Saturday 25 May 2024

Good beer at the Wyndham, followed by "piegate" at the Wig & Quill

Continuing the account of my recent visit to Salisbury, you left me, in the previous post, at the legendary Wyndham Arms, the original home of the Hop Back brewery. Capacity constraints at the pub led to the brewery relocating to an industrial unit in Downton, just to the south of Salisbury, in 1992. This left the Wyndham Arms free to concentrating on serving Hop Back beers at their best, to beer lovers from both near and far, drawn to this pleasant, back street local, just a short walk from the centre of Salisbury. 

I had planned on a bite to eat at the Wyndham Arms but looking on the pub’s website, I noticed food was not available, so lunch would have to wait. The main entrance door to the pub, located at the corner of the building, led into a small lobby which opened up into the bar area, and it was here in front of the bar, that the pub regulars were gathered. I suppose you expect that in a local, but it did mean I wasn't able to take the photos I would perhaps normally do. My son likes to chastise me for snapping away with my camera phone, especially in the presence of others, so despite the friendliness of the locals I did feel uncomfortable at doing so. It also seems rather geeky at times, so apologies for the lack of interior photos.

Apart from the obvious Summer Lightning, there were several other Hop Back beers on sale, and the one I went for was a pint of GFB. These letters are an acronym for Gilbert's First Brew, John Gilbert being the pioneering brewer who set up Hop Back at the Wyndham Arms, back in 1986. This was after cutting his teeth by running a couple of breweries in southwest London (Battersea and Brixton). GFB is brewed to a sensible strength of just 3.4% abv, and is like a slimmed down, session strength version of Summer Lightning. My well-presented and well-conditioned pint certainly slipped down a treat. Hop Back run eight other pubs, scattered across Wiltshire and Hampshire with the odd outpost further afield (Sultan – Wimbledon, and Archer – Staffordshire). They also have another pub in Salisbury – the Duck Inn. 

I took my pint of GFB, along with a packet of crisps, into the small, cosy snug room, just off the bar. It also enabled me to respond to an email from work, that required my immediate attention – boring! Whilst I was tempted to stay for another beer, I had several other pubs to visit, one of which would also provide my stomach with something more substantial than the bowl of cereal, I’d consumed, several hours previously. However, had Hop Back’s excellent Entire Stout been available, I may well have stayed for a glass of it.

Consequently, I departed the pub, but not before returning my glass to the bar and engaging in a brief chat, with a couple of the regulars. They were keen to know whether I had I enjoyed my stay, and why wasn’t I stopping. I explained I was in Salisbury on a brief visit and had other pubs to visit. They appreciated this and quickly came up with a number of suggestions. One of these was the Haunch of Venison, an obvious choice perhaps, and one already on my list. It’s the oldest pub in Salisbury, and from the descriptions I’d read, one definitely worth visiting.

Upon leaving the Wyndham Arms, I headed off back into the city centre, passing through a park whilst enjoying the pleasant May sunshine. I was making for New Street which runs from east to west, intersecting at one point with Salisbury High Street. There were two pubs in the street that I'd pencilled in as possible candidates for lunch. The first one was a Hall & Woodhouse house, called the New Inn, where the food menu looked particularly good, whilst the was a Wadworth pub, called the Wig & Quill, and the direction I had just walked from brought me to this hostelry, first.

After admiring the attractive exterior of this historic pub that dates back to the 14th Century, and perusing the menu displayed on the wall, outside, I decided to eat there, as one of the choices was “Pie of the Day.” I stepped inside and was surprised to find the place relatively quiet, which seemed odd for a Friday lunchtime. Adorning the bar counter was a bank of hand pumps, dispensing a range of Wadworth beers, but the pump clip for Henry’s IPA had been turned round; a pity as that was the beer I was looking forward to.

You may be surprised to learn that after 50 years chasing around the country, and enjoying beers in many different locations, this visit to the Wig & Quill represented the first time I'd set foot in a Wadworth tied house. I’ve obviously drunk many pints of 6X, over the years, although Wadworth seem to be pushing Horizon in the free-trade these days, at the possible expense of their best-known cask ale. The other beer on tap at the Wig & Quill, was Swordfish, an unusual “Rum infused ale.” I played it safe and went for a pint of 6X, which was full-bodied, malty and whilst not quite on top form, was still very drinkable.

It's worth mentioning briefly, that the pub is divided into three drinking areas, with oak beams aplenty, overhead and a number of open fires to warm customers in the winter. There was no need for these the other Friday and given the fine weather I took my beer outside into the attractive and secluded, walled garden at the rear of the building, but not before placing my food order. I, of course opted for pie of the day, after being told that it was Beef and Guinness. 

It was very pleasant sitting outside, waiting for my food to arrive, and the only other person present was a lady of slightly advanced years, who was enjoying a glass of lager, whilst eating what were obviously her own sandwiches. Perhaps she knew something about the quality of the food that I didn't, although I would soon find that out! It took slightly longer than anticipated for my meal to be served, which was a little surprising given there was only a handful of customers in the pub. When the pie arrived at my table, I was warned that it was very hot, although I took this as a good sign. On closer inspection though, the pastry casing did look quite dark in places, particularly around the crimping, an appearance I would subsequently describe as “well-done, bordering on burnt.”

On cutting through the rather hard pastry, and into the pie, I was surprised to find the meat content dry, stringy and definitely overcooked. The complete absence of any “gravy” within the pie provided further cause for concern. Trying some of the beef inside confirmed it was over-cooked, as the meat was charred at the margins, stringy, in both appearance and texture, and certainly not the tasty, pleasant, and mouthwatering pie I was expecting and looking forward to. I brought this to the attention of a member of staff, who agreed that the pie looked both over-cooked and dried out. He went off to fetch the chef, who in turn came over, took a look at the food on my plate and said that the pie was perhaps drier that it should have been.

He offered me a partial refund, but not the full refund I was expecting, but that turned out to be a problem, because he claimed the pub’s new till system – recently installed by Wadworth’s, was not set up to process refunds. I found this strange, as I had paid by card, but after talking to the lady behind the bar, who had originally served me, the chef offered me a voucher instead. I explained that I was just visiting Salisbury and didn’t live locally.  He seemed rather surprised when I said I had travelled across from Kent that morning, although I'm not sure why, and was unlikely to be returning in the near future.

After chatting to his colleague, I was offered a partial refund, which amounted to a cash payment of £3.75. I had paid £15 for the meal, so I don’t know how that figure was arrived at. I stated at the time that this wasn’t satisfactory, but mine host didn’t seem open to further negotiation. Not wishing to cause a fuss, in front of other customers in the bar, I pocketed the token payment and left the pub, but have since emailed Wadworth expressing my dissatisfaction, particularly at the way my complaint was handled.

I am currently awaiting a reply, and whilst like most Brits I don’t like making a fuss, there comes a time when such action is necessary.  The experience didn’t overshadow what was a most enjoyable visit to Salisbury, although it obviously took the shine off the pub lunch I'd been looking forward to. A look at reviews of the Wig & Quill on Tripadvisor, something I seldom do, revealed the pub to be something of a “Marmite” establishment, as some of the comments were glowing, whilst others seemed to match my own experience.

There’s one more pub to go, along with the cultural bit, and I will, of course, keep people updated about "piegate", as soon as I hear back from the brewery, or even the pub itself.



retiredmartin said...

That's a 25% rebate, Paul. Not very generous at all. Since the staff could clearly see the issue (as can I), I think they ought to have refunded in full. Stick that picture on Google and review it.

Paul Bailey said...

Definitely stingy Martin, but it was the attitude of indifference that annoyed me more. I shall wait and see what Wadworth have to say about it, especially as they appear to have spent quite a bit of money sprucing the place up.

Stafford Paul said...

I've used Wadworths pubs on and off for fifty years, and stayed in one fifteen years ago, without any problems so think you were just unlucky.
I'd rather have an overcooked pie like that than the overcooked vegetables I've had in some pub meals or the undercooked ingredients often in Tim's breakfasts.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm sure I was just unlucky, Paul, although the my complaint could and should have been handled better. The Tripadvisor reviews on the pub were, as I said, either glowing with positivity or, like mine, unhappy ones.

As for vegetables, many pubs and restaurants serve them up almost in their raw state - al dente is the correct term, I believe. They shouldn't been served up soggy, with all the flavour cooked out of then, but they shouldn't be crunchy, either. I don't suppose it's easy though, catering for the tastes of an increasingly fickle public.

Finally, I had one of Tim's breakfasts a few Sunday's ago. It was a last minute decision and what was served up, was pretty decent. The plates were hot, as well.

Stafford Paul said...

Tripadvisor reviews being mainly a '1' or a '5' suggest that it might as well just be a choice of "bad" or "good".
If I was complaining about that pie it'd be for its positioning on top of the potato and vegetables.
Vegetables "served up soggy, with all the flavour cooked out of then" are as much of an abomination as beer served through a tight sparkler with all the flavour thrashed out of it.