The Gloucester Old Spot, Kellaway Avenue
I'm beginning to think that some British pub entrepreneurs should be consulted on the Afghanistan issue. I mean, how do you turn The Hand and Flowers in Marlow from a no-go dive, into the only pub on the planet with two Michelin stars? Bristol's own John Cabot was a Groundhog Day situation of: new owner, hooliganism, closure- repeat. That was until its rebranding as The Royal Oak, and there hasn't been a glassing since. The family behind the The Kellaway/Old Spot transformation may have pulled off a similar feat. The place just feels right again.
The last time I was in this building I felt cold, unwelcome, and embarrassed for choosing it as a place to bring my new girlfriend. A few years later, though, everything's changed- except the girlfriend. Our servers smile illuminates the space around her as she approaches our table to introduce herself (Amy) and gesture to the newly refurbished surroundings which she is, justifiably, incredibly proud of. The décor and lighting resonate with my growing appetite, and it's glorious to see these seats (and THAT garden) full of happy customers again. It's a very personal string of emotions I'm relaying here; this was once the place to go, as a ten year old me, to hang out with family friends.
I have a certain level of faith in the place now...
So, onto the food. The menu surprises me at first; its graphics and layout would befit a high-end chain, and the lack of a straightforward structure has me worrying that the chef might lack some direction. I have a certain level of faith in the place now, though, so I happily order the bread selection (mainly see what Hobb's bakery are up to nowadays) followed by the Pulled Pork Bun. Helen goes for the Halloumi and Courgette skewers to start, and a Pollack and Chorizo Stew as a main.
Props to Hobb's for the bread slices; they're light as air, apart from the tomato and olive which explodes with lovely, chewy saltiness. The skewers, on the other hand, I'm in two minds about. At first, they feel like a vegetarian afterthought; you can't really lift them in one piece, and despite being sold as grilled, they lack any hint of blackening. However, they tasted nice- the halloumi is high quality- so I can't say we didn't enjoy them.
The stew is a much more convincing creation. A powerfully smoky bed of chickpeas, tomatoes and chorizo rests beneath the delicate fillet of pollack, and the flavour is spicy without being offensive. Even tastier, is the pulled pork. I've cooked the iconic dish a few times, ordered it even more, and I'm pretty sure that this is some of the best I've tried; potently porcine and so, so tasty. The skin-on fries are curiously skin-free, but I'm fine with that; it is the opening night, afterall, and I'm not a big fan of deviations in chip recipes anyway.
The bill doesn't take the evening into unpleasant territory, either; even the drinks are very reasonable...
The service so far as been so punctual, it could be used as a metronome. It's a busy evening, and the staff could have let the night run away from them, but none of them look phased, and Amy, as well as our other server Poppy, are as sprightly when we leave as when we arrived. The bill doesn't take the evening into unpleasant territory, either; even the drinks are very reasonable.
So it seems that we can mourn The Kellaway Arms with more hope than sadness: long live The Gloucester Old Spot. And can someone in Downing Street seriously consider asking these pub saviours their perspective on the Middle East? Maybe they possess some untapped knowledge that might achieve what the Mongols, British, and the Soviets couldn't. For the meantime, though, just nip in for a quick pint after walking the dog; you won't be disappointed.
Food, plus a couple of pints and service, £45.