“ Address: The Plough Inn / 3 The Square / Hillsborough / Co. Down / BT26 6AG „
Recently, my boyfriend started a new job and I thought we'd go out for dinner that night as a little celebration. We were aiming to dine around 6ish and we were looking for somewhere nice with reliably good food, rather than somewhere mega-fancy. Our first choice, The Tap Room, doesn't open on Mondays (bah!) so I suggested we head out to Hillsborough, a pretty little town (the Queen lives there when she's in Northern Ireland. Which she hardly ever is. You'd think she didn't like us) and one which I remembered as having a couple of decent pubs that did nice food. Now, it's been at least ten years since I was in Hillsborough but, of the two main pubs the one I had heard the most positive reports on recently was The Plough, so off we went.
Once you've arrived in Hillsborough, follow the road through the town to the top of the hill. The Plough is on the left. There isn't much parking outside, but you can usually get squeezed in somewhere on the opposite side of the road. Once through the front door you'll be into the bar; food is served upstairs.
If you are disabled, unsteady on your feet or have children in pushchairs, don't even think about it. To be honest, I have no idea how The Plough are managing to get around Disability Equality laws; this is about the most inaccessible pub I've encountered. There is no lift, I didn't see any disabled toilets and there are steps up and down various levels even within the downstairs bar. None of the doors are wheelchair friendly. I appreciate that small pubs don't have the same requirements to be accessible as larger organisations but even minor things - putting a ramp outside the front door, for example - hadn't been done. Upstairs tables are packed so closely that manoeuvring a pram would be akin to snowless slalom racing and, handily, the stairs are sloped downwards which makes for a lively ascent and descent.
I remembered The Plough as being quite a traditional sort of place with lots of wooden furniture and comfy chairs. This is still largely the case downstairs but upstairs, sadly, they've gone with a design scheme that is hard to realise in words. Imagine, if you will, that the 70s and the 80s had a hideous, patterned, garishly coloured lovechild and then that the late 90s vomited some angular furniture and horrid artwork on it. That's what the restaurant looks like.
When we eventually made it up the mad stairs we waited at the sign beside the bar to be seated. There was what looked like a manager/supervisor behind the bar who clearly saw us (we were less than 10 feet away and right in his eye line) and yet he didn't acknowledge us in any way for a good 5 minutes, which I found breathtakingly rude. Eventually, just at the point I was deciding to walk away, he shouted that he'd send a waitress. Not the best start, but I was hopeful that the food and atmosphere would improve things.
Like many pubs and eateries in the greater Belfast area, The Plough has an earlybird menu where you can choose to have 2 courses for £12, with some restrictions placed on your meal options. I went for this whilst Peter decided just to order off the main menu. This, incidentally, was familiar as soon as I saw it, being very similar to another bar/restaurant that we visit (I believe it's the same owner) and so I initially had high hopes. I ordered the Smokey Joe burger, which came with bacon, cheese and gherkins and I chose 'posh chips' as a side; he ordered a mixed bean casserole topped with a spiced and pan-fried chicken breast. My burger was rather good: the meat was nice and juicy and not overcooked, the bun was decent quality and there was plenty of bacon, cheese and gherkin. A nice tomato sauce was served in a separate ramekin which I appreciated as I like to put my own on. The chips, on the other hand, were a total disappointment. Advertised as being coated with parmesan and truffle oil, there was little visual trace of either and certainly none of the flavour. Peter doesn't normally like beans but said they were very good and that the chicken was tender and tasty. So far, so good, until we finished and waited for our plates to be taken away. And waited. And waited. After 30 minutes the waitress cleared our plates and promised to return with the dessert menus. She did and we chose quickly, mindful of how slow the pace seemed to be. And then we waited. And waited. 20 minutes later and she still hadn't appeared to take our order. Annoyingly, in the meantime another waitress passed our table and the rude manager stood right behind us smooth talking a group of diners who he was obviously friendly with and who were getting their food a lot more quickly than us, despite having arrived much later. My patience is pretty good but it's not infinite and eventually I decided enough was enough and went to the bar to ask for the bill. Had it been a busy night I could perhaps have been a bit more understanding of the shoddy service but it was a Monday night, the restaurant was less than 2/3 full and there were 3 members of waiting staff. Our (terrible) waitress didn't even ask why we were leaving without a dessert and I had to point out that a dining time of over an hour and a half for one course was appalling. She mumbled a sorry but didn't offer to amend the bill or offer complimentary drinks.
For one course each, a large and a small soft drink, the bill was £28 which I think is far too much for dire service and average food. Needless to say, I didn't add a tip. I was pretty annoyed about our treatment and so had a look on Tripadvisor when I got home to see what the consensus was and, lo and behold, there are a lot of reviews complaining about poor service, lengthy waits and bar staff favouring their mates when serving. This is a real shame, as in the days before it tried so hard to be cool and trendy, this was a good pub. Now, unfortunately, it's all fur coat and no knickers. One to avoid.