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.