We returned to the UK in May 2005 for a spell and moved back into our own house in Sutton in June. Here’s a brief review of a couple of eating and drinking places we visited which stood out from the rest. One of them, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.
Places to Eat… or not
Henry’s Table at The Grange
London Road, Hackbridge, near Beddington Park
We decided on the spur of the moment to go out for a meal to celebrate Kay getting a distinction in her MSc. Unfortunately it was past seven o’clock in the evening when we made the decision, we’d had a hard day decorating, and neither of us fancied venturing very far afield. So we went for somewhere local. The Greek place near Wrythe Green (a mile or so away) was shut, so we settled on the Grange as the only place within walking distance.
The disappointments started before we even got inside the door. The menu was pretty uninspiring – it could have been created by a chef who’d been to Spain once on his holidays. And it was dominated by chicken and beef – neither of which we’re terribly keen on.
When we got inside we were faced with the choice of eating in the bar (where smoking’s allowed) or the restaurant (where it isn’t). We eventually chose the restaurant on the basis that we could always sit in the bar while waiting for our food, and move back there after the meal. We were shown to a table in a dimly-lit room. There were several two-person tables at windows, but we were put as far away from these as possible, right next to a big table seating an extended family (we assume) of fifteen or more, complete with kids running around all over the place. We asked to move, and the almost totally apathetic waitress waved us vaguely in the direction of one of the tables nearer the window. The chair covers were grubby and stained with something unpleasant-looking, so we moved again under our own steam.
At this point we should have decided to leave. Instead we went to the bar and got a drink. Only one beer on the hand pump – I think it was Young’s Bitter, but I’m not sure.
Suspiciously quickly we were called back to our table, where our meals were waiting for us. I’d ordered a pork chop with Mediterranean vegetables. It was dry, tough and eminently forgettable. But I had the better of the two meals.
Kay had asked for a medium rare steak with mashed potatoes. The steak was overdone, even drier than the chop and tasted like cardboard. It had clearly been grilled. But the pièce de résistance was the mash. I’ve never seen mash you can slice before. I wonder if it came out of a packet?
We left most of our meal and returned to the bar (which, incidentally, looked as if it hadn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in weeks) to finish our beers. The staff’s apathy hadn’t stopped there, though. In the end I had to go and hunt for a waitress to pay the (exorbitant) bill. I shouldn’t have bothered.
0/5. We won’t be going back.
Pound Street, Carshalton, opposite the pond
While reading the programme at the Wallington CAMRA Beer Festival we saw an advert for the Greyhound Hotel, the white-shingled Young’s pub on the other side of the main Sutton-Croydon road from the duck pond. We’d passed it hundreds of times in the car but never actually been inside. So since it had been declared Sutton Pub of the Year we decided we should check it out.
We arrived at a quarter to two, a good three-quarters of an hour before the end of the lunch service, and parked in the ample car park beside the hotel. (They’ve got 21 bedrooms. We didn’t ask to see one, but the AA give it three stars.) Walking round the building, we were spoilt for choice of entrance but eventually settled for one at the front. This led us into the oak-panelled Swan Bar, which boasts no piped music, no televised sport, no gaming machines, and its very own ghost. We didn’t see or hear anything of any of these. But there were four antique clocks in the room, two of them grandfather clocks.
We went to the bar and asked to see the menu. It looked tempting – the dishes on offer showed imagination without being over-elaborate. Kay chose the pork medallions in leek and stilton sauce, while I ordered the hake fillet and chips with mushy peas. I’d made the mistake of volunteering to drive so was stuck on orange juice and lemonade. Kay had a pint of Young’s Special, which was in excellent condition. We settled down at a corner table, turned to the window to watch the gulls, ducks and Canada geese on the pond over the road, and settled down to wait for our food.
When it arrived, we were impressed with its appearance. Kay’s medallions of pork were laid on a bed of sauté potatoes and topped off with fried strands of leek, with a scattering of beautifully white cauliflower, broccoli and sliced carrot and swimming in plenty of the creamy sauce. It tasted even better than it looked – the pork was cooked to perfection with no hint of toughness, the cauliflower was crisp and tasty. My hake came in a beautifully crispy beer batter, with gigantic chips (skins still on) which we suspect were oven-roasted rather than deep-fried – they were wonderfully crispy, tasted unmistakably of potato and had clearly never been in sight of a freezer at any stage. The mushy peas were as good as any I’ve had anywhere. I even ventured a taste or two of the (hand-made?) tartare sauce, which I usually dislike, and found it quite enjoyable.
I’d be lying if I said we cleaned our plates – sadly, there was too much on them for us to manage. But we thoroughly enjoyed what we had, and for about a tenner each (including the drinks) I’d defy anyone to complain about the value. And the staff are friendly, too, giving the place a real family atmosphere. What a pity we didn’t visit earlier.
4½/5. No-one gets 5, but this is about as close as you’ll get to it.
Later in the afternoon we walked past The Grange, with its advert banners proclaiming “Great tapas, great beer, great food, great wine”. What a contrast. The Greyhound makes no such overblown and hollow claims – it lets word of mouth do the job.
Places to Drink
The Robin Hood (Young’s)
Robin Hood Lane, Sutton
While waiting to get back into our home, we were living in temporary accommodation just to the west of Sutton High Street. Walking back there one day, we spotted a Young’s pub a short way down the hill and decided to check it out.
We weren’t sorry. The beer was excellent: Bitter and Special on tap, at either £2.50 for a pint or £9 for a four-pint jug. A bit pricey, I know, but it is very well-kept – the very first time we went in we’d just had our first mouthfuls (which seemed fine to us) when the barman swept our pints away from us and brought fresh ones, explaining that he thought they looked a bit past their best! There’s also a wide range of Young’s other products available in bottles (including for off-licence sales – you can get four for £5, in a handy cardboard carrier).
The atmosphere’s good, too, with two spacious seating areas inside (actually, it’s all one L-shaped room, but it’s vast) and an outside area as well for those rare sunny days. It never gets really crowded, even on a Friday night – we pitched up at seven o’clock one evening and had very little trouble finding a table for four. The bar staff are friendly and helpful as well. They do food as well; nothing extraordinary – just the usual packaged pub grub stuff – but it’ll do if you can’t be bothered traipsing anywhere else. And with beer of the Robin Hood’s quality, why bother? (4½/5)
The Dog & Bull (Young’s)
Surrey Street, Croydon
This is a great place for a couple of pints on a sunny summer afternoon when you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle of Croydon’s Surrey Street Market. They’ve got a large beer garden out the back where you can sit and relax with some of Young’s fine products. They do barbecues as well, which seem popular. Unfortunately it’s so popular that half the shoppers visiting the market (and some of the stallholders as well) seem to have the same idea, so you have to struggle to get served – and to get a seat – at times. (It wasn’t until the last time we went that I discovered they have a bar outside as well as the one on the inside.) (3½/5)