“ Address: 63 High Street / Berkshire / Ascot / SL5 7HP „
Since retiring, I've become a member of the ladies-that-lunch brigade and regularly meet up with friends and ex-colleagues in the same boat where we discuss the joys of no longer being wage slaves whilst tucking into a spot of grub. As we all live in different parts of East Berkshire, we take it in turns to choose the pub or restaurant and The Stag was the choice of a friend who lives in the Ascot area. She hadn't eaten there before but had heard good things about it. This pub is part of the Greene King group and is purported to have been recently updated. I'd argue that there are still areas which need improvement.
For anyone who doesn't know this area, Ascot isn't the world's most beautiful high street. It's dominated by the main entrance to the Race Course at the top end and the rest is a mish-mash of archectural styles, mainly Edwardian and mid-twentieth century shops down one side and the Race Course overspill car parks and boxy Sixties shops and offices on the other. Even on non-race days, the High Street is a very busy thoroughfare as it's a main road used by many drivers as a route to the M3 heading towards London.
The Stag has a corner position and looks to be one of those mid-twentieth century purpose-built pubs, all red brick and fake Tudor facade. It isn't a particularly attractive building but you know what it is straight away. Although this pub doesn't have its own car park, there is very limited on-street parking with time restrictions but there's also a free car park close by, just a few yards further on.
Ambience and mine host
Just as the outside of the pub isn't particularly attractive, the interior is also fairly bland, quite cold and soulless looking. There are a couple of entrances, both taking visitors into the bar area which has been decorated in a retro pub style by which I mean it has wooden floors and a high wooden bar; so high, in fact, that there was no way either myself or my lunch companions could have leant upon it. The area behind the bar was obviously higher as the barmaid towered over us. In the part of the saloon bar where we were, the chairs and tables were also very high. I'm just over 5 foot two inches and after several attempts to clamber up onto a bar stool, in the end I gave up rather than struggle further. Decoratively speaking, I didn't find the bar area particularly welcoming as it all seemed very cold and bare. The barmaid, however, was very pleasant and friendly. Although it was a lunch time and Ascot has quite a few businesses, the bar was surprisingly quiet which was probably just as well as the barmaid seemed to be on her own.
The restaurant area is at the back of the pub facing onto a paved courtyard beer garden and is a much larger area than the bar. This has also recently been redecorated and is again modern old-style with flagstone floors, painted brickwork, sturdy dark wood furniture and fairly neutral soft furnishings. The decor is best described as pleasant but, to my mind, it lacked warmth. Just as with the bar, the restaurant area was very quiet with only about three other tables being occupied. Although it was a week day lunchtime, there are several businesses in the area and I would have expected it to have been much busier. As we were served by the barmaid who seemed to be doubling up on her duties, it's probably just as well that the restaurant was quiet.
The barmaid/waitress was very pleasant, welcoming and helpful and although we lingered far longer than most diners, she left us in peace and didn't show any signs of wishing us gone.
The lunchtime menu is extensive although it's largely confined to pub grub but it has something for everyone whether they are meat or fish eaters though for vegetarians the choices are rather limited. The menu offers a selection of sandwiches and wraps, sharing platters, burgers and light main meals ranging in price from around £4.95 for a wrap up to £10.95 for the lighter main meals. There are also more substantial lunch dishes, which include such delights as Steak and Ale Pie, Pork Belly with Bubble and Squeak, Roast Chicken and several fish dishes which were priced from £6.95 for Scampi, Chips and Peas to £11.95 for an 8 oz. Sirloin steak with the trimmings. Sadly, the menu only offered three vegetarian choices for main meals; Haloumi, a pasta dish with chickpeas or Butternut Risotto and only a couple of vegetarian sandwiches.
The weekend menu has the addition of a roast dinner option on Sundays costing £9.45.
We opted for the sandwiches, all of which are served with salad and chips on the side. My friends' choices included Duck and Hoisin Wrap, Basil Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella served on Flatbread with Rocket, Red Onion and Tomato, a Chicken and Streaky Bacon Club Sandwich and a Fish Finger Sandwich for me. All the sandwiches were every bit as substantial as a main meal and everyone enjoyed their food which was hot, well cooked and well presented. My Fish Finger Sandwich wasn't your average two slices of white bread and a couple of Bird's Eye fish fingers but was served on homemade multigrain bread with handmade breaded haddock goujons served with a lime and coriander mayo and a lime wedge. The fish was perfectly cooked and the salad was crisp and plentiful.
I have to single out the chips for special mention. They were delicious and though I can't swear they were twice-cooked, they were golden and crispy on the outside, beautifully cooked on the inside and not at all greasy. Despite being on a diet, I ate all mine!
Only a couple of us had room for pudding as the options were all quite heavy with such dishes as Sticky Toffee and Date Pudding with Clotted Cream and Vanilla Sauce, Tarte Tatin with Toffee Sauce and Ice Cream and Belgian Chocolate Torte served with Crème fraîche and Orange Coulis. I didn't have a pudding but when I saw my friends Chocolate Torte I wished I had. The puddings were all priced around £4.50 with the exception of the Pudding Board option which consists of mini portions of all the desserts on offer and that was priced at £9.95.
We didn't have any alcohol as we were all driving so I can't comment on the quality or price of the wines on offer. We were offered a jug of still water without having to ask and free of charge.
I paid a quick visit to the ladies and can't say that I was impressed. It isn't somewhere patrons would want to linger. The facilities were very basic and the decor was rather tired to say the least. However, the toilet and basins were clean and there was plenty of loo paper although the strong chemical scent of disinfectant wasn't at all pleasant. I can't speak for the gents, but can only assume that they were in a similar condition. This is definitely an area of the pub which requires some improvement as it obviously hadn't been included in the upgrade.
Food is served seven days a week from 11:00 am until 11:00 pm which is extended to midnight from Thursday to Saturday and closing at 10:30 pm on Sunday.
The Stag is a good option for a quick or leisurely lunch if you're passing through Ascot, though I imagine it's a no-go venue for race days not least because parking will be almost impossible. The food was well cooked and reasonably priced and service was fast and friendly but the overall ambience was somewhat lacking due in part to the rather sterile decor and I suspect the lack of other diners contributed to this. As I've already mentioned, the loo could do with considerable improvement.
I can't wholeheartedly recommend this pub/restaurant because there are areas which definitely need attention but overall the positives certainly outweigh the negatives and this is one stag which doesn't need culling.
68 High Street
Ascot, SL5 7HP
Tel: 01344 621622