Am I taking this whole pub thing a bit too far? I look back at some of the posts that I’ve put up this summer and I can see that pubs have featured perhaps a little too heavily. I’ve reviewed one or two local boozers, a few further afield and even had a Michelin star or two so perhaps I should try to broaden my horizons a little bit? Then again, I do love me a good pub and we’re getting some absolute crackers around these parts so to put it quite bluntly: bugger that, I’ll review as many as I bloody well can thank you very much! Next on the list then is The Anchor over in Aspley Guise (just outside Woburn Sands), owned by EPIC, who seem to pride themselves on injecting as much personality and individuality as possible into an industry which can certainly suffer from a distinct lack of both. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the last time I went EPIC over at 185 Watling street as part of a former life, it didn’t exactly ring my bell so it was with some trepidation when I got the invitation and walked through the door at The Anchor.
One thing that should be made clear from the outset is that The Anchor looks amazing. From the frontage all the way through the back it oozes class. The bar area is to the right of the door, then once you go back around to the left and past the open fire (I do like me an open fire, even though there was a small fire alarm on the evening we visited due to a log leaping out of the grate and trying to make a bid for freedom, but everyone was perfectly professional and it interrupted our evening for no more than seconds at the most), through the main restaurant and out the back. Great, great, great. Even the loos had a nautical theme and were, say it with me now: great. We were greeted and made our way to a table to talk menus, (which was appropriate as this was a date night with Mrs P, and ‘menu’ is our preferred language of love*). We had a choice of the standard al a carte, the specials board or, this being a Tuesday; the additional Tuesday Chicken menu. As you do.
Having made our choices and accepting that any photos taken inside the building would be under sustained attack throughout the meal by both my photographic incompetence and the dreaded Shadow Monster, the starters themselves were proceeded by some home made bread. It’s been fantastic this summer to see so many kitchens taking some real pride in doing this in-house. The examples here were good if not spectacular but I’ll give them respect for not only doing these themselves but also getting three different flavours out the door. My personal favourite was the olive (the crusty one at the back, just in case you were wondering).
Then we hit the starter course and Mrs P had the Chicken Parfait but I steered off piste with the Smoked Salmon. Both were super tasty and very well presented but both also had points of confusion. For example, not only did the parfait suffer the age old pate to toast ratio conundrum (which this time went in favour of the meaty mousse) but also the bread that came with it seemed more scone than anything else. The crust had been baked with something sweet on it which went really nicely with the chicken but other than that, it just didn’t work for us as the texture of the bread was spongy but dense and offered no added textural crunch that was needed to contrast with the pate. Crunch up or swap out the bread and this dish could have been a total smasher. My salmon on the other hand was lovely from start to finish, the bitter tartness of the grapefruit sat surprisingly well with the smokey salmon and it was the salmon itself that brought the surprise; not raw, not cooked but blowtorched which caused me a delicious double take but I suspect might cause some an issue when it arrives without warning.
Mains I’m afraid to say, brought us down with a bit of a bump. My half chicken was over cooked, chalky and as such, I’m afraid I couldn’t finish it off. There was however, a slight saving grace as the chilli jam was good, potent with a nice kick to it and the salads were a help yourself affair with coleslaw, Caesar and leafy varieties in plentiful quantities. The Mac and cheese side was also lovely and as thick, unctuous and creamy as you could ever want. Unfortunately Mrs P’s dinner suffered a similar fate with her Dover Sole which reduced down to a fishy paste half way through as it continued to cook on the plate which tells me it was at the very limit when it was brought out. It was however, delicious comfort food at its best and as such, Mrs P had no problem seeing it away, I think I almost caught her about to lick the plate clean! Neither plate was particularly pretty though, admittedly not helped by my notoriously appalling photography skills but still, no Instagram filter could have saved these.
We were back on form though with better luck on the puds and my lemon and Raspberry Meringue Pie was hailed as Manager Sean’s personal favourite pudding, which I can quite understand as it tasted fantastic. The sharp and sweet balance was perfectly in tune with what I wanted at the end of the meal but the addition of the sherbet to the lemon curd itself left me with a very grainy texture which I found quite unpleasant. Mrs P didn’t mind it at all though and wasn’t shy in accusing me of being far too picky about such things so I’m sure it will remain popular, even if I left it unfinished (I still think the sherbet would be better placed in a crumb or biscuit though, just saying). For her own choice, Mrs P enjoyed her toffee pudding, a stalwart on any pub menu, and the addition of the salted caramel sauce was bang on. Mrs P finished the lot and then wondered if it would be rude to ask for more, she subsequently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and made me promise to order it next time we came in.
The Anchor – a game of two halves?
I can absolutely see what EPIC have in mind for The Anchor. Aspley Guise is a tiny village off the beaten track known by the locals and in sore need of a good pub to liven the place up a bit. EPIC and The Anchor is well on the way to doing that, plus they’ve only been open a month or so, so lets not beat them too much about minor issues that can easily be resolved once things settle down a bit. On top of all that, I fully intend to get back to get a better look at that beer garden to see if it can get added to our top ten for next year and considering the amount of effort that went into the interior, I’ve got high hopes.
*Which I like to pronounce as ‘luuuuuve’ whilst doing my best Barry White impression. Yeah I know, I’m such a catch.
I was invited to check out the Anchor and they picked up the bill. But as you all know, I don’t pull my punches and all opinions will remain unendingly independent.