Published 25 September 1994 Style Magazine 65th article
Sign off: Peat Spade Inn (Alex MacNaughton)
I seldom "drop in". I tend to plan. But recently, wending (I am very good at wending) down tiny country roads, I came upon the village of Longstock in Hampshire. Thatched cottages, flowers, an old, red phone box, and there, coming up on the left, a lovely little pub called The Peat Spade Inn.
Ivy-covered, nice inn sign some old twit with a wooden pole with peat on the end an Egon Ronay recommended here, a Les Routiers sign there. It was one o'clock. Ah, lunch, I thought. I parked outside. The second I got in I reckoned, this could be a mistake. The tables were largely tacky and modern, some dreadful pink chairs, a kind of hush from the 16 people sitting about. No bustle, no happy yokels, no clatter of jolly drinkers; I decided to stay with it anyway.
There were two blackboards listing quite glamorous foods. Two-course lunch or dinner, £11.85, but on the a la carte, sauteed pigeon breast, rillettes of pork, breast of barbary duck and guinea fowl supreme. A woman with rather odd, dyed-blonde hair appeared. "Can I order food?" I asked nervously. "Let's do the drinks first," she said tartly. Not the warmest welcome I've ever had. We ordered two Pimm's, which took a while, so I poured myself some black coffee from the Pyrex globe. It didn't taste of any known liquid. "Are you the chef?" I asked. "I'm the gardener, too," said the blonde. I ordered the pigeon breast. "That's off," she replied, "I'm doing sauteed lamb's kidneys with potato au gratin instead." "I'll have that," I said helpfully. Vanessa ordered a smoked salmon baguette. We'll soon be on our way, I thought, before the dreadful, framed prints showing types of flowers, butterflies, birds and dogs wear me down.
We sat at the only free table which was particularly bright. In the centre of the room a large pile of books rested on another, older table. Later I realised why they were needed. I waited. There was a small window and in front of it sat two whispering young people. After a while I ordered bread and butter from a dark-haired, confused girl who seemed to be half of the entire staff. I waited some more. This is not something I am very good at. It was now 1.25pm. I got up and took a stroll outside, sat on a bench in the war memorial garden and looked up at the sun. Eventually I came back in. The same silence, the same table, bare of anything. No cutlery, nothing. I looked down a short corridor to the kitchen. "Bread and butter," I called nervously, and then fled back to my table. The dyed-blonde appeared, lugging some dirty plates. Then she served at the bar. "I hope the place is haunted," I said to myself. "At least the ghost might be doing the cooking." Forty minutes after we'd entered, the bread and butter appeared with a red paper napkin. It was home-made, it was all right. There were 18 customers and a singular lack of food. The joys of rural England were definitely wearing thin. No good waving my red paper napkin about, I thought, nobody here to see it.
Finally, at seven minutes to two, I rose. No sauteed lambs' kidneys could be worth this. I put £50 on the table and walked slowly out. "The highly tuned roar of my Ferrari thrust through the air of the sleepy, country village" I can write pulp fiction as well as Jeffrey Archer! The dyed-blonde lady appeared at the door, "Your food's nearly ready," she said. "Never mind," I replied as graciously as I could. "I'll get your change," she snapped and went back in. I waited. Nothing. After a short time I drove off. The next day my Mr Fraser called and spoke to Mrs Julie Tuckett, for she it was.
"Mr Winner would like you to give the change to a local charity," he said. Mrs Tuckett had already written to me on paper with a tiny gold sticker on the top with her name and address in black capital letters, apologising for the delay. Later she told us the change, £42.50, would go to the Macmillan nurses who run a hospice for cancer patients. I'm glad a minor benefit accrued to a good cause from my little trip. Personally, I think the country's lovely. Better on picture postcards than in real life. But then, what isn't?
Reading Restaurant Watch of September 11 reminded me of a personal experience when lunching with three of my lady friends at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons last year. May I begin by saying I am not a prude and don't stand on ceremony, but I have to say that both my friends and I were absolutely gobsmacked when a mother on the next table breastfed her baby in full view of everyone when it started to cry. I understand from your article that Raymond Blanc welcomes children, but I think this is going a bit far. It was enough to put me off my breast of chicken. Is this behaviour really necessary in an exclusive restaurant? Even Asda has separate facilities for feeding babies.
Sandra Brownstone, Edgware, Middlesex
Must we have a photograph of Michael Winner every week? His comments on food may be revealing, but his body we have too often digested!
Elizabeth Grant, Aberdeen, Waterside Inn, Bray
A reader's letter (September 4) mentioned that he had once had at the Waterside Inn a "fish dish" that was "frozen in the middle". We are happy to make it clear that it was not our or the reader's intention to suggest that the Waterside Inn has ever used frozen produce and accept that the restaurant always uses fresh fish of the highest quality. We regret any misunderstanding. The reader has since confirmed that he has eaten at the restaurant several times in recent years and has had superb food and service every time.