The design of the interior of a pub or eating establishment will often influence the type of clientèle that patronise it. A bar with traditional beams, horse brasses above the fireplace and a floridly-patterned carpet may appeal to the older punter; a bistro-style establishment with stripped-wood flooring, ten varieties of coffee and copies of The Guardian scattered about may attract the trendy middle classes and a pub, like the Horse and Groom, with about 50% of its outdoor area dedicated to entertaining children will undoubtedly be the preferred watering (and eating) hole of families.
Despite not being part of the preferred demographic, Matt and Cat went to the Horse and Groom to eat one tea-time during half term. The pub was packed yet they managed to squeeze themselves into a corner seat for two. It was easy to see why that particular seat had not been taken as all of the other occupants of the pub had children with them, in pushchairs, prams, slings and free-range and consequently needed a lot of space for their offspring and accompanying accessories.
And, if you are in any doubt as to the child-centricness of the place, you only have to look at the menu. Most main meals were available in smaller (and cheaper) portions for children and those with a smaller appetite. Main meals could also be blended for very young children and, for babies whose grown-up minders ordered an adult meal, there was a free jar of baby food.
To the aural accompaniment, not of Phil Collins, but of the gentle buzz of children whining and at play, Matt and Cat perused the menu. The pub offers lots of good old favourites such as burgers, chicken and chips, fish and chips, curry and pie of the day. There is also a small selection of vegetarian meals, such as lasagne and goats cheese tart. And, if that’s not enough for you, there is the specials board. The menu proudly boasts the term ‘local produce’ at the bottom of each page, however Matt and Cat were unable to find specific details of any. Usually, locally sourced ingredients will proudly have their exact provenance trumpeted in the menu, but not this time.
Vacillating between the specials board’s gammon steak – with beefsteak tomato, mozzarella and pineapple – and the menu’s roast chicken, Cat plumped for (you guessed!) chicken. Matthew had his default meal too – beefburger with cheese and bacon. Whilst waiting, M and C tried to work out which part of the vast building was the original pub. A satisfyingly rustic stone wall by their table suggested that they were sat in the oldest part; the conservatory and other extensions being non-contemporaneous.
As well as its enlargement, the pub has also undergone a transformation outside. Adjacent to the car park is a very well-appointed children’s play area with a free bouncy castle, crazy golf, tyre swings and, over the fence, some sheep(!). Children can run around outside to their heart’s (and parents’) content, whilst mum and dad keep a watchful eye from the sunny patio.
Considering how busy the pub was, Matt and Cat got their meals in quick time. Cat’s half roast chicken was vast along with a very generous portion of skinny fries and a more modest side salad. The chicken was flavoured with a hickory-smoked barbecue sauce, which seemed to be a later addition rather than a marinade. None-the-less, the meat was lovely and tender, the salad nice and crisp and the chips piping hot.
Matt’s seemingly home-made burger came with an equally generous amount of fries but, somehow, his weren’t as hot as The Cat’s. And, interestingly, he had a piece of succulent orange in his salad where she had none. Both declared their food to be in good order and at a pretty standard price. Before long the food was scoffed and, to make way for the next load of people, Matt and Cat left.
So, to sum up: a nice clean pub with good service and generous portions of standard pub fare – with a very strong emphasis on family dining. In Matt and Cat’s experience, just the sort of place that gets very busy; you might be advised to book!
Horse and Groom, Ningwood