For generations, rooks have cawed and squabbled over twigs in the high trees at the crossroads at the top of Wootton’s High Street.
It’s hard not to imagine this spot as it must have been 150 years ago; a busy thoroughfare in a pretty rural village, with the graceful villas of the well-heeled scattered amongst the leafy hedges. Today, the rumble of lorries has dispelled the peace, but the rooks are still there, as are their trees, and at least one of those attractive villas survives as The Cedars, a characterful and unpretentious suburban pub.
Matt and Cat, who’ve driven past The Cedars many times but rarely ventured in, decided to give it a try one evening after work. Outside, the building looks pretty much as it might have done in its days as a house, having survived some of the more dramatic pub transformations. Inside it is divided up into a public bar and lounge bar in a satisfyingly traditional manner, having missed out on the fashion to knock all of the rooms through to create a pub juggernaut. Also having passed the pub by is the less permanent but equally destructive fun pub makeover trend of the 1980s, where your local hostelry became a cocktail bar, funked up with post-modern pastels and jazzy laminates. (At the time, Cat’s local The Wheelbarrow, was transformed with a lick of paint and a wet-look awning into ‘Wheelies’).
Having winkled their way through from the public bar with its pool table, to the lounge, Matt and Cat were warmly greeted by a very chatty lady, who pointed out the menu and pulled Matt a very welcome pint of HSB.
The menu was simple pub grub, and a very wide range of it. A specials board was long enough to form another menu in itself, and suffice it to say it started with prawn cocktail, and went on to corned beef hash with eggs, by way of liver and onions. Although chicken-in-a-basket wasn’t there, it’s surely only a matter of time until it makes an appearance (if you don’t know what chicken-in-a-basket is, ask your dad). This was a menu that fitted the pub, old style, comfortable, with no surprises.
So after some pondering – with such a wide choice – Matt rejected the highly tempting bubble and squeak with eggs and bacon, electing instead to have Cumberland sausage, chips and peas. Cat was similarly swishing her tail, as the specials board boasted chicken casserole in cream and white wine. But eventually the prospect of chicken and mushroom pie proved irresistible.
Cumberland sausage £7.95
Chicken and mushroom pie £8.25
2 x sweets @ £4.25
The pub was quiet, except for a few chaps in the public bar sipping their beer, and an elderly couple sitting in the conservatory – either in mute enjoyment of their meal, or silent reproach. It was hard to tell. While waiting for their dinners, Matt and Cat surveyed the pictures of Wootton in bygone times; little seemed to have changed at the elevated end of the village.
Soon enough the cheery lady behind the bar emerged with two hot plates of food. And if Matt raised his eyebrows very slightly at the modest portions, Cat was quick to point out to him that normally he’s used to oversized rations in generous places such as The Taverners or The Pointer. They had a brief discussion about how people have recalibrated themselves to accommodate greater amounts of food.
Matt’s chips were hot and fresh, and the Cumberland sausage proved to be decent enough, although a splash of onion gravy would definitely have tipped the balance further in its favour. Cat’s dinner was one of mixed fortunes. While the good selection of nicely cooked vegetables and chips were the highlight of the dish, the pie was less satisfactory. The chicken was plentiful and the pastry was tasty but it was a little dry. Still, unlike the sausage at least it was served with some good tasty proper gravy which went some way to compensate for the resistant pie. However, even with the mitigating gravy, some of the peripheral bits of meat defeated Cat’s inadequate gnashers.
Undeterred, the diners thought they’d try a dessert, as there were some rather tempting options on the copious menu. This course proved to be more successful. Matt, by now with a pretty shrewd idea of what the strengths of the kitchen were likely to be, ordered home-made bread-and-butter pudding with custard. This was first-class. Searingly hot, of course, it was nonetheless soft, fresh and full of fruit. A success. Cat’s chocolate fudgecake with ice-cream was a pub classic from back in the days of Black Forest gateaux and tinned mandarin orange segments. It was none the worse for its nostalgia value and was undoubtedly a favourite among the regulars who come for the pension-friendly two-course senior citizens’ lunch.
So The Cedars is a good, honest pub, with very friendly service, a range of traditional food, and some decent beer. It’s a comfortable and unashamedly old-fashioned venue that’s probably going to be more suited – at the risk of seeming indelicate – to those who remember when all pubs had a public bar, and ladies only ever drank in the lounge out of a glass with a stem. So if that’s what you like, you’ll find it here.