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The Cowshed Restaurant, Raby, Wirral

THERE were concerned, if not frightened, glances from fellow diners as I sprang up from my chair and started to flap my arms around like a distressed hen.

The Cowshed Restaurant, Raby, Wirral main

THERE were concerned, if not frightened, glances from fellow diners as I sprang up from my chair and started to flap my arms around like a distressed hen.

It wasn't that I had found anything stomach churning in my soup but rather a wasp hovering above my left arm.

Irrational in my belief that I might drop down dead of anaphylactic shock if stung, I caused a scene.

I was far too scared to be embarrassed about my public overreaction to a tiny insect. But my boyfriend's face was beetroot red as he hissed at me to sit down. He claimed that the killer bug had flown away and I furtively looked around, shoving the decorative pink carnations away from my end of the table to resume my starter.

I was told that The Cowshed Restaurant was the best kept secret in the Wirral but the day I visited the place was packed with people and, of course, the odd wasp seeking shelter from the rain.

The restaurant is a converted cowshed and is attached to one of the oldest pubs in the district. The Wheatsheaf was believed to have been a drinking den since 1611 but, at the present owner's behest, a local historian and regular has since discovered that its life began as a farm smallholding, licensed to brew and sell beer in 1290.

This 700 year-plus tradition is given greater worth by the current stock of real ales on offer in its 21st century incarnation - Theakston's Old Peculiar and Best, Bombadier, Tetleys, Thwaites, Old Speckled Hen and Cains.

It's reputation for selling good beer makes it a place of reverence for Mark, hence our visit. He's itching to taste the guest beers on offer but I'm too hungry to wait and walk off.

At the back of the thatched pub lies an even greater treasure in the form of an authentic barn. It dates back to 1730 and the stone walls are covered with quirky artefacts such as old milking buckets, auction signs as well as pictures of thoroughbred cows.

Ironically, owner Wes Charlesworth is a fifth generation farmer who gave it all up to become a restaurateur. Story has it that he became allergic to cows.

Deer antlers decorate the wooden beams above while empty bottles of champagne are scattered along the windowsills. This is a place where modern hedonism meets Tudor traditionalism. But I like it because it offers wholesome English cooking.

The Sunday menu features everything from roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to catch of the day and a yummy array of starters. And the price of £11.95 for a three-course meal makes it all very reasonable.

Before our orders are taken a young girl comes around with a basket full of different rolls. This traditional touch endears me even further to the place. But the butter comes much later - irritatingly after I've scoffed most of my brown bun and started slurping the wonderfully fresh bowl of tomato and coriander soup in front of me.

My partner has opted for a melon starter. The fanned fruit looks pretty on its bed of berry studded sauce. But I laugh cruelly as he vainly attempts to get rid of his beer gut with some healthy food, especially since he's also quaffing down a small bottle of wine with the meal.

I later taunt him with my chestnut coloured slices of beef, richly covered in aromatic gravy and eat four roast potatoes on the trot. But he ignores me, pointing out that he's more than happy with his succulent turkey dinner.

The advantages of dining with someone on a diet is that you get the greater share of the vegetable bowl and can make vocal your delight with dessert.

Mark salivates as he eyes up my apple and blackcurrant pie with ice cream. And my meanness is such that I refrain from telling him it's rather soggy and tasteless compared to the one that my mum makes. I finally take pity, throwing my scraps in his mouth and he whimpers like a dog. "I want some with custard," he says.

He refrains from calling over the waitress and drinks his coffee miserably while I nick his after dinner mints. I'm not being naughty - just helping him to lose weight. It's a philanthropic gesture.

But the last laugh is his. As I sit back tapping my tummy contentedly, the damn wasp returns forcing me to leave the table. Why do such irritants insist on pestering those afraid of them? It turns out that I was justified in my jumpiness. One of the waitresses had been stung earlier in the sun splashed conservatory. That could have been me.

The Cowshed Restaurant, Raby, Wirral. Tel: 0151-336 3416

Opening Times: Daily lunches 12pm-2pm (Sunday, 12pm-2.30pm). Evening meals Tues-Sat, 6pm-9.30pm
Disabled Access: Yes. Both ramps and hand rails aid easy entry into both the restaurant and toilets.
Smoking: Assigned smoking and fag-free areas.
Decor: Cosy and traditional with brick walls, beams, wooden furniture and plenty of amusing farm artefacts.
Service: Efficient. But waitresses are too busy to be chatty.

The bill : 3 course Sunday lunch x 2: £23.90
Diet Coke x 3: £2.85
1998 Calvet Claret: £7.75
 Total: £34.50


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