Sources tell me that it definitely is now “Summer” in the UK however I keep having to remind myself that it’s June, such is the whimsical nature of the weather at the moment.
But I digress. Last Saturday afternoon turned out to be a cracker and, when a man is in possession of a convertible motor car and willing young lady, his thoughts turn to countryside drives and an evening meal out of Bristol.
I headed to familiar shores – The Pelican at Chew Magna – which I reviewed back in the spring. However, despite my positive words I was set for disappointment. Having arrived around 6pm we noticed that quite literally all of the tables were adorned with “reserved” signs.
I approached the cluster of bar staff and enquired about the possibility of dining there. I was curtly informed that food was served from 6.30pm and that we could possibly sit outside in the courtyard.
I was a little nonplussed at this suggestion primarily because, well, it wasn’t really an evening to be sitting outside in the absence of warming sun. I again enquired whether all of the tables were really reserved from 6.30pm on the dot, which apparently they were.
Choosing to avoid the clearly fictional deluge of diners at 6.30pm, and the distinctly frosty atmosphere, we absented ourselves. The Bear and Swan up the road had an apparently similar approach with a handwritten “Reservations only” sign on the door. Would it be unfair to suggest that these are local establishments for local people? I certainly felt it to be the case. Perhaps coming to a country pub in the early evening expecting a quick bite is unreasonable?
We headed in the direction of Bath Ales’ excellent Swan at Swineford, but a telephone call en route confirmed that they were, too, busy with diners – albeit in a friendly and inviting manner which proffered a bar table.
En route, with the navigation unit confused and with hunger building, we decided to give the Warwick Arms in Clutton a try. A traditional pub on the main A37 which has had a notable facelift in the last three years courtesy of the South African owner Peter Docherty. Country pub meets cattle ranch inside with pleasingly chunky bar seating and decor. There is also a large restuarant area.
It’s all a question of approach and attitude. When we approached the bar the staff were clearly extremely busy with a large bridal party in the rear room and a heaving restaurant – however, we were immediately offered a nice table in the bar.
The South African influence is very clear from the menu, with a range of meaty treats including Boerewors and a thoroughly interesting sharing plate with various delights included.
A large sign outside proclaims the best steaks in the area, and they clearly are the focus of the menu. I plumped for the 8oz Sirloin with a stilton sauce, whilst my dining companion chose the Scampi. As a carnivore the menu was thoroughly inviting, however I would say that the vegetarian offering was rather scant, barring the salad options.
My steak was superb, perfectly chargrilled with a rich, satisfying Stilton sauce and huge, twice-cooked chunky chips, a real treat. My companion enjoyed her Scampi, however commented that, in contrast to my chunky chips, the bought-in identikit French fries quite literally paled in comparison.
My steak was paired with a pint of local ale – the pub also stocks Greene King’s Abbot Ale and an excellent range of wines. Our meal came to £35 including drinks which is reasonable for steak of the quality displayed.
In short, I would heartily recommend the Warwick. It’s a pub in the best traditions of country dining establishments- Sticking to the basics, cooking good food well without the delusions of grandeur which seem to affect many “dining pubs” these days. Friendly staff, a welcoming attitude and an owner who knows about good meat go a long way…
Many thanks to Sam Donati (Samdonati@hotmail.com) for the review!