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Never In My Wildest Dreams...
The Wild Man (Sproughton)
Member Name: MizzMolko
The Wild Man (Sproughton)
Date: 24/01/11, updated on 24/01/11 (435 review reads)
Advantages: There was an exit...
Disadvantages: ...sadly, it doubled up as an entrance!
The recession continues to take its toll on many small businesses: figures indicate that somewhere in the region of forty pubs are closing each and every week in the UK. Although that's a slight improvement on the sums from 2009, 2010 was still a very fragile time for pubs up and down the country. It's with that sentiment in mind that I write this review somewhat regretfully - I love the traditional Englishness of pubs. Yet, in some cases, I wonder whether the recession is entirely to blame for the shutting of some pub's doors...
When we arrived at our lovely holiday cottage in Suffolk in the August of last year, we asked the owners whether any pubs within walking distance served food on a Saturday evening. The hosts didn't seem to rate the pub in the local vicinity very highly but did recommend The Wild Man Carvery in the next village of Sproughton. Without a second thought, we unpacked our suitcases and jumped back into the car, travelling for just five minutes until we reached the cream coloured building.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: CAN THEY BE WRONG?
With one look at the run down Wld Man sign that hung like a black cloud over the pub's entrance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Wild Man was one of the latest victims of the recession. That is until we came across a gaggle of giggling men and their three legged dog in the outside seating area, an outside seating area that consisted of one picnic table and one umbrella. From the moment we found the back door, I got the distinct impression that this was very much a 'locals' kind of pub and that perhaps tourists - or 'outsiders' - weren't very welcome.
Still undeterred, and with the host's encouragement ringing in our ears, we made our way into the bar which looked uncannily like a workers club from the 1970s. Not that I've ever been in a workers club, least of all one from four decades ago, but the dimness of the room just made me think of the Railway Arms from Life on Mars. A dart board was the pride of one end of the room, along with a pool table, and the miniscule bar stood at the opposite end. The lady behind the bar was professional: not warm or overly friendly but obliging enough.
From what I can remember, drinks were reasonably priced and there was plenty of choice. Most of the beer was on draft, including Kronenbourg, but I was more interested in the local cider, Aspall. Although a bottle of White Lightning is a Chav's ideal sofa buddy, Aspall's is delicious and I was delighted to see it served in the Wild Man. It was perhaps the only redeeming feature of the place: all of the beverages that we ordered were served at their correct temperature. We paid somewhere in the region of £8 for three halves of alcoholic beverages and one fruit juice which isn't bad at all.
Food service begins at 6 o'clock on a Saturday so we made our way over to the restaurant area at the same time as another couple who'd reserved a table. The eating area was in a much better condition than the bar and at least looked fairly clean. The Wild Man is supposedly a grade two listed building and I loved the ceiling's wooden beams. The restaurant itself was well set out and the carvery corner was only a short distance away from the tables and chairs. This was very handy as my Dad opted to try the carvery and the rest of us sampled main courses from the A La Carte menu. I should probably point out that accessibility for wheelchair users would be possible in the Wild Man: there was a ramp from the outside area which leads into both the bar and the restaurant area and plenty of space between each table for mobility needs.
THE MENU, SERVICE AND THE FOOD: ONLY ONE OF THESE RESEMBLED A WORK OF ART, NOT A NASTY PIECE OF WORK....
The menu itself for the Wild Man was actually pretty varied and the prices respectable. In our usual fashion, we skipped the starters menu and looked straight at the mains but for those of you that do like your appetisers, the Wild Man offers a choice of pub regulars including soup and prawn cocktail. Starters range from £2.95 to £3.95 but the selection isn't as vast as the main courses: vegetarians could choose between a sweet potato and parsnip nut roast or a cheese salad whilst pescatarians could enjoy a selection of fish dishes, like breaded scampi and a fish pie. I think I'm right in saying that vegans are not catered for in this particular establishment (which isn't a great disappointment for any vegans) but there is a rather infinite list of food for meat eaters, including Cumberland sausages, a curry and chicken tagliatelli.
The A La Carte menu is pretty reasonable in price, starting from £6.95 for the pub's 'special' cheese burger and £12.95 for an 8oz fillet steak or a 16oz T-Bone steak. Whilst I didn't see a children's menu on the table or any 'light bite' choices for anybody with a smaller appetite, that's not to say that the Wild Man doesn't or couldn't cater for such people. However I'd strongly recommend wearing a string of garlic around your neck and sprinkling some Holy water over yourself before you ask any members of staff...
I had a difficult time choosing exactly what I wanted to eat but the specials board caught my eye, particularly the words 'sweet' and 'sour'. My Dad, being the only member of the family with the ability to read, pointed out that specials were not to be served on a Saturday evening. A bit strange if you ask me but my mind was finally made up after I saw a teeny menu on the table with 'speciality' meats listed including ostrich, kangaroo and zebra. I tried ostrich meat many years ago and liked it a lot so I opted for that, as did my Mum. My Brother chose for gammon with pineapple and all of the pubs non-carvery meals come with peas, onion rings, grilled tomato and grilled mushroom with a choice of either chips, boiled potatoes or twister fries.
We were seated for roughly ten minutes before the waitress came over to take our order and I have to say that her demeanour didn't impress me from the start: she bossed guests about as if she was a P.E teacher in an all girls school (well, she reminded me of an old sports teachers anyway) and thus she wasn't altogether that friendly. My Mum and I had to choose between a couple of sauces with our main course and she didn't like having to explain what one of the sauces was. In fact, I'd go as far to say that she didn't really know what it was: she said 'oh it's like a cream' but it in fact it had a mushroom taste to it! It's a good job that I like mushrooms as I know many that certainly don't...
Over the next forty minutes, we watched both a table that ordered before us and a table of two that ordered after us receive their food. It bugs me in restaurants when that happens and to be honest, it wasn't as if the chef should have been that put out by our main courses: we'd only ordered steaks and my Dad was going to have the carvery which was already on the hot plates. Realistically, it shouldn't have taken much more than twenty-five minutes to cook and plate our food. Alas, there were more problems when the three dishes did arrive: the waitress was meant to come and tell my Dad when our food was about ready so he could go and get his carvery. This didn't happen and that episode was, unfortunately, one in a series of poor regards for customer care which typified our dining experience at the Wild Man.
My Mum and I had both ordered our steaks medium so the ostrich would be served with a lovely pink colour in the middle whilst maintaining its slightly delicate beefy flavour. Alas, mine looked like it had been almost cremated on the outside and, once I'd finally managed to cut into the steak, it was clear that the chef had cooked it well instead of medium. Already exasperated as to how long it took for us to get our food, I didn't ask for the steak to be sent back or I'd probably still be in Suffolk waiting for it to return!
Don't get me wrong, medium was only my cooking preference. Yet in light of the chef's other actions, I have to say that I wish I had sent the ostrich back on principal. My Brother's gammon came with a choice of pineapple or egg. Neither him nor I can stand eggs and he emphasised when he was ordering his food that under no circumstances did he want egg on the plate. Now, you probably think you know which direction this story is heading in: my Brother's dish arrived with a fried egg sprawled on top with the yolk streaming out over everything else. Wrong. You see, the chef is apparently a bit of a practical joker and thought it would be funny to put a WHOLE egg onto my Brother's plate. Yep, you just read this right: the so-called chef that can't cook a steak to order placed an egg, still in its shell, onto my Brother's gammon!
When the second waitress, who had obviously gone to the first waitress's school of etiquette, said about the chef being a bit of a comedian, my response was along the lines of 'well that's hilarious' (that's version that doesn't include curse words anyway). I don't think she appreciated that in the slightest so she sheepishly took the egg and made her way back into the kitchen. In hindsight, I wish I'd 'accidentally' dropped the egg onto the floor whilst passing it to her. Perhaps the chef wouldn't have found it quite so amusing if one of his serving staff had to spend time during dinner service mopping egg shell off the floor...
Oh and how did the food taste I hear you cry? Bland. The ostrich steaks were, as I said, overcooked, meagre and tasted a bit like a George Foreman grill that hadn't been cleaned for the best part of twenty years. The mediocre cubes of mushrooms tasted exactly the same and I just didn't bother with the tomatoes as A) I don't like tomatoes unless they're warm and B) they barely looked grilled. The onion rings, which I only ate because I was hungry, had no flavour to them what-so-ever and, along with the chips, were soggy and clearly not homemade. Many of the dishes were advertised on the menu as being homemade and I was expecting the chips to be so too. Sadly they were more like French fries you'd get from a Burger King with a water leak: pale and without a delicious crispy coating. My Brother's gammon lacked any crisp fat or indeed grilling marks and was apparently flavourless. Whether that's an improvement on an unwashed grill pan taste is for you to decide...
In fact, I'd go as far to say that the creamy/mushroom/whatever flavoured sauce that came with the ostrich steaks was the nicest part of the meal: it was thick enough to be used purely for dipping purposes and acted as a good disguise for the flavour of overdone ostrich. The only issue with the sauce was that it should have been a tad warmer and this is something I found to be the case with most of the food on our plates.
The only real success food-wise at the Wild Man was my Dad's carvery whose meal was quote 'alright'. Now, my Dad's not one for compliments (as my Mum is fully aware of) and he either categories food as 'ok' or 'not bad' so 'alright' must be fairly positive! At the carvery counter, there was a selection of six vegetables, including the usual peas and carrots, as well as roast or boiled potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. My Dad chose to have a selection of the three meats available and whilst the beef and pork slices were tender and tasty, the turkey was apparently a bit insipid and boarded the bland train along with our ostrich steaks and the gammon. Everything on the carvery was very hot, which it really ought to have been considering the restaurant had only opened for service within the past hour. The carvery seemed to be very popular with other guests - and it smelt delicious and very homely - so perhaps they knew something my Mum, Brother and I didn't...
'HELL'S KITCHEN? WELL F*** ME!'
On a completely bizarre note, my Dad did notice something rather interesting: behind the cavery hotplates was a photograph of the chef grinning like a school boy who'd just discovered what his pencil is used for with Gordon Ramsay! Where and when this picture was taken is anybody's guess but it was rather misleading. Upon seeing the cook canoodling with the Simon Cowell of the culinary world, you would hope that the food at the Wild Man would be exceptionally good, albeit unsophisticated pub grub. Alas, that wasn't the case and I have to say that the chef should feel somewhat ashamed having that photograph on the wall for the whole of Suffolk to see when he can't cook a steak as requested.
We knew that the bloke in the photograph was the chef as he was the dude that sauntered out every so often to serve the carvery. My Dad was stood at the desk for roughly five minutes before the chef came to serve him which, considering we were all battling with our food in the mean time, wasn't ideal. Whether this is regular practise at the Wild Man or whether they were under staffed on that particular evening is something I don't know. Whilst this does provide a logical explanation as to why the ostrich steaks were overcooked, it doesn't explain how the idiot managed to find time to play stupid pranks elsewhere.
Although I wasn't particularly full after my main course (like I said, the ostrich steak wasn't overly big and resembled that of a shrivelled up piece of cardboard) none of us plumped for a pudding. Before we'd seen the 'delights' of our main courses, I was tempted to order a piece of Belgium chocolate fudge cake for afters but fearing that the puds would be out of date contributions from the cash and carry, declined the stern Sport's teachers offer upon her return to the table. Desserts start at £2.95 for the rather imaginative flavoured ice creams of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry and you can add another pound to the price of other sweets, including 70s dinner party favourite black forest gateau and Granny's beloved fruit flavoured sponges and crumbles. As my Grandad would say, 'Not for me Mill, thank you!'
The toilets were another aspect of the Wild Man that resembled a 70s workers club and probably hadn't been decorated since that decade either. Thankfully, there was plenty of soap available in the loos and the cutlery, plates and whatnot in the restaurant appeared to be clean but the chip on the sauce jug shows that perhaps attention to detail isn't the Wild Man's strong point. The same can be said for courtesy: without being asked whether we'd enjoyed our food or not, either during or after our meal, my Dad went and paid. The final food bill came to about £40 so with the addition of the drinks already stated and a glass of red wine for Mum, we left with Dad's pocket fifty quid lighter and our stomachs not half as full as we'd hoped.
OTHER INFO THAT MIGHT BE OF USE TO SOME PEOPLE...
If you're over 60, the folks at the Wild Man establishment are being extremely kind to you (and perhaps doing their darndest to stop the aging population). If you sign up to the pub's 'Over 60s' Club, and whenever you visit the dump besides Saturday night or all day Sunday, you can get two courses of the carvery for the astonishing price of £6.95! Yep, you read that right: the Wild Man wants you to eat double the amount of their crappy food so they won't get into trouble with the health and safety people. In all fairness, the Over 60s Club is a good offer, but if pensioners in Suffolk are anything like some of my elderly relatives, it's possible that they wouldn't be able to manage one course, let alone two.
OVERALL: WHY I WON'T BE EATING THERE WHEN I'M 64!
Believe it or not, I hate being this negative throughout a review: I always try to find something positive to say about any product or establishment. Alas, with the Wild Man, there is very little to celebrate which is a shame: if we'd enjoyed our meals, and the service was pleasant, we may have gone back on more than one occasion throughout the week.
Perhaps if we'd all had the carvery, my review might have been more optimistic. Yet, the curtness of the waitresses was something I doubt would have changed no matter what we'd ordered. To say that it was nearly half past seven at night, and half way through dinner service, when we left and the restaurant and it wasn't even a quarter full, I think that perhaps says more than it needs to about the state of the Wild Man. Perhaps it's a nice place for locals to go and sit and have a drink but in terms of food, perhaps locals had cottoned on long ago that unless you were to have the carvery, it's simply not worth dining there. The food wasn't badly priced but the quality certainly wasn't there.
On a pub finder website, I did read a rather disturbing entry from somebody else who'd dined at the Wild Man: apparently, the chef doesn't take food hygiene too seriously at all and was once seen wiping the carvery hotplates with the SAME broom he'd just swept the floor with! Obviously, after the egg debacle, I'm not surprised but it certainly doesn't make me want to return to the Wild Man, even if I was in that part of Suffolk in ten years time.
Overall, a very, very disappointing and disheartening experience: if there's one thing I cannot stand in restaurants, its rude and unhygienic people. If you are ever in the Bramford area and want a pleasant welcome and good food, try the Bramford Cock or head into nearby Ipswich where there are lots of agreeable chain restaurants. And yes, I do hate recommending chain restaurants over struggling pubs but sometimes, you do wonder whether your custom would be appreciated in such places anyway. Where the Wild Man is concerned, the custom of some, from my experience, wasn't valued one bit.
CONTACT DETAILS (FOR ANYBODY WILLING TO TAKE THE RISK!)
Address: Bramford Road, Sproughton, IP8 3DA
Telephone number: 01473 742102
Opening times (for food):
Monday to Thursday: 12pm - 2pm and 5.30pm - 8.30pm
Friday: 12pm - 2pm and 5.30pm - 9pm
Saturday: 12 - 2pm and 6pm - 9pm
Sunday: 12pm - 7pm
(Please note: this review was previously posted on Ciao under the same username.)
Summary: Unless new owners with a better attitude take over, The Wild Man won't exist for much longer!