We’re sitting in the Fox, a pub all of 2 minutes from my flat, and I’m feeling a bit embarrassed. But it’s nothing the group of us have done. No overly friendly chats with bar staff that aren’t in the least interested. No pointless arguments with strangers over the pool table. None of the usual things that can make me feel awkward in a social situation; I’m embarrassed because from the moment I walked in, it’s been clear that I’ve done this pub a massive disservice.
In my defence, it’s not completely my fault. The signs haven’t been good. The pub has been through four owners and four refurbishments already since we’ve moved in. Each time, new proprietors have enthusiastically redecorated, trying to breathe new life into the space. And each time, they’ve failed – doomed by a space that never seems welcoming despite the new paint, or chairs or lighting. This time round, it looked like it was going to be same thing. Another lick of paint, some new A boards outside and the same sad and empty bar night after night as we pass by on our way home.
But now that we’re actually inside, I am already admitting to myself that we have got it wrong. The latest decoration efforts have actually made the place OK – it’s still not the nicest space in the world, but it is more welcoming that it used to be. And the bar staff are charmingly enthusiastic about the whole thing; offering us samples of the new selection of craft (read as slightly more interesting than the standard Stella, Kronie, combo) and helping us out when we say we’ve got someone in the group with a massive allergy to any liquid that comes out of a cow.
So I’m already admitting I might have got it wrong with the Fox when we order some snacks to tide us over until the rest of our group arrive. They arrive and further confirm that the new owners deserve to do better than their predecessors. The hummus and pesto both taste properly homemade, by which I mean that they are a bit rough and lumpy – and none the worse for it. The chips are standard – somewhere in between frites and chunks – and the aioli is the sort that makes me happy I am only going to be kissing someone I have already convened to like me this evening.
As we’re in a big group, we manage to do a pretty good job of sampling most of (reassuringly) concise menu for mains. When the burgers (always a good test of a pub with aspirations to be a bit special) arrive, they are massive. Like sort of bigger than the faces of the people trying to eat them. Impressive, but the reports about how they taste are mixed, with the overall consensus being that they are a bit bland and don’t match up to some of the others on offer near us (damn you Lucky Chip – you’ve set the bar way too high). The whole fish on offer grilled, whole Bream is fresh and has been simply treated – which is basically all you need to do to fish to make it good. The bits and pieces it came with were also good. In fact, when the only complaint you can find about some fish is that it is too bony, you know the kitchen is doing something right.
My chicken with black pudding also hints at a kitchen that can do more than stick some pre-packaged rubbish in a microwave. I might have thought its sauce was too heavy on the cream, but others disagreed. So we’ll call it a draw on that one.
Elsewhere, a lamb stew was suitably hearty and tasty, if a bit strange to have on a summer menu. In fact, the only thing that really let the food down was the extremely limited vegetarian options, which forced Mel to pick a random selection of starter bits and bung them on a plate together. She gallantly said she’d ‘ordered badly’ but her glum face told another story.
All in all, the Fox proved me wrong. Which is a good thing. As it means we can stop drinking at the terrifying old man pub round the corner when we are feeling too lazy to walk more than 2 minutes to get a pint. Plus, it’s very easy to get home from when, to celebrate your discovery, you drink far too many beers, harass the owner about his tiny dog and then leave much later than you intended.