This is the sort of place that is on the way to everywhere. The kind of place you drive past quite often and say to each other 'Ooh, Christmas menu now available, we should really try it out'; or, 'its only ten minutes in the car, we should go'; or, 'you know, whatserface always goes there and says it's really nice, we should go'; even, 'you know, we've never been, have we? We should go.'
Three years later, we finally made it. This is a hotel and restaurant that sits in splendid isolation on the crest of a hill, although largely overlooking the car park. The décor is Modern Pub. Semi-rural, but not too rustic, just enough of an evocation of rosy-cheeked, twinkly-eyed country living to make you think of a bucolic idyll; but knowing there is the wi-fi and flushable, vigorously bleached toilets essential to modern living. Access is superb - alongside the steps to the entrance is the widest access ramp I have ever seen, not too steep with plenty of turning room at the top, unlike some of the hairpin bend obstacle courses of some establishments.*
There are three choices of menu. One is the day-to-day two meals for £9.99 offer, always a bargain. Although be careful, the menu presentation makes it seem that, at first glance, there is a starter, main and dessert included in the deal. Squint closely (or put your glasses on) and note that the starter or dessert is £2.50 extra and the list of available main courses includes some dishes that are a mere pound extra. Somewhere in there is ham, egg and chips, fish and chips and that perennial vegetarian favourite the three bean chilli. The second menu is specially prepared gastro-fare made exclusively by the in-house chef. Sadly, I can't remember the specifics but I'm pretty sure that scallops were involved somewhere.
We opted for a choice from the third menu, the standard Old English Inn franchise fare. As it was Sunday and lunchtime we did the only proper thing and ordered one of the '5 Fabulous Sunday Roasts'. I had turkey, Drew had the beef. This is all carvery style, so fresh cooked stuff, served with mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, a largeish Yorkshire pud, with a reasonable dollop of thick gravy. Drew had horseradish sauce - advertised as horseradish mayonnaise - with his beef, which looked like an awfully runny concoction, but I'm told tasted punchy and strong. Not as much meat as I would have liked, but what there was, was tender, with a very mild flavour. The taste of the potatoes was earthy, very homely. The carrots were Chantenay, always sweet flavoured and smooth textured. I refused, on principle, to touch the broccoli.
The machine was broken so no latte; instead a filter coffee, served in a branded Illy cup and saucer. It was accompanied by an amaretto biscotti - surprising, given that Illy coffee is one of the slightly sweeter, more caramelly coffees. Still, it was drinkable and did the job, even if doused in milk by the unsteady hand of my favourite bill-payer.
*And, yes, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, I mean you.