Now we’ve all been out for a carvery on a Sunday. We know how it can play out, especially when you get a bad one.
You go to a new-build pub on the edge of town, often placed next to a carpet warehouse or building supplies unit. You buy your ticket at the bar then tread across a sticky carpet in the low light to the carvery counter, where a bloke who looks sweatier than is healthy cuts you some dry-looking meat before pointing you in the direction of drier-looking potatoes, mushy veg and gravy you could slice with a knife.
In contrast to scenes like this, I’d heard good things about the carvery offered at The Golden Pheasant in Plumley, so my wife Kate and I dropped in last weekend to see what the fuss was about.
Situated a few miles outside Northwich, the pub is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Plumley station, making it a good destination if you don't want to have to pick an unfortunate soul among your party to be designated driver. In our case though, Kate decided she’d rather have a J2O and ice, so we took the car, giving us a little bit of flexibility over the one-train-every-two-hours Sunday rail service.
Ideal spots for just a drink
One of the first things to strike you when you arrive is the stylish al fresco area out front, with comfy-looking benches shaded by parasols creating a welcome sight on one of the first really warm days of the year. Turn the corner around the building and there is a pleasant-looking beer garden with bench-tables and an old bowling green. Ideal spots for just a drink, but we were eager to get inside to see what was on offer.
Through the doors and you are greeted by the bar, with a good selection of ales. I went for the JW Lees Manchester Pale Ale, which at 3.7% is the pub’s session offering. While not as hoppy as I was anticipating, it was still very drinkable and as refreshing as the breeze drifting through the door opened near our table (thankfully nowhere near any smoking area). Those who’ve drunk at any JW Lees-connected establishment lately will note the ergonomically-designed glass that has been adopted to serve their beer, with four grooves on one side for the fingers and one on the other for the thumb. How Zac Goldsmith could have done with one of these on his recent ill-fated photo op, I thought.
The decor makes a good impression – warm reds and golds on the walls and curtains and lots of wood panelling give it the feel of a traditional pub, and yet there are plenty of windows looking out on to the Cheshire countryside to impart a complementing sense of airiness. The mellow jazz coming through the speakers also sought to ease the mood, along with the distant, reassuring clinks and clanks emanating from the kitchen.
There is an extensive, daily-updated menu, which looked very reasonably priced, if seemingly reliant on the versatile nature of the Bury black pudding. However, it was definitely the carvery that caught the eye, priced at one course for £12.95, two for £15.95 and three for £18.95, with main course alternatives of fish pie and vegetable lasagne for those who like the idea of the rest of the menu but are put off by the meat. We plumped for the whole shebang, Kate opening with chicken pakora, salad and mint yoghurt, I with the salmon and crab fishcake with salad and tartare sauce.
The fried fishcake was plentiful, about the diameter of a tennis ball, and nearly an inch thick, with a good crunch on the outside but nicely cooked inside without being overdone. I did enjoy the tartare sauce, which had some nice big chunks of caper in it.
Kate enjoyed picking up on the various spice flavours, such as cumin and coriander, in her pakora, but noted that there was a nice balance, with the spice not overpowering it. The mint yoghurt provided an excellent counterpoint, really cool with a slight tang.
A few moments after our plates were cleared we were told the carvery was ready, and we wandered through to a large, airy room, picked up a good-sized plate each and moved toward the counter.
“Sorry, but those are the wrong plates,” said the server.
“What?!” I asked, a little confused and crestfallen.
“Those are children’s ones. You’ll want these,” she replied, flicking up a cloth to reveal oval plates almost twice the size.
Massive plates in hand, we selected from a choice of roast striploin of beef, turkey, lamb shoulder or gammon, before filling up on Yorkshire pudding, garlic and thyme roast potatoes and vegetables. Kate was angling toward the lamb until she saw my selection of beef (I was especially pleased to be asked if I’d like it rarer or more well done) and followed suit, adding the obligatory swirl of gravy and blob of horseradish sauce.
The beef was superb and I was especially impressed by the cauliflower cheese, which was presented with a lovely golden crust. The vegetables avoided the carvery curse of mushiness and as a result kept their flavour – “Carrots that actually taste like carrots,” exclaimed Kate. I felt compelled to add “Schnozzberries that actually taste like schnozzberries.” (If you’ve seen Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, you’ll understand.)
After such a hefty portion I could quite easily have skipped dessert, but the prospect of a chocolate brownie spurred me on. This was as generous as the other portions had been, and was nicely gooey, backed up by a scoop of proper, flavourful vanilla-podded ice cream. However I picked up on murmurings from across the table over the other half’s choice:
“I don’t want to finish this creme brulee,” said Kate.
“Why, what’s wrong with it? It looks nice,” I replied.
"It’s so gorgeous I just want it never to end"
“That’s what I mean,” said Kate. “It’s so gorgeous I just want it never to end.”
She was right to enthuse – the burnt sugar top was thick enough to make a decent crack with your spoon, but not so thick as to do the same to your teeth. The main body of the dessert was a rich cream colour and the consistency was silky, thick and gorgeous, without once threatening to be cloying. Kate also found that pairing it with a cup of Assam tea with a squeeze of lime in complemented it perfectly.
Full up and satisfied, we paid up and left, Kate noted that, had we come by train, we’d have missed our return trip and had to wait for at least another hour and a half. Oh well, I thought, I can think of worse places to be stuck on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Carpet warehouses, for a start.