Friday, 25 May 2018

THE SHOE INN - Shoe lane, Exton

After several nudges from our readers, we were pushed inexorably in the direction of Exton this week to pay a visit to The Shoe Inn. We had tried to visit several times over the Winter, but both times found it full to bursting. This time I had the foresight to book a table, so nothing could stand in our way, although we did get a tiny bit lost on the way.

Due to the obvious popularity of this pub, parking can be a minor issue, but luck was with us and we secured what may have been the last space. This is a pretty pub, in the pretty countryside, with a pretty river running nearby, so if you like pretty, you're off to a good start. As I mentioned, it is always busy here, so do book. This is a prime argument for the power of diversification. What was once a traditional country pub, has now become more of a pub come restaurant, with the entirety of the space given over to accommodate eaters of food. This said, it still retains some of that old country pub charm. You are never going to get a table to yourself in a nice quiet corner, but we got the next best thing, a table in the corner without the quiet bit.

The menu was clearly of a high spec, with starters between £5 and £8 and mains averaging around the £14 mark. Whilst I debated with myself over the fish tacos, the onion, chickpea and coriander falafel or the Korean chicken burger with sweet potato fries, Dad had already made his mind up. He was to go with one of his favourites, ham, egg and chips at £10 from memory. I eventually picked the burger, having never really had much to do with Korean food. This came in at £13.

Our drinks order was taken at the table, nice bonus. We were then brought some homemade bread with a generous pot of butter, extra bonus points. We ordered food and lo it arrived. My burger was a monster. Bursting out from the confines of its bun, a feat of organic engineering was required to lift it to my mouth. For a moment I feared a collapse of burger society, but balance was found and the first bite was taken. It was good, very good. Inside the bread was a substantial peace of chicken, juicy in the middle and coated with crispy crumbs. This was topped with tomato and pineapple. After carefully placing the rest of the burger down, it was on to the sweet potato fries. They were also very good, and homemade, which is very rare for fries of the sweet potato family. Dad wasn't quite as impressed with his meal. It was good, but not of the same ilk as my choice. The chips were homemade , the side salad was nicely dressed and the ham and eggs were good.  Incidentally, the bread was excellent. I particularly appreciated being given a good amount of butter.

Just over the road from the pub, is a lovely beer garden. We retired here after eating to discuss. Some of the service we encountered was perfect, other parts slightly less so. My food was five star, Dad's more four. The prices are about what you would expect for high end pub food, and the bread is a nice touch. Personally I felt the tables were a little too close to each other, but that's a personal thing. This is without question a high quality foodie pub selling wonderful and imaginative food. I would love to come here in the Summer and eat in the beer garden with the sound of the river in my ears. It's certainly worth a visit, but do book ahead.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 7
Food                    8.5
Value                   8
Verdict                 4.5*

Friday, 18 May 2018

THE CASTLE IN THE AIR - 49 Old Gosport road, Fareham

When Dad picked me up today, he had a plan, and that plan involved a trip to Fareham. He knew of a pub on Fareham quay, just the sort of place you want to visit on a warm and sunny Friday. I committed to the plan, aware that Fareham wasn't on our top five most visited areas. Suddenly eager for a taste of something new, we pulled on our invisible reviewing hats and set off.

We were lucky enough to get a parking space, and then were lucky enough to get a table outside, seemed our luck was in. It was a bit of a letdown when we discovered that you couldn't really see much of the sea from the outside seating. Summoning up our reserves of pub power we refused to be disheartened and got stuck in to the menu. There was an immediate whiff of Weatherspoons about the food on offer, and I don't mean that in a bad way. A wide selection of burgers, pub classics, (2 for £10 something), and a meal plus drink offer. There was a wide selection of options including at least three types of pie, although one of those seemed to be a peppered mushroom pie, I'm not a fan of mushrooms. Everything was advertised at incredibly reasonable prices, most meals well under £10. Once our in-depth analysis was complete, we made our choices. Dad selected the mixed grill at £12. This included rump steak, sausages, chicken, chips, eggs, tomato, I think that was it. I went for, and bear with me here, a chicken and stuffing Yorkie wrap. I've never had one before. If you give me the option of a Yorkshire pudding filled with chicken and stuffing, of course I'm going to have it, and the cherry on the top, £6. It also came with peas.

The service throughout our visit is probably best described as distracted. There was quite a lot of waiting while conversations were finished, a few confusions with prices and orders, and then there was "Garlic-Gate". We ordered some garlic bread to start. This was taken very literally, appearing a full 10 seconds before our mains were delivered. Before we talk about food, let's just confirm the value here. You can get quite a lot of food for not much money, which can only be good, but value must be effected by quality. The Yorkie wrap was a bit tough, but it did indeed contain chicken and stuffing. The chips were okay, I wouldn't call them gourmet as advertised, and my peas were peas. I did also get a pot of gravy. Dad's steak was tough and overcooked and we aren't quite sure what had happened to the chicken. He gave me some and I struggled with it. Every time I tried to eat some I was getting a mouthful of strange texture.

It's funny how things can change so quickly. One minute you're sitting in a pub garden getting excited about some great value honest pub food, then you come crashing back to earth realising that things generally are too good to be true. Coming up with a concept is one thing, but the execution of that concept is quite another. If you can turn out decent, basic food at a good price, more power to you. There's nothing wrong with that, Weatherspoons have turned it in to an art form. But if the low price food you sell is of low quality, how many people will come back? Me and Dad always have a lovely time wherever we go, but you have probably noticed by now that food wise, this one was a bit disappointing.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 5
Food                    6
Value                   8
 Verdict                3*

Friday, 11 May 2018

THE FLYING BULL - London rd, Rake, Liss

Baring in mind what I do, it's not very often I come across a pub, not a million miles away, that I haven't encountered before. This is exactly what happened whilst rummaging through tinternet for as yet unexplored pub potential. Kean to pay a visit to this unearthed treasure, I called up my brother on the gastrohub hotline and made a b-line for The Flying Bull.

The day had started out as a warm and sunny companion, but was looking a bit indecisive. We decided to stick to our original intension and brave it out in the beer garden, come what may. This is, or was, a traditional coach house, and all that character remains in the best possible way. From the open fires to the friendly service, everything felt good about this pub.

The sun fought bravely to beat the clouds away, leaving us bathed in a warming glow, made that much sweeter by sitting in a pub garden. We explored the menu from top to bottom, as well as our very own little specials board, an idea I like very much. Although there were plenty of interesting options, we both decided it was time for our own private burger-fest. Tom choosing the beef burger, while I went for the chicken coated in 13 herbs and spices. The beef version was just under £12, while the chicken came in at a pound more. Each were to be served with chips and coleslaw.

 As we drank, chatted and enjoyed the sun, it seemed that no time had passed before our food was delivered. It was one of those beautiful moments when you just know everything is going to be alright. I started with a chip and nearly fell off my bench. It was stunning, one of the best pub chips ever. I'm under strict instructions not to go on about chips, so let's leave it at that. Both the burgers were truly immense, both in taste and in stature. Tom decided it would have to be a knife and fork job. I just about managed to keep my burger under control with my bare hands, but it was close. We both agreed that these were fine examples of burgers. More than generously filled, and accompanied by some world class chips and a lovely homemade coleslaw.

The excellent, yet subtle service was also worthy of note. Whilst talking with the landlord, we found out that my chicken burger was in its first flight on the specials board, just having been added. When asked how the burger was, I said something very complimentary and that it should be added to the main menu, never to leave. Everyone working here was friendly and helpful, but more importantly it was genuine. No fake smiles here.

Having found this pub, I was delighted to find it of a high quality. Both the pub itself and the food it serves have given me more than enough reason to return. If you find yourself travelling through Rake on the London road, give yourself a treat and pull over at The Flying Bull.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 9
Food                    9
Value                   8
Verdict                 5*