“ Address: Faulkners Lane / Mobberley / Knutsford / WA16 7AL / Tel: 01565 873 234 „
My friend Alison and I try to meet up every couple of months for dinner. Last time we met it was her turn to choose the venue and she suggested the Frozen Mop in Mobberley. For those unfamiliar with the delights of the Cheshire Plain, Mobberly lies between the more well-known towns of Wilmslow and Knutsford. If you do know the area, you'll recognise this is a bit of a snooty area with some very well-heeled residents. It's not quite on the elevated level of Prestbury and Alderley Edge with their millionaire footballers and B-list television celebrities, but it's certainly not a cheap place to be.
As I waited in the car for Alison to arrive - she's usually late - I had a good look at the place. You can tell this was back before the clocks changed. From the outside it looked like it would be a great place on a summer's evening with a large outside terrace and lots of tables but we were there on a drab September evening and the al fresco option was not viable. It looks like any of the thousands of white-painted pubs you'd find up and down the country, set apart from the rest only by its bizarre and (as far as I could tell) unexplained strange name.
Step inside and it's immediately clear that you are in that parallel universe known as the Gastro-pub and there's a clear sense of that familiar feeling that they are 'trying a bit too hard'. There's nothing pub-like about this place at all and despite the historic looking shell, there's nothing old inside. It's all comfy armchairs, bare wooden floors, blonde wood tables and very strange slices of tree trunks stuck on the walls. It's all very 'designed' although some things are just plain weird - for example lots of what look like empty CD racks stuck on the walls with nothing on them. It's clean, clear, stylish and everything is in good condition but there's no sense of warmth about the place. It also suffers the 'too many hard surfaces' problem which means that even on a slow night when we were in and only about a third of the tables were taken, it's painfully noisy. "I wouldn't fancy being in here on a Saturday night" said Alison and I could see exactly what she meant.
We were greeted by a cute barman with such a bad mumble and an impenetrable accent (of somewhere south of the equator - New Zealand, South Africa or who-knows-where) that we had no idea what he said and just followed him. He delivered us to a table set for four and grunted something about menus. We just nodded - he could have been saying "Would you like to eat a leather handbag followed by a dog poo?" and we'd have just nodded and smiled because there's only so many times you can say "Sorry, what was that?" and get the same impossible to understand response. We were relieved when the menus were delivered by someone we could understand.
We each ordered a glass of wine - Alison red, me white - since we'd both be driving home and a bottle of sparkling water to share. The menu looked quite interesting at first but after further scrutiny several of the things I liked the look of were spoiled by the unnecessary addition of extra meat. This has happened to me a few times lately - you see a nice intriguing sea-food dish and some duffer has decided it would be better by adding chorizo sausage, thus instantly excluding the not insubstantial part of the population who, like me, are fishitarians. Some very nice looking gourmet pizzas were available but I'd been out to Pizza Express the night before and didn't thing pizza twice in one week was a good idea. The menu was long and quite complicated which is not always a good thing in a country pub-restaurant. I always wonder how they can keep all the ingredients fresh with a relatively low number of weekday diners and the answer too often is that they can't.
We decided to skip the starters and then went back on that decision when we recalled our last night out where the food took so long to come that we were about to eat the table. We agreed to share a so-called garlic pizzette and an onion tart each of which was just a shade under £6. Because this decision to do starters was rather last minute we probably didn't do ourselves any favours and for a couple of pound more we could have had something more existing. For main courses we both ordered linguine pasta with a tomato, prawn, crab and chilli sauce.
~Taking the Pizzette~
The starters arrived after about 10 minutes and we were a bit shocked by the size of the pizzette. I was expecting something smaller and rather more interesting than the 12 inch (i.e. large) pizza base with much too little garlic and an assortment of odd herbs flung on it. It was too big and too boring. The onion tart by contrast was very good with the onions nicely caramelised and the pastry still crisp. We polished off the tart but rather a lot of the pizzette was left. It didn't help that they'd also brought us bread and an olive oil and balsamic dip which meant we were a bit over-startered.
The main courses were a real disappointment. I think £11.55 for a pasta dish in a country pub is pushing things a bit but when it arrived I had a real sense that this was something I could have thrown together at home for a few quid and probably done better than them. As I poked at the very large bowl of linguine I realised that something wasn't right. This was supposed to have crab, tiger prawn and chilli in it. The chilli was very mild, the prawns were tiger 'cubs' rather than tigers and the crab was nowhere to be seen. I asked Alison to check hers too and when the waiter passed by to reassure himself that everything was fine I told him that it wasn't.
His face fell as I poked at the dish. "Where's the crab?" I asked him. He explained that it was stirred into the sauce and probably spread through the dish. I challenged him that if he could find a molecule of crab meat in the dish then I'd shut up. He scurried off to the kitchen to talk to the chef and returned to say that they did have crab but the chef hadn't put it in (hmm, let's leave out the most expensive ingredient, I thought). He offered to take the bowls back to the kitchen and get the crab added.
Sure enough the dishes returned a while later probably with rather more than the normal amount of crab to compensate. It was very clearly 'proper' crab and not tinned crab or those nasty cheap mock crab sticks. But the addition had now made the dishes absolutely enormous and without a bit more of a chilli kick, it soon became a challenge to get through such a large amount of rather bland food. There's only so much fork twirling a girl can take and we both gave up about two thirds of the way through our meals (although I took care to eat every last visible scrap of crab before giving up).
We passed on desserts and ordered peppermint tea which was very ordinary. We've recently had some exceptionally creative interpretations of peppermint tea with glasses stuffed with leaves and quite a performance but this was just a bag in hot water. Our meal with two starters, two pasta dishes, 2 glasses of wine and a large bottle of water, and two peppermint teas came to a few pence over £50.
The food was OK but really nothing special - the crab linguine in particular was far too expensive even once the crab had actually made it into the dish. The service - with the exception of the stupid crab omission - was on the whole efficient but cold and we got no sense of human warmth or enthusiasm from any of the staff. Thankfully we didn't have any more to do with the antipodean barman after we were seated but the other staff left little impression. In view of the lingering feeling that we very nearly got ripped off on the crab-front, we tipped a very small amount and left without any intention to go back again. Ironically our previous night out at the Bear's Head in Brereton had suffered similar setbacks (in that case incredibly slow arrival of the food) but due to a fabulously jolly waitress and a really nice 'buzz' about the place, we'd hurry back there. But at this Mobberly restaurant the service was almost as frozen as the unexplained Mop.
The Frozen Mop