The Plough and Flail, not far from the village of Mobberley in Cheshire, is part of my heritage. I grew up a few miles from the pub, which was accessible on foot across the fields and footpaths near our home. In those days it was a rough-and-ready free house: bare floorboards, no food other than crisps and snacks, a few beers on tap, but a warming log fire on winter evenings and a fat old labrador who would pad round from table to table hoovering up the snacks. It felt homely and accessible, and was the nearest thing to a local I had.
I say that, but you would never chance upon the pub by road, being well off the beaten track and the cause of some motorists getting lost in the country lanes. Since the Plough’s location has not changed, that may still be the case, though judging by the many cars parked there nowadays, the number of people in the know has markedly increased.
The Plough is now owned by J W Lees, a smallish north west-based brewing and hospitality chain. It has been upgraded, but tastefully so – not something you can say about every brewery makeover. One nightmare springs to mind: a pub that had been made over to look like a Victorian sitting room with bookshelves. There were indeed books on the shelves, bought in by the yard from house clearances I expect, but they had been sawn off in order to sit on very narrow shelves.
To a book lover like me this is a total abomination, so I am pleased to report that the books at the Plough were at least whole, even if they were a random scattering. Perhaps something like the Thomas Lord in Hampshire would be more appropriate, where books are donated, left on shelves around the pub for people to read, and available for purchase with funds going to a local charity.
Anyway, the Plough’s decor is charming and cosy, supplemented in the modern vogue by a few comfy sofas; the woodwork and beams are distinct and high quality. Even wallpaper has a retro agro-culture feel the lighting leaves something to be desired – I had to move round to the bench because from my initial seat I was dazzled. Given that the overall lighting effect is very dim, this might seem surprising, but in this regards it reminds me strongly of another low-ceilinged beamed establishment, the Blue Anchor up the road from me.
Initial impressions of the service were as warm and cosy as the pub itself. We were greeted by a friendly waitress with a broad Lanky accent, who took and returned with our drinks orders in no time at all – a pint of very decent hoppy pale ale in my case. Thereafter, service became patchy as we encountered a succession of other youngish members of staff. The food itself was brought promptly, but my companion had to ask no fewer than four times before some out-of-a-jar tartar sauce was brought – alas, the ketchup requested at the same time was entirely forgotten. This became something of a game between us as we laid bets on which waiter, if any, would bring the sauce. Goodness knows what it would be like if the place was full!
This brings me round to Millward’s theory of service, which has yet to be disproved: when you want the bill, they are nowhere to be seen, or if they are around they look right through you. In this case I was just on the point of getting up on my hind legs to go search for them when finally one appeared to ask if we wanted desserts; we didn’t, but he did go to get us the bill.
So what of the food, I hear you ask? The menu is pretty standard modern pub fare, with a touch of reet gradely northern specials added for good measure (“the original Bury black pudding, crispy bacon & soft poached egg on buttered crumpet with HP sauce”)
My companion’s “little” fish and chips (“JW Lees beer battered haddock, thick cut chips, tartar sauce and mushy peas”) was somewhat better than the description merited, but for the invisible tartare sauce. The same thick-cut Jenga block chips and tiny bowl of mushy peas accompanied my steak pie. The chips were, thankfully, crisp on the outside and moderately fluffy inside. In short, they tasted more like real chips than the usual freezer-to-frier instant chips most pubs serve, though I doubt very much they were prepared fresh from genuine potatoes on the premises – that would be too much to hope. The fish tasted fresh and was coated in a good, crispy batter.
My pie was like a squat version of traditionally raised shortcrust pastry pies, announced on the menu in modern marketing speak (“John Willie’s steak & ale pie, served properly with mushy peas, thick cut chips & gravy.”) In fact, it would have benefitted from more headroom, since the filling was packed so densely within its pastry coffin that moisture had been squeezed out. While tasty and unquestionably one of the more attractive pies served in a pub, it was hard to eat and would have benefitted from more liberal splashes of meaty gravy in which to stew the meat.
Ah yes, gravy – I did get a small jug on the side, which I took to be identikit instant gravy rather than properly made meaty gravy, but then that is what many north-westerners like to douse their chips with, along with plenty of malt vinegar.
Granted this was bar food, though I can’t imagine the restaurant offered a different menu. Perhaps a shame that JW Lees could not have pushed the menu a tad more up market with more focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients, in recognition of the tastes of the Cheshire set, but for a Friday night meal en route after a 220 mile drive, the food was plenty welcome. I hope they iron out the few anomalies in service along the way.
PS. I’m happy to add feedback from the General Manager of the Plough and Flail:
Thank you for your recent feedback review containing the link to your online review. I wanted to send you a quick email just to follow up on a few points in your review and also to let you know what I have planned for The Plough.
I completely take on board your points about service. We are currently trying to re-train some of the younger members of the team and we are also hiring some new team members so that we can improve the service offering to our guests and eradicate the few anomalies we do have. Since I took over at The Plough we have had a tough time and we are still working hard to try and improve the business further, one particular aspect being the level of service offered.
With regards to the menu feedback, I completely agree with you. I think the menu we have doesn’t showcase what our chefs are capable of and doesn’t provide the best offering for guests or to suit the business. We will be changing this next month. We are currently in the process of writing a new menu which will offer some weekly changes to provide popular pub dishes as well as some more ‘gastro’ style offerings and which I’m positive all of our guests will love. I think you were spot on the mark when you said there was no upmarket offers on the menu and this is exactly where we’re trying to go with the next one.
Just to clarify, all of our food is made fresh in house (including the tartare sauce and gravy!) and we do plan to continue this with the future menus. I do hope you will come and give our new menu a try when it’s out. The first launch date is planned for the 22nd March and there will be changes to it weekly thereafter. If you would like to email me and let me know when you plan to visit next I’d be delighted to welcome you and make sure you are well looked after. Otherwise, if you do just pop in after another long journey please do say hello- I’d be delighted to meet you.
I thought the review was really very well written and I loved the bit about the books…one particular pub local to us used to have all of their books and ornaments glued down so it made me chuckle!
If you wish to discuss anything further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
General Manager, The Plough & Flail, Paddock Hill Lane, Mobberley, Cheshire, WA16 7DB
T: 01565 873 537