[Raby, Wirral, Merseyside] The Wheatsheaf Inn
OK, none of your new-fangled gastropub nonsense here. This is a proper pub that happens to serve good food. Half of the building is given over to drinkers who might want to eat nothing more than a black pudding & cheese toastie, or a packet of pork scratchings. Diners are accommodated in the other half, furnished in “rural bistro” style – they call this end of the building the “cowshed” – and are well served by a menu comprising sandwiches, “light bites” (mercifully, no mention of these being “lite”), and a decent array of starters and main courses. The latter supplemented by a specials board, adding another half dozen or so choices.
There’s something of a commitment to provenance. The pub classic of gammon, egg and chips is there – and the gammon is Gloucester Old Spot. There’s steak and ale pie with the ale coming from literally down the road in Brimstage. And because this is a proper pub, there’s a generosity in portion control. Or, more accurately, lack of apparent portion control. This is definitely a place where the greedy can be well fed.
A pork terrine looked and tasted as though it had been made there, rather than in some nondescript factory. It really was good. A little bowl of chutney added a sweet/sharp contrast and there was a big hunk of bread.
My own starter had the same bread toasted as its base. A layer of onion marmalade was topped with sautéed flat mushrooms, themselves topped with melted Stilton. Alongside a big handful of well dressed salad leaves – watercress, mizuna and the like. This was a dish of main course proportions and it was lovely.
For a main, I went off the specials board. Four pigeon breasts, cooked perfectly at medium rare, a sauté of mixed veg and potato and a rich gamey sauce, sweetened (but not overly) by the inclusion of a few blackberries. I think this is one of the most enjoyable “get stuck in” plates of food in a goodly while.
Across the table, the less greedy half of the partnership had ordered from the “light bites” – a salad of bacon, black pudding and roasted cherry tomatoes is usually served with a poached egg but herself does not do eggs. The lack of the egg might have made muted the dish somewhat but I had a taste and reassured myself that the mustardy dressing served it well on its own. Other than that, this was a fine salad with bold flavours.
So we tried the Wheatsheaf this weekend. The pub itself is absolutely gorgeous - a country pubby archetype, both indoors and out, given its higgledypiggyness.
The drinks are grand - was dining with two blokes who were very happy with the range of local cloudy ciders and ales.
Only two slightly sour notes:
One, that the 'restaurant' section doesn't serve the pub menu on a Sunday - in fact the waitress thought that might apply all the time, she wasn't sure. So we couldn't have the black pudding and cheese toastie/trad Welsh cider rarebit I'd been mentally picturing all week, and were instead tied into either their Sunday carvery type dishes (fine, but, thin slices of almost overdone beef, with a burnt Yorkshire, waxy potatoes and the same gravy as a similar serving of lamb) or their set menu dishes, which were fine but, again, the local chicken supreme was served with the same accompaniments as the roasts, despite not being advertised such, a mackerel and fennel pate with brioche came with cold brioche and no hint of fennel, smoked haddock fishcakes contained a large amount of potato and a small amount of unsmoked haddock..
Secondly, which is probably why I have a downer, and so will visit again to the snuggly pub part for some toasties and 'hot batches' before I make a definitive judgement...we'd called and spoken to the owner and actually had a lovely conversation with her about the fact we have 6 month twins, who would be sleeping over lunchtime, so we needed a table with a space we could put the buggy beside. She oohed, and said she's had twins too, no problem...
Fast forward to us being shown to a table with no space, so left them in their car seats on the floor. They'd just dropped off, after some effort, when we were told we'd need to move as there was a table coming next to us and it was too cramped...shown to another table, said we could bring the buggy in, by which time they'd woken up...they then put an extra table of elderly people by the French doors (which is also the fire exit), which meant we couldn't get out or in wit the pushchair.
It ended up with the three of us taking it in turns to sit with them in the car, eating our lunch on our laps.
And before everyone starts moaning about kids in restaurants...these are tiny babies, who only wanted to sleep, and were actually asleep before we were moved. We just needed a space for them, and thought that was what we'd arranged. They weren't making any noise. There were empty tables. But apparently no space for them, and no chance of opening a door so we could take them out for a walk if they did actually start kicking off. It all made for a stressful and indigestible experience.
That black pudding toastie next time better be a cracker :)