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Kings Head (Syresham, Northamptonshire)

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Address: 2 Abbey Road / Syresham NN13 5HW / Northamptonshire / Tel: 01280 850280

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      17.11.2011 22:54
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      I really hope that things pick up for them

      A few months ago I bought a GroupOn voucher for a meal for two people at the King's Head in Syresham in Northants. I didn't know the village but fancied trying out a new place and at £23 for two of us it seemed to be too good a deal to pass up. As a result of having to be home on sick leave with a weird and highly restricted eating regime for a few weeks we were later getting round to our visit than we planned. We'd had some absolute horrors trying to get GroupOn bookings for other deals that we'd bought and I'd been a bit concerned in case we'd left it a bit late to book. Taking the bull by the horns I called the pub on a Saturday evening to ask if they could fit us in for the following day's lunch. The lady I spoke to confirmed that they had a table for us and we'd be very welcome. I felt quite relieved to have got a table - after all Sunday lunch can be a popular time - or so I thought.

      We headed off down the A43, past the turn off to Silverstone and followed my Tom Tom to the door of the pub. We weren't entirely sure if there was a pub car park so we parked up outside on the road amongst lots of other cars. I presumed that this meant the pub would be full. After a bit of a false start trying to identify which was the door into the pub, we finally found our way in and were surprised to find that it was almost empty inside. At one end of the pub, an elderly couple were eating near a fireplace and a couple of people were standing at the bar and these made up the total clientele. I explained to the lady behind the bar that we had a booking and she took us through to the dining room. I recognised her as the lady I'd spoken to the night before because of her Polish accent and she told me that she and Pedro (who is Portuguese) were the only foreigners in the whole village and that they ran the pub.

      ~Table for Two? More like a Room for Two~

      The dining room was very attractive and smelled ever so slightly of fresh paint. When we spoke to Pedro later he told us that he'd just finished doing the room up only a few days early. The wooden floors had been beautifully stripped and the small room had been painted in striking shades of deep purple and cream. Attractive modern prints had been hung on the wall and whilst it wasn't a style you'd expect to find inside a very traditional old village pub, I thought they'd done a very good job to create something so unexpectedly stylish. A table had been reserved for us but we were told we could take another if we preferred and so we did - the original one was a bit stuck in the middle so I opted for one at the edge of the room, not realising that we were going to be the only customers that lunch time.

      I asked Pedro if any of the dishes were excluded from the two course deal and he said that everything on the Sunday menu was fine. We just had to choose two courses each. I never struggle over the starter or pudding challenge as I almost always opt for a starter. We had five to choose from and after some discussion about whether the chorizo could be left out of one of the dishes, I had 4 to choose from which is remarkably unusual as we fishitarians generally get soup and one other choice. Pedro's Portuguese origins were present in the starters with a Portuguese 'montado' (I had to ask, it was something very rich and garlicky) and a trio of 'langostinos' with salad and toast. I have recently been craving goat cheese so I choose a goat cheese salad on 'toast bread' which turned out to be a slice of ciabatta.

      Main course choices were many and varied and ranged from a Sunday roast priced at a rather reasonable £7.95, a couple of steaks, a burger, lasagne, chicken piri piri, prawn tagliatelle, a Portobello mushroom dish and a salmon fillet. Prices ranged from the roast at £7.95 up to a couple of dishes at £15.95. I went for one of the pricier options which was the salmon dish at £14.95. My husband went for the lasagne which is normally £8.50.

      ~Time to Eat~

      As the only customers you can imagine that our orders were fast tracked through the kitchen. We felt a bit lost in the restaurant without anyone around and it was a rather odd feeling. I also felt intensely sad for Pedro and his partner that the only people they could get in on a Sunday lunchtime were two cheapskates with a voucher. We ordered a couple of soft drinks to sip whilst we waited and had a jug of water later with our food. The goat cheese arrived with a large round of cheese beautifully melted onto a piece of toasted ciabatta. Working in the bakery industry, the term 'toast bread' to me means industrial white sliced bread. I was pleased by the mis-translation of what was clearly intended to be 'toasted bread'. Put hot melted goat cheese in front of me and nothing can go too far wrong, though as Pedro came out with the two dishes, one slipped and the cheese upended itself. He turned round, went back to the kitchen and tidied it up before bringing the two dishes back to the table. I appreciate that sort of attention to detail.

      Tony's lasagne came in an individual stoneware dish from which he then spent several minutes trying to dig it out again. His chips were big, fat and very ungreasy and a side salad helped to reduce the guilt factor. My salmon was - I'm so sorry to say because I wanted it to be perfect - really not that fabulous at all. I can only begin to imagine how a restaurant with over a dozen dishes on the lunchtime menu can possibly keep everything fresh for just two customers. My salmon was ever so slightly not quite as fresh as it needed to be. I'm very sensitive to 'offness' in fish and with such a big piece of salmon I struggled. It was served with a mound of garlic and spring onion mash, with the fish perched on top of a mound of green beans and there was a sauce described as 'white wine sauce' liberally applied on top. The mash was a nice surprise as it hadn't been well described on the menu but the sauce had lots of bits of onion in it and had curdled in a strange way that left the beans very oily. I ate it out of a fear that the chef would be mortified if he only served two diners and one of them sent most of it back, but I can't really say that I enjoyed it. I also couldn't help thinking I should have gone for the Portobello mushroom dish instead.

      ~Times are Hard~

      We skipped pudding and moved straight to coffee for me and hot chocolate for hubby. Both were hot, strong and tasty. I felt intensely sad for Pedro and his partner that they are clearly putting enormous effort into trying to make the Kings Head into something special but are probably always going to struggle to get anywhere with a restaurant selling frankly rather expensive food in a tiny village. There's really no passing trade and even though the Kings Head has rooms upstairs (which look gorgeous on the website), there's not much in the area to draw people in unless there's horse racing at Towcester or motor racing at Silverstone. I don't envy anyone trying to keep a business afloat in a hard recession but I can't help but think that Pedro needs to get a lot more people in with food that's perhaps less fancy and a lot cheaper. I liked the dining room, loved my starter but I wouldn't drive all the way to the middle of nowhere to spend £15 on a poorly done salmon lunch. They need to be looking at 2 courses for £10 or £12 or 3 for a few pounds more in order to keep the place full.
      Like Dining on the Marie Celeste
      We paid just £4.60 for our drinks but left a good tip based on what we would have spent without the voucher. I left feeling quite sad about how hard the owners were trying to keep the pub afloat but not feeling optimistic about the future of this very pleasant place.

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