Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Ladies Who Lunch' disappointed at Barge fare

The Barge Inn, Hoenystreet. Picture by Bob Naylor©
Three women, gourmands all, who meet regularly for lunch decided that a canalside pub might be good place to eat. They had dined at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet near Pewsey on the Kennet & Avon canal a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then it has become a community pub with a huge injection of cash from The Lottery (more than £400,0000) and extensive coverage on the BBC TV programme 'Village SOS".


Last week they decided to meet up there...

"What a disappointment"… the quietly spoken parting words of a friend after eating at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet — quiet and understated. After all the hype about the new community pub beside the Kennet & Avon Canal — and the recent BBC broadcast of it's successful first year, we were expecting more for the £400,000 plus that has been given to fund the project.

I have to say that my meal was fine — I had chosen hake, noodles and mangetous peas off the 'specials' list — but at £13 it was, I think, an expensive lunch. Much more expensive than I would have expected from a community pub alongside a canal in the heart of rural Wiltshire. 

My companions, however, were not so lucky. They both ordered off the main lunch menu and paid just short of £10 for each of their meals. One was beetroot and goats cheese risotto — described by the diner as 'interesting' but not really working … very sticky and very gooey. To me, the pink risotto rice looked more like dyed sago. 

The other meal was a tomato tatin… tomatoes on a very soggy slab of what was supposed to be puff pastry. When commenting on this we were told that it had been cooked in the oven for two hours and any 'appearance' of the pastry being undercooked was false. It actually looked like a large lump of gluten or seiten. And, sad to say, it tasted no better. With all the cooking juices soaking through that and onto the salad below it, the salad too was described by the diner as 'a mess'. And she described it as the worst meal she had ever had. A complaint to the chef elicited the answered that the dish was properly cooked.

Now it could be said that we are three country bumpkins with an unsophisticated palate — but we wouldn't recognise that description for ourselves. Whether we are or whether we are —do the community group committee running the pub know who their customers are?

The food aside, of course, the TV programme led us to believe that the interior had been gutted, decorated to a fantastic standard with a stunning new £20,000 bar… wrong! 

The decor just didn't do it for any of us. The colours were subdued — nay drab — not classy. The wooden floor, with puddles of water here and there, looked old and tatty without the patina of an old, well-used, oiled pub floor. 

The stairs leading up to the private floor have been opened up, but have been left in a most bizarre state. Imagine an old staircase in an old house that has just had its carpet ripped up. Painted edges blending into rough wood treads… this is on public display guys. Sand it, stain it, carpet it —  but do something with it. 

I didn't go into the new ladies toilets, but my friend did... her report: "The loo is very nice, but the floor looks disgusting". 

Which, sad to say, reminds me of the coffee. When it arrived it smelt really bitter and strong. All three of us are lovers of French coffee but we had to add loads of milk to bring it to a normal coffee colour - and the result of that was cold coffee that actually tasted of nothing — how that was achieved I have no idea.

And so we left and wandered up to the tow path and looked around us. The little gardens either side of the main door are full of weeds and overgrown. The paint work is flaking and looks as if it hasn't been touched for years — certainly not since the community committee took over and the signs on the walls are tatty. 

The promised shop and launderette? Well there is no sign of them. And what of the campsite? Well that didn't appear to be open. In fact a camper who pulled up while we were eating was told to try the Golden Swan at Wilcot!

Should we be asking where the lottery money has been spent? I fully understand that lottery money isn't 'public' money in the true sense of the word, it is after all the proceeds of a gambling public. But, surely giving hundreds of thousands of pounds to a group who have no idea what to do with it is preventing that money being spend where it could be used for the public good. 

And the BBC's contribution certainly is public money. This might, and it is a big might, have made good TV for the BBC. But does being involved in this sort of enterprise and using licence payers money to help to promote it really fit the remit for Public Service Broadcasting? … I think not.
Ladies Who Lunch, 2011©

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