The Saxon Mill very near Warwick is undeniably a beautiful pub in a perfect location. Apparently part of a very small chain of three country pubs, it has built up a keen following for good reasons, even if it has fallen prey to some of the redevelopment ideas I trashed in my blog about The Chequers in Goldhanger, notably the practice of opening out areas rather than leaving the traditional layout untouched. Actually, the interior of the Saxon Mill is tastefully restored and looks classy, focusing on a large bar area that wraps around both main rooms.
However, the best dining experience, at least on a warm evening, is to be found outside. Tables line the outside of the terrace alongside the picturesque mill pond. You walk past the mill water wheel towards the cluster of tables situated at the end, overlooking a glorious weir and a footbridge much used by dog walkers. Over the pond are stunning views of Warwick town. If I have visited a pub with a more scenic view these past five years, my memory is failing faster than I gave it credit for.
Talking of credit, credit also to the staff (all male that I saw) for warmth and professionalism. The presence of several Antipodeans may have helped, though others with an unidentified accent added to the fun. My order was taken swiftly at the bar, immediately before a major rush that saw a queue forming. Sadly my table was taken before I got back to it (why do they not put table numbers or some other way of identifying your location?), so instead I gave a nod to the barman and trotted down the garden to a table by the weir. Good choice!
Beer selection is mostly restricted to standard big brewery fare, though Sharp’s Doom Bar and Purity Brewing’s Ubu ales both get a look in, as they do in at least one other Warwick establishment. Ubu was fresh and satisfying as an accompaniment to dinner, though it would be pleasing to see more small brewery guest ales getting a chance rather than the ubiquitous Stella and Guinness dominating.
I’ve classified the Saxon Mill as a “gastropub” though in truth it hovers a notch below the truly aspirational dining experience, concentrating instead on the very luxury end of standard pub dining. Not the cheapest, but at least they make an effort with ingredients and presentation and I did arrive early enough to take advantage of their fixed price menu (pre-7) which offers two courses for an acceptable £11.95 and three for £15.45. Otherwise ALC main courses are in the £12 to £18 bracket, and take in pizzas, pasta, grills and assorted pub favourites.
Impressions were good when the Aussie waiter brought over a salmon, dill & mustard fishcake as a starter. It proved tasty & freshly cooked, and was served with a salad more interesting than your average, by virtue of the inclusion of fennel, beetroot, nectarine and pomegranate, plus a competent vinaigrette. Good starter and evidence that more than the average thought and effort had gone into compiling the dish.
Sausage & mash followed, allegedly Cumberland sausage though I’d dispute the provenance. Two standard-shaped snags rather than the traditional Cumberland ring, and then not the coarse-ground pork with seasoning. Nevertheless, it proved tasty, and arrived in a neat display bisected by a sculpted pile of slightly herby mash amid a puddle of sticky and heavily reduced not-from-the-packet gravy, and topped by a small collection of crispy but not greasy onion rings.
So – a decent and moderately filling dinner for a not unreasonable price in a perfect setting, though I would love to see how they manage some of the more ambitious menu items, including belly pork, which rarely lives up to its billing of being crispy on the outside and tender in. Alas, that was not on the fixed price menu so it will have to wait for another time.
Another trip to the Mill will undoubtedly follow, preferably with company since this is evidently a place for socialising – but with a keen eye on marketing and profits too, though thankfully the staff are not at all heavy handed about selling. Maybe not my preferred style of dining but they do what they do to a good standard to please the a comfortably off market segment that appreciates a good setting and relaxed ambience. You can probably ask no more than that of any establishment.