Friday, March 31, 2017

Restaurant Review

When London broadsheet newspaper food critics are allowed out of the capital they are normally pretty scathing about the places they visit. And what us ordinary folk, who go to nice, expensive restaurants once in a blue moon, always have to bear in mind is that the sorts of places they are scathing about are the sorts of places we go to all the time. And the sorts of places they are nice about are not for the likes of us.

I wonder what they would make of a place we had lunch last week. Possibly they would see it as attempted murder.

On the A40 between Carmarthen and Llandeilo is a pub called The Half Way House. We stopped at it for lunch because it was cold and wet and we were hungry. There are no pubs round here in the Good Pub Guide. Not even in the lucky dip section. We used to think this was because the inspectors were too lazy to come out here.

We chose to stop because it was announced by a large brown sign on the main road. In England a large brown sign usually means historic coaching inn, or charming place worth visiting. Not so in Wales apparently.

There are many half-ways about this place. The first one is that it feels like a crash weld between a 1985 Little Chef and a Wetherspoons in a town where the only industry has closed.

We should have been more observant. In the warmer months it is the guardian at the gates of a caravan park, a place currently devoid of caravans and not even looking very parkish. It's second bit of halfwayness is therefore that it is between being a restaurant and a shop. It has a deli counter although today the cold cabinet held only wax-covered Snowdon cheese. The sort that is quite nice as long as you don't keep it too cold. I expect in the summer you could buy other stuff.

'Table for two?' This is not a normal greeting in a pub. I asked if we could see the menu first. It had a reassuring lunch sandwich menu as well as the à la carte. I am wary of à la cartes in these places as they are normally microwaved straight from a freezer. But it is hard to mess up a simple sandwich so we agreed to sit. We could have had two tables each and not crowded the place but we were shown to one of the two tables for only two people.

Do retain the phrase 'It is hard to mess up a simple sandwich'. We will revisit it.

There was one real ale which turned out to be local and not awful but I wouldn't have wanted two. The current Mrs Tilley had a glass of red wine and drank some of it, an act she regretted.

Our food order was a ploughman's and a coronation chicken sandwich, working on the basis that we both know what these things probably ought to taste of.

Surprise number one. The ploughman's was a sandwich too. Well it had been listed under the sandwich section of the menu but still. It was a cheese sandwich. It was surrounded by something that makes cheese wetter in a sandwich. Maybe something that evolved from mayonnaise. 'I wondered why they gave us forks' said TCMT. It was accompanied by chips, a green salad that included coriander and a pot of something red. More on that later.

We noticed that the piped music had moved from George Michael and other dead people to 'It's a wonderful, wonderful life.' It felt as if even the backing track was giving us the finger today. Our co-diners had smokers' complexions, the gait of the under-exercised and the build of people who ask for thanks to be sent to the chef for the wonderful gammon and pineapple.

Now. Coronation chicken is not that hard. It has about four ingredients but the recipe does involve the application of heat to some of them at some point. It was less of a surprise that this was a sandwich but the surpriseometer went into the red as I considered how little resemblance the product placed on my plate had to any sandwich I had ever eaten. Granary bread normally puts up more of a fight to contain the filling. As I lifted the thing to my mouth everything fell out of the bread. Again the provision of a fork was essential. The fries were not awful, only over-cooked and sliced too short suggesting that they had been cut from potatoes that were not completely ready for the compost heap, but the uncooked curry powder in the sandwich rendered it unfinishable. There are about three occasions in my whole life when I have failed to complete a sandwich.

My green salad was also based on micro-herbs. I suspect they had been over-ordered. Oh, and red onion. There was a lot of red onion about.

Which brings us to the pot of red stuff. I had one too. We turned our attention from finishing lunch to identifying the red stuff. Now red stuff is a narrow playing area. Our first guess, made well before tasting, was that it might be beetroot. Strike one. This pot - did I mention it was plastic and not unlike a communion glass in a free church - contained very unusual things. A few slices of cabbage, not red cabbage but cabbage that had become red, were in there. As was some dried fruit, maybe sultanas. There was an orangy taste. It had the consistency of under-set jelly. It smelled of pot pouri. Our final answer, Chris, is that it was the contents of the sink trap which neither citrus nor pine cleaning fluid had managed to disperse.

£19.45 in case you wondered. As we left the heavens opened and as we entered the car the Archers theme music began to play. Only the company and the laughter we were both holding desperately in, stopped it being the worst lunch ever.

More food critics should experience this sort of thing. 'Restaurants to avoid this month.' I'd read it.

Oh, and Good Pub Guide folk. You know what you're doing. Apologies.

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