Chicken, Ham and Leek Pies were also very good. The pastry was so good that some people even gave it full marks.

The Venison Pie looked just as good, but was let down a bit by the filling, which was a bit dry and not very tender. 

The puddings were of a good standard and very similar to what we have had here on earlier visits.  After puddings, we were offered some free mints (a nice touch) presented with the bill, which came to £32 each.  The pasties were £10.00 each, and the pies were £12.50 each (unchanged since last visit). The beers were slightly more expensive this time (around £3.20/pint), but still not bad value. Trev did remark that the pies were a little deer, but he was probably thinking of the venison pies at the time. The service was very good, and the barmaid was quite delightful.  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, Swanmore (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)

Pastry - 4.52
Filling -  4.27
Beer   -  4.49
Ambience - 4.57
Value  - 4.07

Overall  - 21.92

This score means that The Brickmakers leaps into first place in our rankings of the pubs that we have visited so far this year. It's also the best score achieved by The Brickmakers in all of our visits over the previous 4 years, so it represents a considerable achievement.  Closer examination of the individual scores shows that the pasties and chicken pies were very well appreciated, but there was something non-quite-right about the Venison Pie fillings, which brought down the overall scores. This is a shame, but nevertheless The Brickmakers did very well and should be proud of their achievement.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Farmers Home, Durley, 25th June 2015

This time it was Lord North's turn to organise the outing, and he decided to take us all to The Farmers Home in Durley, We pub which we had visited once before, in October 2011, when we had a rather disagreeable experience. Let's hope it does better this time - if it doesn't we know who to blame (Lord North).  We were a bit worried because having organised the outing Lord North then ducked out with some feeble excuse about having to go to Goodwood.  It's a rum do when the organiser drops out of his own outing, so it was with some trepidation that we gathered outside The Crown on a fine summer day and set off on the longish (60 minute) cross-country walk to Durley, with Nick leading the way because once again he was the only one who had bothered to scout out the route beforehand. 

We're getting quite into this walking business, and 60 minutes is a better length for a walk as it allows you to build up a big appetite and thirst without getting too exhausted.  Just as people were starting to wonder "Are we nearly there yet?" we saw the welcoming sign.

It didn't take us long to find our way in.

And soon we were confronted with the most difficult decision of the day: which beer to start on?

After such a long hot walk we felt a light refreshing ale was called for, and most of us chose the Upham Tipster 3.6%.  The Upham Brewery is our nearest local brewery and has come a long way since its rather shaky start a few years ago, and this Upham Tipster was excellent. Also available were 2 more fine ales: Ringwood Best and Gales HSB. We took our pints out into the garden and waited for the pies to arrive.  Lord North had previously arranged for us to be presented with a Venison Pie made specially for us. When it arrived we were impressed.

We each had a good-sized individual pie, served with a choice of mash, 


or new potatoes, and a selection of freshly-cooked vegetables (carrots, leeks, swede)

For some reason the pies were accompanied by a cooked tomato, and we noticed a light sprinkling of green stuff all over, and we didn't know what to make of that. But we did approve of the gravy served separately in a jug on the side.

On closer examination we found that the pie filling was near-perfect: Packed full of tender meat and tasty gravy and absolutely delicious.  But we weren't so sure about the pastry. It was the correct short crust pastry, nice and crisp with no soggy bottom, but disappointingly thin and tasteless. Not bad though, but not up to the standard of the filling.  All in all, the meal was excellent, as were the puddings.  We tried the Eton Mess (made with Durley strawberries, which are locally grown, and the best)

and fresh Durley strawberries 

and someone always has to have the Sticky Toffee Pudding

The Upham Tipster, at £3.20/pint was excellent value. The pies were £11.95, which is not an unreasonable price to pay for a specially-made venison pie, the puddings were reasonably priced, and the quality of the food was top notch  (it is just a shame about that pastry). We liked the pub very much: It's clean and nicely furnished, and has a big garden with lots of tables. The service was good, and they gave us some chocolates with the bill, which came to around £28 each (incl. service).

Scores (max. 5 in each category, 25 overall):

  • Pastry  4.22
  • Filling  4.53
  • Beer  4.45
  • Ambience  4.22
  • Value for money  4.27
  • Total  21.68

All in all this was a very pleasant experience and the final score means that this pub leaps into 1st place in our rankings of pubs visited so far this year, well ahead of its closest rival, The Woodman, which we visited in March.  On our previous visit to this pub, in October 2011, it scored a very sad 16.3, so this score reflects a dramatic improvement in the pub, and just shows how quickly things can change (and what a change of landlord/chef can achieve). Our congratulations go to all involved in bringing about this remarkable transformation.