Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Rising to the Challenge

The present Mrs C. has commented that my blogs are a bit wordy and that I need to be a bit more succinct. Those that know me will know how difficult I will find this, but never let it be said that I am not up for a challenge.

The Plough and Sail at Snape. Worst food I’ve had in ages. Unwelcoming. Tired premises and staff. Over chilled real ale. Expensive tourist trap. Thoroughly unpleasant. Stay well clear. Struggles to achieve a ‘Ping’ rating – the crab saved it from being unclassified.

There, brief enough for you?

For those that want to know more – read on! 

And I can't guarantee to be quite so brief in future!

One to Avoid!

Just a mini-blog*, this one but I really couldn’t let this ‘experience’ pass without comment. Mrs C and I had spent a very enjoyable couple of days with some colleagues in Southwold on the Suffolk coast but had made a slight misjudgement over the date in that we chose the same weekend as the Latitude Festival and had seriously underestimated the impact 35000 festival goers would have on the A12. The journey up early on the Sunday was fine, with only minor delays as we passed through Blythburgh but leaving Southwold just before mid-day on the Monday was a definite mistake.

Our original intention of lunching near Woodbridge was soon abandoned as we crawled along at ten miles per hour as the single carriageway A12 failed to cope with the high volume of traffic and the inevitable breakdowns of overloaded ancient campervans. Strangely, the Suffolk Road Safety Partnership saw fit to set up two of their camera vans on the approaches to Blythburgh where, I would guess, the average speed was certainly in single figures although it was difficult to see my speedometer through the thick black exhaust fumes emanating from the battered Toyota in front pf me. What a brilliant waste of resources – two vans, all that technology, plus operatives all for nowt! Still, it certainly made me check my speed and I didn’t have an accident.

So a Plan B was called for. Using my extensive knowledge of Suffolk watering holes gained from my misspent youth we struck across country to Westleton. Both pubs were jam-packed so I continued on, heading for The Ship at Dunwich. Managed to park fairly easily, and got served fairly quickly with the by then necessary liquid refreshment but my request for food was met with an incredulous look and a warning that it ‘may be slightly delayed’. When pressed further, the ‘slight delay’ was put at ‘about an hour’. I declined the opportunity to sit twiddling my cravat amongst the, quite literally in some cases, great unwashed and after supping our ale, we retreated to the air conditioned comfort of the Cravat Mobile and set off heading south, running roughly parallel to the A12 but at considerably greater speed. Following a slight misunderstanding (I thought we had abandoned the idea of lunch and was heading for Woodbridge where I knew I could get a decent coffee and a sticky bun) Mrs C let it be known that she was in need of sustenance NOW! As time was passing, and most Suffolk pubs seem to stop serving lunch at 14:00hrs., I made the fatal mistake of aiming for Snape Maltings on the grounds that if the pub had stopped serving, then at least there was a half decent café even if the complex was a bit of a tourist trap.

The Plough and Sail pub had been one of those small chain pubs that we had promised to visit on one of our early morning jaunts to Suffolk as they used to serve a decent looking breakfast but we had never actually managed to get there so today was our first test of what this Deben Inns owned venue had to offer. Arriving at 13:50, there were only three people eating inside, with a couple more on the terrace, so they were not overly busy and they professed to serve food all day so we settled down at our chosen table and perused the menu and the specials board. Mrs C is always partial to crabs so chose the Dressed Cromer Crab, salad and new potatoes (why Cromer when Aldeburgh, just down the road, produces excellent and abundant crabs?) and I plumped for the Aldeburgh Cod (that’s better!) in Beer Batter with Chips. The waitress also took our drinks order and we settled back to discuss the finer points of the past weekend.

The first disappointment was just around the corner as the waitress returned after ten minutes to inform me that they had “run out of cod. We’ve got the chips and peas and things but I thought you might want to choose something different”. One does wonder whether they had been debating in the kitchen whether they would have got away with serving me a plate of chips, peas, a blob of batter and the mysterious ‘things’ but eventually decided to offer me a further choice! I swapped my choice for the Trio of locally produced Proctor Sausages with Mash, Onion Gravy, and Seasonal Vegetables as I was, after all, just looking for a stop-gap meal before feasting in the evening back at Cravat Towers. Still no sign of our drinks and it took two more reminders before I managed to get outside my overly chilled pint of Woodfordes Wherry, making a change from the relentless Adnams stranglehold of Southwold. Mrs C’s Crab salad arrived and looked rather nice, indeed she professed herself well satisfied with the quality and quantity of the crab although it was very cold, the freshness of the salad and the dressing applied and the new potatoes. A success, although as Mrs C pointed out, they didn’t actually have much to do with the crab and any numpty can get potatoes right.

The second disappointment was, however, staring at me from my plate. The three sausages may well have been of decent quality when crafted by the local artisan responsible but someone in the kitchen had managed to totally ruin them. Their outsides were blackened whilst their centres were still pink and doughy. They had obviously been oven baked some time earlier by someone who hadn’t got a clue, and kept luke warm awaiting their ‘lucky’ consumers. Considering the amount of time we waited for our dishes, they could quite easily have been cooked to order, after all the kitchen wasn’t exactly a hive of activity! The combination of the toughened, burnt, skins and soft pappy interior was really quite unpleasant but they paled into insignificance when compared to the potato – disproving the wife’s assertion with ease!

I must admit I have never come across mashed potato quite so appalling in all my years. If I canvassed fifty people and asked them what could possibly go wrong with mashed potato I wouldn’t mind betting they still wouldn’t have identified all the errors exhibited in the steaming pile placed before me. Yes, it was hot but only in places. Its consistency ranged from wallpaper paste like, over worked gloop to strange lumps while the taste was a mix between an unspecified waxy potato, Smash, and Polycell. At one stage we thought they had used flesh from baked potatoes which may have accounted for the lumpy bits, or were the ‘recycling’ precooked new potatoes, we really could not work it out. Really strange, truly appalling and inedible. The Seasonal Vegetables proved to be carrot, mange tout, new potatoes (why would anyone want more potatoes with such a large portion of delicious mash?) and the ubiquitous pub-chain standby of ratatouille – all precooked and then reduced to a crusted pile the temperature of molten lava in a microwave.

The waitress glided by and asked how our meals were. We professed ourselves satisfied with the crab but pointed out some of the shortcomings with the mash. She scurried away and obviously discussed our comments with the ‘chef’ as he was standing at the waitress station at the time. She returned bearing the chef’s apologies and suggested that she took the plate away so the chef could ‘beat some more cream into the potatoes’ or that I could have a free dessert. I pointed out that beating already overworked potato was not the answer and declined both her kind offers – I was by now rapidly losing my appetite. What really niggled me was that the chef, standing some twenty feet from our table, could not be bothered (or was so disinterested / uncaring) to come and discuss the issue directly with me – perhaps he was intimidated by my homage to the Sunshine Coast cravat?. The stand-off continued until the waitress cleared the plates, only to re-emerge from the kitchen and call the chef in. The one saving grace was the waitress’ return to our table to explain that she had made the chef taste the offending mash and told him she was going to remove the dish from our bill. The correct result but so badly handled by the chef. Well done to the waitress.

This really was ‘tourist trap’ catering at its worst. Lazy food preparation by a kitchen brigade that either doesn’t care, or doesn’t even know how to make basic mash. Poor sourcing (how could they have run out of cod from just down the road when they obviously hadn’t had many punters in that day), and a lack of information being conveyed to waiting staff, coupled with a chef that hides behind his front of house staff. Overall, a business that, with the notable exception of the waitress, really doesn’t appear to care. I shudder to think how they would cope if they were moderately busy rather than having to cope with just the half dozen or so diners. Would we go back? Not in a month of Sundays and it has certainly put doubts around visiting other pubs in the chain which is a shame as two of them are favourites from my youth.

I may be displaying my prejudices here but when a member of ‘management’ appears with his clipboard, dressed in boat shoes, cropped trousers, a pink short sleeved shirt with the collar turned up and designer sunglasses nestling amongst his carefully styled blonde hair like a refugee from the Boden catalogue, you just know it’s all going to be style over substance and that is exactly what The Plough and Sail is. ‘All fur coat and no knickers’ was the phrase favoured by my straight talking mother but in this case, not even the fur is real. Having presumably been in the ‘Evolving and Improving’ category previously I fear that if this venue was anywhere other than at Snape Maltings the local punters would have voted with their feet and financial pressures would dictate a change. With the constant throughput of tourists visiting the Maltings, I am assuming repeat custom is not required to sustain the business, hence the lack of effort displayed by the majority of staff and the tired state of some of the public areas. This is sub-Wetherspoons standard at gastro pub prices – shame on you, Deben Inns


Food style - Pub ‘standards’ with specials and desserts on blackboards.
Drinks – over chilled real ales at over £3. Wine list short but covers most bases, no wine sampled. Diet Coke seemed ok!
Décor –Large extended pub with galleried eating area and terrace. Starting to look a bit tired despite being opened only three years ago and the Gents loos in particular distinctly ropey.
Staff – with the exception of the waitresses (who took a while to get going!), customers seem to be a bit of a nuisance.
Quality against Cost score – Mrs C’s salad was reasonable but aggressively priced at £12.95. The sausage dish was £8.95 . Overall, a really unpleasant experience that is just not worth paying for.
Cravat Rating – Despite the Deben Inns website professing “Our ethos at Deben Inns is to run individual pub/restaurants of quality and value with the emphasis on good food and service “, they are sadly missing their target at The Plough and Sail. I wondered whether I would mhave o create a new category but thanks to the crab, I have given this a ‘Ping’ rating and suggest you stay well away.

Post Script There are two other pubs in Snape village that are infinitely better or, if you travel slightly further afield there are two pubs (The Kings Head and The Jolly Sailors) plus Ruth Watson’s Trinity / Castle inn and an excellent fish restaurant in Orford, and further good pubs at Chillesford (Froize Inn) and Butley (The Butley Oyster), or there are a multitude of eateries at Aldeburgh (including the excellent Regatta and one of the country’s top fish and chip shops). Don’t make the same mistake I did - don’t waste your time and money at the Plough and Sail.
* Yes I realise it’s not exactly ‘mini’ !