The Plough (Sleapshyde)
The Plough is an attractive small pub in a very isolated position near St Albans. White painted walls with a thatched roof give it a chocolate box appeal and make it a great destination for anybody out on a country walk. The pub dates from the 16th century and is well decorated and cosy, with a large inglenook fireplace and real fires in ... winter. In summer there is a large patio which looks out onto the fields so that you can really enjoy the peaceful location.
Very much off the beaten track, the Plough can be found at the end of a dead end road in the very small hamlet of Sleapshyde near St Albans. I have never driven to the Plough but have passed it many times on walks. For me, this is a pub which is reached by walking across fields, following narrow paths that lead straight to the front door. Location-wise the Plough is ideal for walkers is it about 5 minutes walk across the fields from the Alban Way; a disused railway line that runs through lovely countryside from St Albans to Hatfield and which is a popular walk, cycle or run for locals at all times of year. Alternatively you can drive there by taking a narrow road just off the A414.
Although I have stopped for a drink in the garden many times, I had never eaten there and decided to make it the focus of a Sunday walk. I should have been suspicious at the website, which proudly and rather strangely proclaims that you can find: "Real Ale, Real Food and Real People" at The Plough. More important than real people to me is Real Dogs - and the website also told me to bring the dog - "dogs are always welcome", so I set off with my two boys and dog for a Sunday lunch.
Bounding into the main bar, we were brought up short by the look of horror on the landlord's face. "No Dogs in here", he barked. "But the website says that you are dog friendly", we said. Magically the landlady appeared... "Oh yes, we love dogs - we just don't allow them in the pub".
Eventually we persuaded them to let us sit in the small bar where fewer people were eating. Pushing the dog firmly under the table and keeping our feet on him for security, we ordered our meal - ignoring the indignant stares of the non-dog loving locals.
The pub is divided into a dining room area and a public bar. Both are cosy and rather dim, with dark wood tables, traditionally upholstered seats, and open fireplaces. The landlord and his wife were serving in the dining room area and a rather grumpy man was serving in the public bar. The question, "What type of cider do you have" was answered shortly with "what you see". A bottle of Appletiser was slammed down on the bar with no glass and no offer of ice.
The menu has a good range of traditional pub food such as gammon steak, cod and chips, or lasagne - all for under £10. There is a small range of starters, all for £5 including soup, chicken skewers and breaded mushrooms.
My son ordered the Sunday roast which turned out to be very disappointing. The beef was a little bit tough and gristly, and it came with a lump of very tasteless and watery swede. The roast potatoes were acceptable, as were the carrots, but overall we felt that it was poor value for £8.95
My older son ordered the pub's signature dish; Steak and Ale pie for £8.95. This was a big portion of pie which came with a large portion of chips. He found it tasty but the pastry was heavy and the steak rather tough.
I chose the safe option of scampi and chips, which was very average for £7.95 and came with peas. The chips were a little dry, but otherwise this was a good pub meal.
For pudding all three of us had the same dish: Warm Sweet Waffle with ice cream & toffee sauce for £3.95. This was the best part of the whole meal - lovely, warm, sweet and gorgeous, it was thoroughly enjoyed. Other deserts were very traditional dishes such as apple pie and spotted dick. A specials board offered a variety of dishes, all of which looked very similar to the dishes already on the daily menu.
The service was rather unfriendly. Initially we sat on a very small table, and when a larger one became free next to us we asked the waitress if we could move over. She seemed horrified by the suggestion and told us to ask the bartender. He too seemed aghast and muttered angrily to himself before saying that he supposed this was OK. All the waiting staff seemed strangely cowed and unhappy, casting furtive looks around them and serving us with a very anxious look on their faces. I have to add that at this stage my (very small and cute) dog was asleep under the bench, so I cannot put this down to dog anxiety.
Food is served every lunchtime, and on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Unusually, the pub recommends ordering a takeaway on the nights that it does not serve food, saying that they are happy to accept deliveries and provide plates as long as you still drink in the pub. This is a great idea and one that I haven't seen before.
The Plough is a real ale pub, serving two of my favourite real ales - Adnams bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord pale ale. They are not so strong on ciders and I was disappointed not to find Aspall cider served - but there is a good variety of wines. I opted for a lager on this occasion and added a half of Becks Vier to the tab that was set up for us behind the bar.
~~The Garden , the Toilets and Accessibility ~~
There is quiet and safe seating both at the front and back of the pub, so you can catch the sun all through the day. A covered smoking area is available. The pub is very accessible for those with mobility issues - all on one level, including the toilets, it is a short even walk from the car park to either the front or back doors.
The Ladies is down a short corridor at the front of the pub and was very clean and fresh - nicely cared for. The Gents was opposite but I could not check this out.
Although my first meal at the Plough was a mixed experience, it was pleasant enough for me to give it a second try. The location makes it a perfect stop on a country walk and it was cosy and well decorated inside and out.
I am prepared to give the pub the benefit of the doubt and assume that I caught them on a bad day. Next time I will leave the dog at home or make sure that it is warm enough to sit in the garden - and hopefully I will find the staff in a better mood.
The Plough Public House
Tel :01727 823 720
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The Badger Inn (Cheshire)
The Badger Inn My sister and brother in law live in Cheshire so we quite often meet and go out for lunch at a local venue. On our last excursion we had our lunch at The Badger Inn in the village of Church Minshull which is sort of between Nantwich and Winsford in Cheshire. When we arrived there was a large empty car ... park so no problem with parking. We went in and it seemed that once again we were going to be eating alone in the restaurant as no one else was around at all. We ordered our drinks and toyed with the idea of sitting in the bar area of the comfy looking leather sofa near the wood burning stove but the arrangement of cushions looked so neat that we decided to go straight to our table. It was nice to get my white wine spritzers with soda water and ice as asked as so often I end up with lemonade and have to ask for it to be changed.
It was lovely and warm throughout the place from the bar area with it polished wooden floors and wood burning stove all the way through to the quite sizeable restaurant also with polished wooden floors. The place has been extended with a sort of conservatory large windows so the place was nice and light. The ceilings were wooden and beamed with twigs and branches with small lights decorating it and it looked really welcoming and cosy.
We were shown to our table next to a window so we were looking out onto the car park but fields and trees beyond that so very pleasant. The barman brought our drinks to the table and then shortly after that he brought us the menus. They were quite large, not large in choice necessarily but physically large. We were also brought an extra paper menu with the day's specials on it.
After the right sort of length of time the young lady came to ask if we were ready to order. We had deliberated about a few dishes but we were all happy to order so explained our order and then sat back to wait and enjoy our drinks.
These varied in price from about £5 for soup to about £10 for pan fried scallops with pea puree and air dried ham and lemon oil. Also on offer were crispy duck with chicory and orange salad, beetroot and goat cheese risotto, black pudding with poached egg, crispy bacon salad with confit tomatoes and jus vinaigrette, a ham terraine and a smoked salmon salad.
As well as these starters they also offered as election of sharing platters for starter and these took my eye. There was a mezze which included herbed bread, olive oil and balsamic, olives and feta, rocket and parmesan salad and houmous (£5.00). Another choice was a fish board with potted prawn and brown shrimp, natural smoked haddock pate, crostini and salad (£11.50) and this was what initially tempted me but then I saw the Baked brie with herbed crostini, salad and a trio of chutneys ( £11.50) which is what I chose and instead of sharing it I had this as my main course. The final sharing option was a house baked bread with home made hoummous, chilli jam, tapenade, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and rocket salad (£5)
These varied in rice from £11.50 for Mushroom Wellington with spinache and ricotta filling and tomato, red onion and basil salad through to £18.95 for Rib eye steak with grilled tomatoes and mushroom served with fries served with brandy and peppercorn sauce. In between you could choose from a seabass dish, pan roasted duck breast, crispy belly pork, pan roasted chicken supreme or slow roasted blade of beef or the dish that both men chose which was natural smoked haddock, mash potato and spinach topped with a poached egg and a light mustard sauce.
There was another section of main meals that were more casual dining or lunch style and these varied from haddock and chips for £10.95 to the rest of the choices at around £10 and these included a pork and leek sausage and mash, home made beef burger with chips red onion marmalade and melted mozzarella. This last dish was ordered by someone on the table next to us and the chips came in a wire cutlery basket and the burger was open, it looked really good. The other choices included gammon, a veggie curry and a veggie lasagne as well as a chilli con carne.
Beside all these choices there was also a selection of sandwiches ,salads and side dishes so there was plenty of choice for both veggies and carnivores on the menu.
As I said the two men went for the smoked haddock dish and judging by the noises made it was to their satisfaction. My husband commented a couple of times on the way home as to how much he had enjoyed the dish but as it was topped with a poached egg it didn't tempt me.
I finally chose the oven baked brie with salad and trio of chutneys with herby crostini and was really pleased with it. I would have liked a bit more salad as the baked cheese it quite rich. The chutneys were really yummy, one was a chilli jam, another was a red cabbage and onion one and the last a more normal sweet chutney. I felt pretty full after it was was so pleased that I hadn't gone for something more normal as a main course.
My sister in law was inspired by my choice and she went for the special soup which was parsnip and apple followed by the mezze starter plate so two starters instead of a main. She said the soup was delicious and really you can't go wrong with any of the items on the mezze plate.
The desserts ranged from ice cream at £2 per scoop, the special of an Expresso crème brulee at £5 through to cheese board at £7.95. In between was another crème brulee, a lemon and lime cheese cake, a chocolate brownie pud and a couple of others.
I was the only piglet there and chose the special Expresso crème brulee thinking I would get a small ramekin sort of dessert instead I got this huge bread and butter plate sized bowl of crème brulee. It was far too big and came with two mini shortbreads which my brother in law ate, I them passed half of my pud over to my husband as I really couldn't manage to eat it all. It was tasty but I think I do actually prefer my crème brulee plain rather than flavoured given the choice.
My husband and brother in law had a pint and a half of a low alcohol bitter, I had a white wine spritzers and my sister in law a shandy. The entire bill including the drinks came to £67 which we felt was pretty good considering the food we had enjoyed which was beautifully presented and really tasty.
I paid by card, they don't take America Express but most others are accepted and we left a tip as we felt the service was worthy of reward.
Would we return?
Yes we were most impressed with both the food and the service and by the time we had ordered our food the place was actually getting busier so we hadn't had to eat in glorious isolation as we had on a few occasions in Scotland recently.
The Inn has five individually decorated and named room if you fancy stying in the area. They do look pretty special in the brochure and each is named after one of the pubs in the area with historicallinks to the Hughes family. The price includes a cooked breakfast. They include two premier king sized rooms, one double and one twin as well as a special luxury suite. All rooms are ensuite and look as though they have been renovated and done up tastefully as well as individually.
The Badger Inn, Cross Lane, Church Minshull, Nantwich, Cheshire, W5 6DY Tel: 01270 522348
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The Royal Arch Bar (Broughty Ferry)
===The Royal Arch=== Days off are possibly my favourite thing on the planet. Well... at least my favourite work related things. My last day off consisted mainly of wandering round doing some very early Christmas shopping and enjoying the smell of cinnamon pine cones in the local garden centre. In between all this overly ... organised christmassery, Allan and I became a touch peckish. As such we decided to find somewhere to eat.
Jump back about 20 years and you will find a very young Allan in a pub/restaurant in the ferry (that's Broughty Ferry for those who don't know the area) with his grandmother munching away. Modern day Allan regales me of tales of how great the food was in said pub regularly and we've been meaning to go for a long time now so I could sample their delights and Allan could re-live some happy childhood memories. Since we found ourselves in the area on this magical day off, we decided to finally give it a bash.
---On the outside---
The Royal Arch is situated in Broughty Ferry (a little seaside village on the outskirts of Dundee) on one of the main streets ( 285 Brook Street to be exact). It's about a five minute walk away from Broughty Ferry Castle, a large play-park and the beach so it's a very good area for a little day out with the kids. It's quite a noticeable place as it's painted red and has big stain glass windows. It does look a bit like an "old-man pub" from the outside looking a touch tatty round the edges. If it's summer then you will normally find some extra tables and chairs outside the pub and it catches the sun quite nicely.
Parking shouldn't be too much hassle as you can easily walk most of the ferry in 15 minutes and there's a lot of pay and display parking spaces. If you are lucky there are a few free parking spaces a couple of streets back but if you get there later in the day you'll really need to hunt for them. The ferry is really popular for people wanting a low intensity wander and lunch. It's ten times more packed on a sunny day due to the proximity to the sandy beach. There's plenty of transport links with both a trains and busses running near-by.
The pub dates back to 1869 when it was called The Royal Arch Tavern going through many similar name changes from tavern to hotel to arms ending up on "bar". It always seems to be very busy. The pub side comes with free Wi-Fi and is equipped with sports TV. The restaurant door is on the right hand side under the "Lounge" sign. I always thought it was closed till Allan gave it a push yesterday so don't be too shy about going in, it will be open.
---On the inside---
Upon entrance my first impressions were that it was quite a strange place. It is quite a small restaurant and due to the stain glass windows it's also quite dark when you first enter. We had to wait a moment to let our eyes adjust before we could do anything. It felt a little like I had just walked into an old woman's living room just after she'd had a bar installed and got the tables out for guests. Not uncomfortable and certainly warm, but very different.
Due to the circular layout of the restaurant it can feel a little like everyone is looking at you when you walk in, but you'll soon get over it. It also makes for great people watching as you can pretty much see everyone in the restaurant from most of the seats. There can't be more than about ten tables seating around five or six people each so it really does feel quite intimate. I can't really complain about it though as there is still plenty space to move around. I would imagine it may be a bit cramped for wheelchair users when it's full though. To be honest the place doesn't have great wheelchair access anyway, with you having to take a step up into the lounge and a step down into the toilets.
The restaurant is decorated in the art deco style, full of elegant figurines of women and stained glass everywhere. Once your eyes adjust there is plenty for them to focus on, be it the gorgeous windows and booth dividers or the two giant stain glass circles on the roof acting as lighting. As if that wasn't enough the place is dotted with artwork based on Dundee and its surroundings. It's quite unique and it certainly kept me interested though I probably looked a bit strange staring at the roof and the walls. I also found myself singing along to the music that was playing away gently in the background. It was mostly unobtrusive pop music probably from someone's mp3 player but both Allan and I were impressed with the selection, both getting to hear a few songs that we really love while we ate. Kudos to that!
As soon as we walked in we were greeted by the staff and basically allowed to choose where we sat as it was empty. We went straight for the big curved comfy looking seats that lined the walls, partly because we didn't want to sit in the middle of the room. We were very lucky, within half an hour the place was full. After we were seated it took less than a minute for the barman to come over with the menus and take our drinks orders. This is something I really look out for as a lot of places I've been take forever to even take your drinks order and it really winds Allan up if they haven't bothered to acknowledge you or get your drinks. Thankfully the staff at the royal arch were on the ball, even when it filled up everyone was seated promptly and their orders taken and drinks received within five minutes of walking in the door. Our food only took about ten minutes after we ordered to come out and everyone else also seemed to be getting their food fairly quickly. The only thing I would be wary of is that the kitchen shuts down for a few hours during weekdays between 2 and 5. That being said I'd really recommend booking a table anyway as it would seem the place is almost always packed out. As mentioned before, we went on a Tuesday afternoon and while it was quiet at the start, it soon filled up and there were no seats left by the time we left.
The restaurant area has its own separate bar from the pub on the other side of the building which is really great. It means that you get to just enjoy your meal rather than being surrounded by people who are there to watch sports and shout at the TV while getting sozzled. If you want to get sozzled in peace, then the bar on this side is fully stocked. If you'd prefer something a little more sobering I noticed they also have a rather large coffee maker perched on the bar. There are seats around the bar but I can't really imagine there being room for anyone to sit at them when it's full. A fully functioning bar can never be a downside at a restaurant I say, and this one certainly meets my standards!
The menu is displayed outside so you can easily choose before you go in which I quite like. Means there's no awkward moments when you get in and realise the place is too pricey or doesn't have anything nice to eat. There is a very good range on the menu too, going from full three courses to lighter snacks like Panini's and baguettes. There isn't much excitement for vegetarian on the menu with your hot options being Mac n' cheese or an omelette. There are salad and baguette menus but it's all cold. If you aren't too fussy though, you should be able to find something nice to eat.
As it was lunch time, we decided to have a very light bite. We're trying to cut down our portions a little so we didn't want to stuff our faces full. I decided to go for a rather apt dish for such a bar with a Royal name; I had a Coronation Chicken Baguette. When it arrived the plate was packed so that was my idea of a light bite out of the window! The baguette was brimming with coronation chicken filling, served with a salad and a side of chips even though I had asked for the sides to be taken off. I'm not complaining as I ate some of them anyway but I'm very aware that if someone asks for something not to be on their plate in the food industry it's so important to get this right. Otherwise you may end up with someone like my mother who simply has to eat something that's touched a pepper and she'll be violently sick for the next two days. Thankfully I don't have any food allergies so it wasn't too much of a big deal.
As for the Baguette it was delicious. It was far too full to actually pick up so I ended up eating half of the filling with my cutlery first and finally picking it up when I thought I'd not end up covered in filling. The baguette itself was lovely and warm with the outer edges being nice and crusty and the inside being soft and fluffy. Perfection. The only slight niggle I had was that the filling was cold which made it feel a bit odd when the chips and baguette was warmed. I'm sure if you asked them they might heat it up for you though. Overall I'd give my munch a 4 out of 5. Very tasty and well presented and certainly worth the £6.50 due to the massive portions.
Allan followed suit and went with a chicken and sweet corn baguette again assuming it would be a little smaller than it actually was. His also came with salad and chips (you can choose veg or potatoes if you prefer) and was also packed to the gunnels. He did become a little annoyed that he couldn't pick it up to eat the baguette and eventually heaped some of the filling out of the baguette onto his plate so that he could. That was his only grumble. The chips were cooked perfectly, similar to the baguettes; crusty on the outside fluffy on the inside. He didn't really touch his salad either as it was too much with the large portions given, but again it was all very nicely presented and definitely worth the £6.50 we paid for it.
---Offers of Others---
While we were only in for a quick afternoon snack there were others who were in for the full three courses. As we ate we had a few of the courses drift passed in the hands of the waitress and each time we both turned to each other as the smell wafted in our direction with a happy glint in our eyes. All the courses we saw coming out were huge. They all looked and smelled delicious and judging from the reactions of everyone else in the place, there wasn't anything that anyone was displeased with. That does make me come back to my earlier point about being quite a small place. If there were to be any issues with your food and you wished to complain, there wouldn't really be any privacy to do so. Thankfully we didn't find anything to actually moan about so we didn't have to worry!
---Step inside the place where you pee---
Toilets, toilets, toilets. It's always been a bugbear of mine. It's really not hard to get it right and keep it clean, there's no excuse. The first eye raiser was the ceramic tiles on the doors to the loos. The gents had a quaint image of a little boy peeing away happily, flow full and yellow. The ladies weren't much better with an image of a little girl baring her backside to sit down on a potty whilst she shyly glances over her shoulder at you. Some may find it cute, others may find it hideous. I'm not yet decided. Pushing through the door I was met with a corridor which is obviously the back of the pub next door. At the end of this corridor is the men's. If you're a bloke you'll instantly be transported from Art deco elegance to local pub squalor. While the toilets aren't totally grotty they aren't as clean as I'd really like them to be. The walls are all tiled but a bit discoloured and cracked. The floor was debris free at least.
The sink and hand drier is huddled in the corner where the urinals are and if there was more than one person in there, you'd literally be touching someone (and not gently) whilst they pee. You could easily stand on the same spot, pee, turn, wash your hands, turn and dry your hands without leaving the same 30 cm squared. I also noticed a couple of flies buzzing about which is something I hate. It really doesn't cost much to get fly spray or fly paper. Hell you could even get a bug zapper fitted for relatively cheap amounts. So while the toilets weren't exactly dirty, they also weren't comfy and didn't feel clean. Throw in that getting back from the toilet is a bit of a health hazard, with a tiny step out of the toilet that you don't notice on going in I nearly fell face first out of the loo. Not only that but the floor slopes up from the toilet to the restaurant door which, again, you don't really notice on your way in but nearly made me fall again on the way out. Two trips in five seconds, I wasn't overly impressed. Toilets are the only thing I'm going to mark them down on.
If you are interested then they do have a website (www.royal-arch.co.uk) which is a very simple site but perfect for anything you could really need. It'll give you more history on the royal arch and even let you see all the menus available. It also has all the contact information you'll need if you want to make a reservation which, again, I would advise if you want to eat here as it is always busy.
Overall, I think this is a great little place. A real hidden gem as Allan likes to call it. The location is easy to get to and it's surrounded by other stuff to do if you want to make a day of it. The food is delicious and well priced and the staff are very friendly. The restaurant can feel a touch dark and claustrophobic when it's full but it really is quite beautiful and unique inside. The only downside is that the toilets are a bit horrible but by far not the worst I've seen. Certainly not enough to put me off going back again for full three courser next time we are wandering The Ferry!
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