The typical ways in which it falls short of the ideal include:
- Excessive quantity of salad – OK, have a few lettuce leaves and cucumber slices for appearance’s sake, but don’t let them dominate
- Introduction of extraneous elements such as ham, pork pies and apples
- Getting the proportions of the basic ingredients wrong
- Poor ingredients – supermarket bread and sweaty Value Cheddar
- Simple lack of quantity
The first was in the Old Vine, a smart Good Beer Guide listed pub-cum-restaurant facing the green in front of Winchester Cathedral. I suppose in a pub charging £3.50 for a pint and £13+ for main course meals, you perhaps shouldn’t expect too much quantity from a £5.95 “Traditional Ploughman’s”. But it was utterly pathetic – two rounds of sliced white bread cut into triangles, two thin slices of (admittedly good) cheese than can’t have come to even two ounces, a small bowl of chutney and a bit of salad. If the whole lot had been assembled as a cheese and pickle sandwich you would still have felt badly done to. A pub with obvious upmarket aspirations can surely do better, both in quantity and, with the bread, quality.
But it gets even worse. A few days later, in Tewkesbury, a famously picturesque market town at the northern tip of Gloucestershire, with a wealth of half-timbered buildings. One of those is the Berkeley Arms (pictured), a Wadworth’s pub that I have visited a number of times over the years. Ploughman’s Lunch, £4.95. I check whether it includes ham – apparently it does, so I ask for just cheese. I wait, and wait, and wait. A woman sitting nearby is served a cottage pie, which she sends back because it is lukewarm, which is hardly a good sign. I ask where my food is, and am assured it is on its way. Eventually, after a good half an hour, it arrives. Large slice of pork pie, no cheese whatsoever. “I asked for cheese”, I say. “I thought you said no cheese”. So it goes back, and five minutes later arrives with a few roughly-cut slices of low-quality Cheddar. But no bread. “Where’s the bread?” “You want bread?” – as if the very idea of asking for bread with a ploughman’s is bizarre. Two or three minutes later, that arrives, three pre-buttered slices of supermarket white. There are pickled onions, but no chutney or Branston. I eat some of it, but by this time am so annoyed and fed up I end up leaving about half.
Having said that, my pint of Henry’s IPA was fine. Apparently the pub is struggling because of the competition from the Wetherspoon’s over the road, but even so that is no excuse for a combination of poor food and dilatory service. What a shame to see a pub of which I have fond memories fallen so low. That was one of my worst experiences in some time in a pub I have actually chosen to visit (as opposed to on an organised pub crawl). You will never beat Spoons on price – so you have to compete on quality, character and service instead.
I’m normally a bit reluctant to name names, but in both cases these pubs richly deserve it.
I remember one occasion (although I’m not sure exactly where) when I got a ploughman’s consisting solely of crusty bread, cheese, pickles and butter, all in generous quantities. Nothing else whatsoever. Which, to my mind, is just as it should be.
As an antidote to the above, I did find good lunchtime snacks (not Ploughman’s) in the Eclipse Inn in Winchester and the unashamedly upmarket Three Cups in Stockbridge. The Eclipse, a tiny pub near the Old Vine, with a mediaeval half-timbered frontage and a 1930s-style interior with bench seating, I thought was a cracking little boozer.