You know how sometimes things just pass you by? I mean, those times that you know something is going on but you just don’t understand it. I find that recently this is happening to me with increased regularity, for example; planking, ripped jeans and clean eating are all things that I see are happening, but honestly? Why? I have nothing against the advocates of any of these things, I hope they ride the trend wave as far as possible, but when all is said and done? Chances are, I’ll probably not be eating a plate of spiralised corgettii in a pair of trousers that I paid someone else 200 quid to cut up for me while lying down across two chairs.
And sometimes, such as it is with pubs. We all know I like a pub, yes, yes I do. As the sun makes its way out from behind the clouds for the Official British One Week of SummerTM like a snail making it’s way towards the forbidden cabbage of it’s dreams, I find myself slowly but inexorably drawn down to the pub garden and believe me, I’ve tried a few; The Maytime, the Black Horse, the Swan or even the Hand and Flowers all have their individual characters ready to provide you with liquid refreshment on a mildly warm summers day.
Unique, Epic and Heroic?
The Wheatsheaf is the latest opening of the Heroic pub brand, from the Unique pub group which as far as I can tell, was formally Epic pubs but both Epic and Heroic brands are in use within Unique – just to clear up any confusion there. Unique is a Milton Keynes based pub company looking to revitalise some of the old village boozers in the area, some of which are in no doubt in serious need of a shot of something to bring them out of the 70’s time warp they seem to have been left in. The Wheatsheaf is their third premises in the immediate area after 185 Watling Street in Towcester and The Anchor in Aspley Guise. There are another three a bit further afield towards Bedford, Maidenhead and Rutland so it’s clear that Unique and their Epic and Heroic brands are on a roll.
Since opening The Wheatsheaf, the pub has already garnered some very positive praise across the interwebs and rightly so, it is fantastic to see Heroic bringing investment and community back into villages like Bow Brickhill. The product at The Wheatsheaf is good, perhaps I wouldn’t go as head-over-heals as some of their other early patrons, but there are definite highlights to choose across the menu. Mrs P and I visited and got a good look at the contemporary village pub feel of the bar and enjoyed a refreshing social beverage (or two) there, before moving towards the dining area in the back. The décor was classy and homely, the tables were smart with their gleaming salt and pepper grinders but the real talking point was the foliage placed in shelving units around the room. While they must almost certainly be a nightmare to maintain, I hope they are kept up because they looked great, bringing depth and shape to a room that might otherwise be a little bit ordinary.
Floor fillers at The Wheatsheaf
The menu itself is full of your standard pub bar and grill crowd-pleasing fare. Emphasis is clearly on the meat and with only limited other mains plus a couple of salads and flat breads you might be forgiven if you find it difficult choosing what to order. All the fish dishes are on the specials board though, which does give them the opportunity of more flexible, sustainable and ultimately better fishy options. But this is a menu with a purpose; no-frills, give ‘em what they want and plenty of it. Be in no doubt; Mrs P and I set about it with gusto.
We started with a special of Crayfish Cocktail for Mrs P and the Crackling Pig Bites for me. The cocktail was good, and exactly what we expected. Plenty of crayfish tails and fresh salad with a couple of honking great slices of bread. The Marie Rose sauce was thick and creamy with a slightly tart bite which, as we both love things a little bit tart*, went down well. In fact the only thing that didn’t come off well were those enormous slabs of bread, Mrs P remarked that they were disconcertingly chewy and didn’t play the desired crunchy texture difference that I think the kitchen was going for. My pig bites were good examples of a pork bon bon rolled in crispyness, but could have done with a good shake of seasoning to perk it all up a bit. The smoked apple sauce was a nice sweet accompaniment but disappointingly, it was a little lacking in the smoke department.
For mains, I went for a hefty rib eye steak with additional prawn sidekick. Mrs P. decided to throw caution to the meat winds and plumped for the ribs. Sides were the mac and cheese and coleslaw respectively. My steak while requested medium rare, arrived as rare as a puffin in a sparkly pink leotard which we can all agree is pretty rare. In fairness this wasn’t a great problem for me as I like a good leotard but might give some people pause for thought. The mac and cheese was a great example of it’s kind; gooey, rich and warming. As a whole, for me there was nothing much wrong with the plate per se – but if you’re opening a steakhouse and grill, you would hope that steaks would come pretty high on the agenda.
Mrs P’s ribs were likewise a solid example with only a couple of slips; the corn was overcooked and mushy and she didn’t particularly like the onion ketchup (I thought it was pretty good though). The star of the show however was the BBQ sauce slathered across the top; it was deep and held depths of flavour that really impressed me. This is not your standard straight out of the bottle stuff, I later discovered this secret sauce is the sole work of Head Chef Lewis. It’s so good, I even asked for the recipe for future experimentation!
Puds were a respectable end to a satisfactory meal, sticky toffee pudding and a berry and gin Eton mess told a similar story to the previous plates. Mrs P.’s sticky toffee pudding was a great example of it’s kind with both sticky and toffee angles in good show. My gin Eton mess was likewise tasty if a little one dimensional – only because the advertised gin and sherbet didn’t seem to want to make an appearance. So, in short, puds were a perfectly acceptable end to the meal but lacking a bit of ‘wow’.
There we have it, I think people will generally enjoy the Wheatsheaf. The locals and early patrons are already finding plenty to like here. From the vibrant bar and cocktail menu through to the heavy hitting menu staples all via the newly refreshed atmosphere and plant based interior design, the Wheatsheaf doesn’t have much to worry about. The portions are good, the dishes are good (once the few snags have been worked out) and because the prices are in line with what you would expect a decent pub to cost, you won’t feel too robbed unless you are particularly unlucky with your choices. There is certainly a potential here to look out for, not least in the decking area outside (we all remember how much I love my Pub Gardens don’t we) and if they look after the space it could well be a proper winner. You’ll hear about these guys again I’m sure and you might even decide to give them a go. Keep your expectations in check and you’ll not go far wrong!
*but, it should be noted, for slightly different reasons.
Although we were invited to the Wheatsheaf, as you would expect, my opinions are not swayed, persuaded or otherwise aroused by external influences.