- we prefer the atmosphere of pubs to that of restaurants
- we both like to drink real ale with our meals
- the quality and variety of food in local pubs is amazing
- value for money is invariably keener in pubs.
However we were there not to throw silver balls around but to stuff our faces. The specialities at the Duke are pies and salads, the former having more appeal on a cold winter's evening. There's a choice of 16 different pies, meat, fish or veggie. Jane went for Haggis & Whisky (£9.95) while I chose Salmon Fillet with Broccoli and Horseradish (£9.50). The pies are served with a choice of fresh mash potato (we both chose pesto), seasonal vegetables (peas and carrots on our visit) and a jug of white wine sauce or red wine and onion gravy. We both enjoyed our meals hugely. The pies are made with puff pastry which was beautifully light and flaky, while the vegetables were just right and the gravy (for Jane) and sauce (for me) sumptuous. Haggis isn't the most sophisticated of dishes but the whisky in which it had been doused imparted a smoky sweetness while a creamy sauce and plenty of "neeps and tatties" gave the pie real depth of flavour. My salmon was definitely a cut above (Scottish sea-raised according to the menu), again perfectly offset by creamy horseradish sauce and crisp fresh broccoli. The portions were so ample that we had to forego the sweets, delicious as they looked. A choice of starters (breads, soup of the day, salads and olives marinated with cheese and antipasti) is also available.
The salads (both warm and cold) will be worth investigating come the warmer weather, and are served with seasoned new potatoes. You can also get cheese or pork pie Ploughman's.
On the beer front, the Duke serves Greene King's rare but lovely XX Dark Mild straight from the cask and my pint was in perfect nick. Jane had Holdens Golden Glow, a glorious smooth hoppy beer which was a welcome guest in many local Greene King pubs in the early part of the year but which will no doubt have gone by the time you read this. Abbot and IPA are also sold.
The Duke will be a hard act for this column to follow but in the interests of research we'll do our best. If anyone out there has particular recommendations for local pubs doing ace grub, do please let me know.