“ High Street / Codford / Warminster / Wiltshire / BA12 0NG / Tel: (01985) 850270. „
My parents' 30th Wedding Anniversary took place back at the end of August. For their 25th we sent them to Barcelona for the weekend but this year both parents are partially immobilised by various injuries so they had to make do with a visit from us and a celebratory lunch.
Unfortunately for my husband and me, my folks got married on an August bank holiday weekend so the roads are always a nightmare. This was our justification for taking them out two weeks early instead. Don't worry about them - they will get a present as well and not just the smutty karma sutra wall hanging we picked up in India. We figured after 30 years they might need some fresh ideas but we'll advise them to wait for the cartilage in her knee and his broken ankle to mend first.
My sister picked the The George Hotel at Codford St Peter because she lives just up the road. Apparently it won a 'Best Restaurant in Wiltshire' award earlier this year so she booked us in for Sunday lunch.
Introducing the family
We are an awkward bunch for any restaurant to deal with.
** My Mum
She's a lovely little lady who's always been adventurous with what she's willing to eat. I can't think of anything - other than bananas (it's a 'war baby thing' I think) - that she doesn't like.
** My Step-father
He's every cook's worst nightmare. He has a diet sheet for his 'anti-gout' programme and another for his anti-osteoporosis regime and half the time the two conflict. He's ever so fussy about what he eats and my Mum deserves a medal for not having starved or strangled him.
** My Sister
She's an ex-Greenham Common activist and very environmentally aware, she's the type who shops at health food stores and likes tofu (I'm being unfair, I do too). She gave up meat when she was 13, had a phase of being a strict vegan (at which point you couldn't eat her mince pies without industrial cutting equipment) and has mellowed in recent years to eat fish again. Rumour has it that she's now sold-out and is eating meat again but only if the animal has first had a massage and filled in a questionnaire to establish that it had a happy life.
** My Sister's Partner
She's a tiny little lady, so short that we nearly lost her in the wheelie bin one Christmas. She's very easy going (normally) but there's a pretty weird list of things that she thinks she doesn't like to eat and I can never remember what they are.
** MVLH (my very lovely husband)
He'll eat anything. He's married to me so he has to!
I'm a fishitarian and I'm not that crazy about eggs and cheese.
Add to this that my parents and my sister couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery and you'll understand why the simple act of going out for lunch is never as easy as it should be. Nothing ever goes according to plan.
My sister called the George on Saturday morning and was offered a booking for 12 pm or 2 pm. She took the latter and advised us all to have a big breakfast because she knew we'd be hungry.
Where is The George?
The small village of Codford lies just off the A36 in Wiltshire. Technically I think the village is actually called Codford St Peter but the signposts just say Codford. The village is 7 miles from Warminster and 14 miles from Salisbury. It's not far from Stonehenge. Codford is signposted off the A36 and runs parallel to the main road. If you check out the website - thegeorgecodford.co.uk - they provide maps and directions and you can get the phone number for bookings.
As you drive through the village, the George is the only pub - so you couldn't get confused, or could you? More of that later.
The George is set back slightly from the road with parking spaces in front. There's lots of parking available along the road opposite and the hotel faces a small local theatre.
A Bit About The George
The hotel was refurbished in 2003 and is run by a chap called Boyd Mackintosh. The website tells me he was the head chef at Howard's House before he moved to Codford but as I have never heard of Howard's House it's pretty irrelevant.
More importantly, the 'Which? Good Food Guide' awarded the George the accolade of 'Wilshire Restaurant of the Year, 2006' and they tend to be pretty reliable judges of quality.
My parents, husband and I arrived about 1.40 pm and we parked outside. Entering the pub it's a fairly standard looking country inn - a long bar to the right with sofas and a fireplace and the main L-shaped restaurant area is to the left. There's a second dining room at the far right past the fireplace. We were early so my step-father decided to get us all some drinks.
There were three sofas - a two-seater near the door and two larger ones set out at right angles with a coffee table. Together these two sofas had space to seat about 8 people. A lady was sitting at one end of one of the two large sofas so I asked if she was also using the other one and she said yes - who knows, I thought, maybe she had seven friends in the car park. This meant my parents ended up on hard chairs by the fire place with my husband and I ten feet away on the sofa. And the seven friends in the car park? They turned out to be one man.
So the woman had one giant sofa and her chap had the other. It felt like having the Berlin Wall between us. What a great treat for the old folks - we'd have needed to be fluent in semaphore to get a conversation going.
We decided to check if our table was ready, thinking that we could at least all go and sit together. Total disaster - no booking. Lots of debate followed with me pleading 'But my sister rang yesterday, she definitely booked it for 2 pm'. Curious - it turned out they don't take bookings after 1.45pm. We tried her house, we tried her mobile and finally she strolled in and the fight about the booking continued. I'd already set to work on a bowl of silverskin pickled onions, doubting that I'd get anything else and obviously not fancying the pork scratchings on the bar.
My sister was nervous - apparently she'd met the woman behind the bar at a party a few years before and said some pretty sharp things about how miserable she always looked. I believe the expression 'a face like a dog sucking a wasp' might have been used. It wasn't really a good omen for persuading them to let us have a table.
My hubby meanwhile was happy on the sofa with his nose tucked into an 18 month old copy of 'What Car?' magazine. 'Look here' he said 'a new Peugeot 206 diesel has a 16 valve engine'. Some people just don't get involved in conflict and he's one of them. The waitress said they did have one spare table but she'd have to check if chef had enough food and she wandered off.
At this point my sister took me aside - her partner was hurrumphing with my Step-father 'She did book, honest, I clearly heard her' she claimed. Sister whispered in my ear - 'I think I might have rung The George in the next village' she confessed. 'Don't tell anyone'. So we didn't!
The Sunday lunch menu is very reasonably priced at £9.95 for 2 courses of £12.95 for three. Is that expensive for a pub meal? I didn't think so - if you consider that this is much more 'gastro-pub' than 'spit and sawdust' I was certainly surprised at the prices. On our day there was a choice of four starters and four main courses. Several of the mains had run out but the waitress offered some quite generous substitutions - e.g. instead of the roast beef we were offered rump-steaks. I don't know much about meat but that sounded like a good deal. Somewhat annoyingly the only fish option for the main courses was barracuda which came with a £2.50 supplement.
* English lobster bisque
* Smoked salmon salad
* Oven baked goats cheese with sticky balsamic
* Fois Gras and chicken liver parfait
* Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
* Roast Pork with bacon and apricot stuffing
* Barracuda Fillet with tomato provencale (£2.50 supplement)
* Citrus roasted chicken breast
* Ice cream selection
* Mango pannacotta
* Apple and blackberry crumble
* Tuile basket of fruit and vanilla ice cream
* Cheese and biscuits (£2.95 supplement)
As you can see it's not quite 'Chicken in a Basket' followed by Black Forest Gateau. Most of the dishes had much fancier names than I've shown above but I have an aversion to the way restaurants dress up the descriptions of their dishes.
Now then, has anyone spotted anything odd about the main courses?
Yep, that's right - there were NO vegetarian options. You couldn't even ask for two veggie starters instead as there was only one available. I was genuinely surprised that any restaurant these days wouldn't have a meat-free option. When I returned home and checked out the evening menu on their website, I again found there was no veggie choice.
So what did we have?
We all decided to go 'main and pudding' rather than 'starter and main' - by this stage we were getting really hungry although the pickled onions were starting to eat through my stomach lining. Three of us went for the barracuda, two for the steak and one for the chicken. The waitress took our orders as we sat at the sofas and chairs.
By this time the evil sofa-hogging-nasty-people had been asked if they'd like to go to their table but had opted to stay at the sofas and eat their meal at the coffee table. We felt this was getting a bit beyond a joke. My sister's partner was threatening to start smoking next to them - or maybe farting, either would be fine. We were all running back and forth between the chairs and the sofa whilst Madame read a copy of 'Hello!' and nibbled on her starter. I always wonder why people who have nothing to say anymore still go out to lunch instead of staying home and not talking to each other.
Finally, when it looked like nothing short of a visit from Kofi Annan would broker a cease-fire over possession of the sofa territory, we were called to our table.
The Dining Room
There are two main dining areas - we were unfortunately in the less attractive one but under the circumstances we weren't going to grumble. This was a room with all the charm of a dentist's waiting room and even worse paintings. Actually, from what I could work out, they weren't really paintings but frames stuck onto the wall with the wallpaper inside (sorry - I think it was woodchip) painted in bright pink swirls. What were they thinking of? This room has perhaps four or five tables and we got the large table by the window.
Strangely there were no table mats or coasters and no table cloth. As my mother brought us up to respect furniture we know that we should never place a hot plate or a wet glass directly on a table. It sounds silly but we all felt a bit uncomfortable about the absence of table protection. Sure enough, by the end of our meal there were white 'rings' from the glasses and even knowing that this was 'somebody else's problem' didn't ease our sense that it was fundamentally the wrong thing to do.
And the Food?
Excellent - really very good indeed. I had the last piece of barracuda which was a bit of a titchy one so they said they wouldn't charge the supplement on my dish. Nice of them, I suppose. The barracuda piece came in a giant bowl (I'm glad I don't do the washing-up there because all the dishes were oversized in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way) swimming on top of an intensely tomato-ey tomato sauce. The fish was very firm and tasty. I'm told that the steaks were very good - I didn't see anyone sawing away - and hubby was more than happy with his chicken. I'm sorry I can't tell you more about their dishes as I obviously wasn't going to taste them for you.
The vegetables were lovely. We were given two large bowls of mixed veg - broccoli, snow peas, chunky courgettes, and something very odd that might have been crunchy swede - with a handful of roast potatoes perched on top. There were plenty of these roasties because the steaks and chicken arrived with potatoes already included.
Considering that we'd not really booked and chef seemed to have been forced to hunt in the fridge for the food, we were all very happy with the main courses.
Desserts followed - as they tend to. My Mum and sister had the mango pannacotta which was very smooth with a strong authentic mango flavour. We all agreed it was very good. The rest of us plumped for the crumble with half of us blagging ice-cream instead of cream. My step-father is a vanilla ice-cream snob so he went for cream - determined that the ice-cream wouldn't be good enough for him. However, once he'd checked it for the presence of lots of little black vanilla specs, he tried it and pronounced it to be good. The quantity of crumble was more than generous.
Considering we shouldn't have been there - they did a great job. If they had turned us out on the streets (or street) of Codford St Peter at 2 pm on a Sunday we'd not have found anywhere to eat so I'm very grateful that they squeezed us in. Fortunately my sister gave the other restaurant my parents surname so they, rather than she, will have been blacklisted for failing to turn up.
Some of the waitresses were inexperienced and tended to leap on the dishes to clear them or to cut between people to grab those dishes without asking first. During the main courses any background music was quiet enough to not intrude but by the time we got to deserts I suspect we were the only people still eating and the music was turned up. Did they forget us or were they trying to drive us out? I'm not sure.
We paid for the drinks as we went along but the food came to just £65 for the six of us - a very nice surprise as I'd expected to be paying twice that when my sister had told us about the award-winning status of the place.
The food was excellent quality and very tasty and the prices were very good value.
Would I recommend it?
If you are in the area - yes, I definitely would. But I wouldn't go more than 15 or 20 miles out of my way to visit. Be sure to book - get the number of the website and watch out that you don't book the wrong George Hotel! Oh, and if you don't eat meat or fish, it might be a good idea to ring ahead and discuss it with them. Maybe they can whip something up if they are warned- you'd have to check that.
What if you wanted to stay?
The hotel has B&B rooms for £45 per night for a single and £65 for a double. They may well be very nice but I can't imagine why anyone would go to Codford for a weekend as it's really just a little place.
Evening meals are a little more expensive - have a look at the website for examples - but still very reasonable, I thought. I guess if you wanted a really good blow-out dinner and lots of wine, a room might come in handy.
And finally - what about the sofa-hoggers?
As we left they were still there - laying siege to their territory - but by this time the lunch service was over and lots of the locals were at the bar for drinks and a bit of chatter. The area around the sofas was so smoky we could hardly see them through the fugg of air pollution. It seemed to be some kind of justice!
The George Hotel in Codford St Peter is ideally situated in the Wyley Valley near Salisbury and Bath and convenient to such major international tourist attractions as Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Longleat Safari Park.