“ Address: Green End / Fen Ditton / Cambridge / CB5 8SX / Tel: +44 01223 293264 „
Just left the plough I have spent £80 on food and was waiting to get a drink at the bar all of a sudden this girl behind the bar tells every one to que in a line for drinks any one to the side of the que will not get served. She told me after I had been standing there for 20 mins that she was not going to serve me so with that me and my family left and I will not go back again
The 'country pub' is a dying breed, if you ask me. Very large, commercialised pub chains like Vintage Inn would have you believe that they are the salvation of country pub life, but they don't really have that individuality that (for me at least) is the definition of a country pub. The Plough at Fenditton is one of a growing generation of 'contemporary country pubs' boasting good food and ale in relatively modern, comfortable surroundings. It's a good location for lunchtime or evening drinking and dining but it doesn't quite put ticks in all the boxes for me.
To the northeast of Cambridge you'll find a pretty little village called Fen Ditton. Situated on the banks of the river Cam, this is a gorgeous little place, steeped in history and very easy on the eye. The riverside setting is stunning at all times of the year and the village boasts original thatched cottages and a beautiful old church. The Plough has been in situ for centuries, originally the site of a paper mill, before being converted to an inn that was at the heart of village life. This was a popular coaching inn, used by travellers on their way to and from Cambridge and the pub today is no more than fifteen minutes' drive from the centre of Cambridge (allowing for traffic). Ely and Newmarket are a reasonable distance too and although the pub is tucked away in the village, access from the A14 ring road is dead easy, with a junction (number 34) literally a few minutes' drive from the pub.
It's a point worth noting, actually, that this isn't really a location for anyone other than a local pedestrian or a car driver. I'm sure there is some kind of bus through the village but it probably only runs once a month or something and this isn't the sort of location that is served well by public transport. Of course, it's entirely possible that you could cycle here - indeed, it would make a great rest point on a long ride on a sunny day. The car park is reasonably big. It's not hard to imagine that it could get pretty full on a busy day and there are no real arrangements for additional parking except on one of the small streets nearby, which is far from ideal.
The location of the pub itself is lovely. It's a reasonably large building, set back from the river Cam but with a fantastic outlook that faces right down onto the water. There is a plethora of outside seating, with loads of large picnic tables arranged in the greenery between the river and the pub that become quite bustling of a summer evening. There's a patio immediately outside the pub, although this feels a little pointless because you're not quite close enough to the river. When the sun shines, it's all a complete sun trap and easy to drift off into a daze after a couple of pints.
The interior of the pub has been recently renovated and has a sort of easy contemporary style that isn't terribly demanding. The wooden floor is a little noisy with feet and chair legs but it's otherwise clean and inviting. There are a selection of prints and canvases around the room, some featuring a sporting theme, others more ornamental, but nothing particularly 'in your face.' As you first enter the pub, it seems dominated by several pillars that block your view, but the dining tables are arranged quite efficiently around this to make the most of the space. It's not an enormous space, but generally the tables are set up in such a way that you don't feel as though you are sitting on top of the people next to you.
To the left as you come in is the pub's equivalent of a lounge. In fact, there's nothing particularly comfortable about this area, but it's where you come if you're just drinking or having bar snacks. The seating is high, comprising high-legged stools around enormous barrels but at lunchtime, it's actually quite a nice respite from the bustle of the dining room. There's no obvious place to wait and be seated as you come in, but it's table service, so you need to do this out of courtesy. The bar area is fairly large and curves around to give the bar staff a good outlook over the diners. It's a strange set up for drinkers, only in that they need to walk through the diners to get outside (unless they go back out the exit) and it's all very orientated towards eating. You almost get the feeling that they'd rather not bother with people who just want a pint.
This is partly where this idea of being a country pub falls down because it doesn't have that welcoming feeling of a tavern. The modern fittings don't help, but to all intents and purposes, it's more of a restaurant than anything else. It also lacks cosiness too. There's no open fire or comfortable lounge chairs to sink into on a cold night and the expanses of glass windows leave you feeling a little exposed. This is definitely a much better venue in the summer than during the colder, darker months.
The Plough seems to attract a cross-section of visitors. Lunch times attract a lot of suits stopping off for something a bit different to the office canteen for once and I like the bustle of lunchtime. This is only really offset by the apparent popularity with yummy mummies and their screaming children. Of an evening, there's a more varied crowd, but the riverside drinking attracts a lot of couples in the summer.
The Plough is a member of the Cark Masque Trust, a non-profit making organisation that strives to maintain standards in pubs and restaurants that serve real ales. Pubs in the scheme are regularly assessed on the key criteria of aroma, taste, appearance and temperature, but if you're into real ale, this is a sign that the pub is probably committed to the same sort of standards that you are. The ales here seem to change infrequently but seem dominated by three on tap. The last time I visited, I spotted Timothy Taylors, Adnams Bitter and Sharps Doom Bar (nice!). Otherwise, there's quite a wide selection of mainstream lagers, bitters and ciders, which I always find slightly disappointing and would expect to see more varieties of real ale. The drinks always seem served at the right temperature to me and where appropriate (e.g. Amstel) in branded glasses, which I quite like.
The wine list is less than impressive, with a reasonably modest selection of whites, reds and roses. There's nothing particularly astounding on the menu (top price is probably around £25 per bottle) but this does mean that most of the wines are available by the glass, which works well in a restaurant like this where you might be catering for a variety of tastes. They tend to have seasonal drinks, which I quite like. Just now, for example, they've got their Summer Drinks menu, which features some tasty summer cocktails, which showcases the fact that they don't just offer the mainstream brewery spirits. They do Whitley Neill gin, for example (goes down a treat in their gin and tonic) and some slightly more interesting vodkas. Drinks prices are reasonable enough. The cocktails will set you back about a fiver (average price really) and the ales are around £3 per pint.
The service here is reasonably good, probably just about above average. The waiting staff members are very pleasant, courteous and helpful but could go that little further to be really welcoming. Like many such places, they often seem a little harassed, and mistakes and delays are not unusual. If you ask questions or make enquiries about the menu it's a bit hit and miss as to whether you'll get somebody that can actually help but I do at least get the impression that they want to help. Service times are pretty good. Even at a reasonably lunch time period, you wouldn't normally wait more than ten minutes for main course (fifteen if you're with the awkward person that wants a steak well done). But you have to get attention. This isn't one of those places where the waiters and waitresses can anticipate what it is that you're after and you kind of have to grab their attention.
Food orders are placed at the table (this is a fully waited service) and there is a selection of menus available. There is a full menu, a lunch menu, a fixed price menu, a children's menu, a dessert menu and a short special menu that changes daily. I quite like the fact that these are personalised with a daily message, but it can actually be a little overwhelming to fight your way through so many menus. This offers a good selection of meals but it's not the most practical way to display them, and they might be better off with one big menu that features everything. The cutlery is always clean (I'm a stickler for that) but they use cheap paper napkins (I'm a stickler for that too) and the table surfaces sometimes seem a bit grubby to me.
The Plough advertises its food as 'uncomplicated' and the seasonal menu is 'packed with tasty meat, fish and vegetarian options'. It's certainly true that the menu is very varied and there's no specific theme here, so if you're looking for somewhere that could cater for many tastes, this could work well. That aside, it would seem fair to say that the pub specialises in fish, as this seems to be the most varied part of the menu and the smell that hits you when you first walk in is a fishy one!
The main menu comprises around eight each of starters, seasonal dishes and pub classics, along with a variety of side orders. Curiously, the vegetarian options aren't clearly marked, and whilst you can probably work out that the black olive and onion tart is the vegetarian dish, something tells me a system of labelling would be useful here. The menu changes seasonally and my eating experiences have been relatively recent but I have to say that my overall opinion of the food here is bland - and that's an opinion shared by others who have dined here.
I recently, for example, tried a deep filled vegetable pie with mash and gravy. I was expecting something hearty, chunky and creamy and was astounded to find, instead, a sort of wishy-washy ratatouille, topped with a pastry crust and a modest dollop of mash. A burger looked reasonably meaty, and certainly came with all the trimmings, but both the bacon topping and the burger were surprisingly tasteless, notably the latter which really needed some seasoning. The sea bream is of a good standard and perfectly cooked, but the chive butter is a little thin and simply not tasty enough to set off the bream, which is a fairly mellow-tasting fish at the best of times.
Chef's fishcakes are nicely presented but the lemon crème fraiche simply isn't tangy enough. The gammon steak combination is heartily undemanding and there are some stronger flavours from the lamb shoulder that is accompanied by sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Side orders of vegetables, however, are nearly always cold and undercooked (last time, my broccoli was almost raw.) Curiously the starters are nearly always better, the crab cakes and chicken skewers always going down nicely. The fixed price menu offers reasonably good value (£6.95 for one course up to £10.95 for three) but the dishes are simpler, and exclusive to this menu. The sandwiches and jacket potatoes make for a reasonable lunch, particularly with a variety of breads and rolls used for the former and they generally keep things simple here - you can't really go wrong with a ham, cheese and pickle sandwich.
The desserts are reasonable enough. There are no specialities that have me slobbering over the opportunity to dine here but the usual suspects of lemon tart, blackberry and apple crumble and chocolate mousse are often quite a welcome follow-up to some of the blander main courses. Portions here across the board are on the moderate end of the scale, another factor that erodes the 'country pub' image that we would associate with hearty plates of comforting food.
Food is served all day from 12:00 to 22:00, with a slightly earlier finish on a Sunday of 21:30.
All in, the food is quite a gamble. Some dishes are good, some are very bland and ordinary and more often than not it's the latter. I'm always disappointed that they don't seem to showcase local suppliers a bit more either. There's nothing organic or particularly adventurous here and they might do better to streamline the menu to have fewer, more exciting dishes that change more often. Seasonal menus should change monthly, not twice a year.
The Plough gets a full thumbs up for its escapist location and the gorgeous riverside scenery. It's really, really lovely of a warm evening and there's a lovely chilled atmosphere about the place that seems to attract everyone. I'm not a massive fan of the food (the clue is that I'm never paying) and find that a bit inconsistent. It's not unusual to leave still feeling hungry or dissatisfied that you filled up with something that tasted of nothing and I think they need to look at the menus. If you're just drinking you can't go wrong, but given that they're aiming their business squarely at the diners, there's much room for improvement too.
Recommended - just.
Address: Green End, Fen Ditton, Cambridge, CB5 8SX
Telephone: 01223 293264