My favourite pub isn’t on the way to anywhere in particular. It’s off-the-beaten-track, its isolation playing a key part in why I rate it so highly after just two visits. I clearly recall departing on both occasions with little more than a couple of beers inside me to inflame my good opinion that this is the pub I’ve wanted – down my road – for years. Infact, since the last time I had a favourite pub, a long time ago now.
This pub, my new undisputed favourite, is so off-the-beaten-track that I’d never have known about it or gone there had not a friend mentioned some years ago that he intended having a landmark birthday there. One of those birthdays when people give zimmer frames and walking sticks.
All my life friends have claimed their pub, curry house, and takeaway is best there is. I even went so far as to have a ‘pizza challenge’ with friends who in blind loyalty claimed their local pizzeria in Muswell Hill was better than ours in Camden Town. I mean, who in their right mind would think of ordering anything Italian in N10? But I had a hunch the man who introduced me to my new favourite pub, a motorcyclist, with an ear for Dave Rawlins and an eye for a well cut denim jacket, knew what he was talking about. He didn’t disappoint. At the end of a chain of narrow lanes with more passing points than there are roundabouts in the county, on a verdant green with only grey stone cottages and a church for company, the pub wears its skills for beer, pub grub and conversation lightly.
On our first visit, winter some time ago, we sat in the L shaped bar beneath a timber ceiling festooned with I don’t know perhaps as many as 200 porcelain tankards and just as many beer mats. There were eight ale pumps and the sort of dark wood furniture that nobody wants anymore, unless you own a classic pub and value authenticity. Many of the pubs I used to frequent don’t know if they’re a pub, a wine bar, an airport waiting room, a restaurant or a creche having replaced anything that could be mistaken for being pub like with IKEA spartan. There is a pool room to the rear and a bar maid who likes to banter with the customers and doesn’t need telling when a barrel needs changing.
The local bitter is golden – almost a lager in colour, but without bubbles, and packed with hops and £3.80 a pint. Others are darker and stronger. Better still among the bar snacks in jars below the spirits optics was pickled eggs. I thought I’d be pushing it to ask if they also had pickled walnuts as well.
Heading toward the door on the way out a group of whom I took to be locals and or regulars asked about Asta, and then where we were from? You’ll be glad to be here then said one and the beer’s cheaper too said another and you’ve got somewhere to park the next, the laughter as intoxicating as the ale. See you soon then they chimed as we stepped through the draught excluder curtain onto a chilly and seductive nowhere in particular and a still you could wear.
Little had changed when we returned for lunch except except for two signs hanging from a shelf behind the bar, one advertising olives and scotch eggs and the other declaring my new favourite pub to be a ‘Wi-Fi Free Zone’.
“We want people to talk not look at their phones,” said the barmaid. I heard a cheers to that somewhere in the dimness.
There is a dining room to the right as you enter the pub but with the rain indecisive we agreed to enjoy some of that fecund Cornish autumn air and relish the silence that still shrouds off-the-beaten-track villages. I bit into my pickled egg, took a long slow gulp of beer and left my senses to do the rest.
Soon we were chatting with a woman of indeterminate age but profound fitness who had been walking since crack of dawn. Seeing Asta she told us of an Airedale Terrier that donated its blood to a poorly dog that would surely have died without the transfusion. Kim spoke to a man heavily tattooed about a pair of Patterdale Terriers sat at the table with him and a couple two tables along let it be known their admiration for Asta.
What I hadn’t realised until we got there is that only pre-booked lunchesget the full choice of traditional Sunday roasts: beef, chicken, lamb or pork. Served with roasties, broccoli, carrots Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Some friends turned up unexpectedly and whilst unable to have roasts (just enough bought in to accommodate those who had booked) there was however a selection of homemade fish cakes, fish ’n chips and looking across at a table nearby mackerel ploughman’s that I’ve earmarked for our next visit. I probably shouldn’t have ordered a pud but who could possibly turn down bananas and custard crumble?
My Favourite Pub, Halfway Along A Winding Lane To Nowhere In Particular.