Welcome to the 2015 Herbie Awards. As pub landlords and restaurateurs quake in their boots, we start off with the ever popular Best Pub or Restaurant for Food. Like all the Herbie Awards this relates to experiences that Kath and I have had in our boating year, and this time I have given a bit of leeway geographically speaking to include places that are not necessarily canalside, but are within a few minutes walk of the canal.
I don’t think we ate out as much this year as we did in some previous years and we didn’t cover as much ground either, but nevertheless we found a couple of little gems.
so our nominations this year are (in alphabetical order) you can follow the links to see their websites
Most boaters know the Admiral. You can’t get more canalside than this old pub. A few years back it was a sorry place with landlords coming and going and periods when it was closed. The present incumbents have worked hard and turned it into what to me looks like a very successful business. We ate there after the Braunston rally I think and each of us opted for a steak. Well you can get steaks anywhere and some are better than others, but this one was better than better. The steak tasted like a great steak should, perfectly charred to give that beefy flavour, and so tender. This was a very good piece of meat very well cooked. The vine tomatoes, the shallots, the chips, the salad, the dressing were all pretty much perfect with outstanding flavours. So a seemingly ordinary meal made quite extraordinary. Well done them.
An old favourite of ours. Don’t go for a quiet night, this is a community pub with lively conversation and a big telly showing mostly football. They serve fairly basic pub grub, but often manage to lift it to taste like the best home cooking. In October I had a simple chicken and ham (and leek?) pie with buttery mashed spuds and cabbage. yes folks, yer actual cabbage!! I wish more eateries used a bit of this humble but lovely vegetable. Anyway, it was all extremely good. I don’t think the pie was made on the premises but it was none the worse for that. Proper pieces of meat in it just like you might do at home, not reconstituted cubes. And of course it was a proper pie, not a flippin’ casserole with a bit of puff pastry floating on the top. So there’s another meal which doesn’t sound very adventurous on the menu, but if done really well, a lot better than many fancy sounding dish.
This lovely old pub is hidden round the corner from Little Venice, but seasoned boaters know it well enough. In truth it is a comfortable boozer rather than an eatery, but we popped in there on a Tuesday when they have their hand made burgers at a few quid below normal price. I don’t think you’d get a better one anywhere, especially at the price. Chips were gorgeous as were the salad and relish. Yet another simple meal done really well.
This is a bit of a hike from the canal, about ten minute walk from the bridge I suppose. Resist the temptation to stop at the more popular Red Lion and carry on another fifty yards for better beer and better food and a good atmosphere. This pub has had a refurb in recent years and it is now smart and comfortable. The food is to my mind exceptionally reliable and often a bit adventurous and different. Expect the unexpected. Even a humble steak comes in a totally different shape, often a couple of inches thick. Somebody in that kitchen can cook, because everything seems to turn out nice, even their £5 specials on a quiz night. Whilst moored in Crick marina we ate at this pub a few times, always very good but this time I am remembering their crispy belly pork. Lots of pubs do belly pork, usually slow cooked and melting. Lovely. The Wheatsheaf version however looks different. More chop shaped but thicker, and the crispiest crackling you could wish for. Yum. It comes with an apple caramel sauce and some black pudding as well as fresh veg. Their sauces in particular are always lovely. Follow the links to their menu but also note that their specials board is ever changing and usually, um, special.
Finally, just to prove I don’t go round eating meat every day (I certainly don’t), we come to Woody’s vegetarian restaurant, canalside at Apsley on the Grand Union. Here you a can get a wide variety of meat free meals. To tell the truth, my favourite thing on their menu is their truly delicious rhubarb and apple juice. The specials board is always interesting, but this time I opted for a simple Genovese pizza and a shared side salad. Fresh, healthy and satisfying.
So there you have it. Looking back I see that these favourites have all done fairly simple food, but done it really well. I recommend all of them in their own way. Most of their menus a quite short, which is generally a good sign indicating freshly prepared food. I find it so much better than fancy sounding meals which come out like they were boiled in the bag or warmed up in the microwave. In each of these places you get the idea that whoever it is in the kitchen actually cares about what they put out. The big question of course is, which one gets the award? Come back tomorrow and find out. Plus , we’ll give food and drink a rest for a while and get back to the canal with nominations for Best Lock Flight.