The Plough is one of those charming country pubs you’d love to be perfect but undiscovered, though discover it we did – mid-afternoon on the Bank Holiday after Christmas, en route back dahn sarf after visiting my mum in hospital once again but failing to eat any lunch.
Nestling just off the busy Congleton to Macclesfield road, the Plough at Eaton is apparently well-loved by the locals and a regular spot for functions and weddings, though you would expect it to pick up passing trade like ours without difficulty. Ownership of the Plough is more difficult to identify, though my suspicion that it is a hospitality chain seems to be confirmed by this website, run by Excellas Sport and Leisure – not a company I’ve ever come across.
A wise choice on their part, since the Plough looks the archetypal country pub. Since the website has seemingly died a death, this description is taken from the AA website:
Set well back from the main road in the hamlet of Eaton, this 400-year-old Cheshire-brick inn is a far cry from its genesis as a farmhouse. It’s now a popular destination dining pub with a traditional interior; the restaurant is housed in a remarkable cruck barn moved here from Wales.
Quite so – a lovely cottage of a building with beams aplenty, though clearly adapted for its modern purpose, extended backwards to form the dining room. There is also modern-built hotel block alongside, which undoubtedly comes into its own for weddings. But it is the bar is where most will congregate, as did we – right in front of a glorious wood-burning stove.
What I can tell you is that that the Excellas group is clearly aiming for a higher class of dining, not least the menu from January, with the promise of 5-hour braised suckling pig. Pricing is a notch higher than the average, with most mains hovering around the £12-20 mark. For all that, the bar menu does not stray too far from standard pub grub. Indeed, for these purposes we chose from the standard bar menu three dishes you would expect to find at pretty much any hostelry: fish and chips, burger and fries, and steak and ale pie, all between £12 and 13, and as such they should be judged to a stricter standard than the freezer-to-frier mob.
Talking of hospitality, first signs were promising. Despite being in the bar, we were offered waitress service, though maybe when it is full that might revert back to ‘order at the bar.’ A decent pint of Bombardier certainly helped, while my grown-up children made do with Coke and tap water respectively as we waited long enough to suggest the food was being prepared fresh to order. The waitress may well have been the manager, given her smile and service, though most staff were young and inexperienced – echoed by the requests for serving staff on the Plough’s Facebook page.
All three dishes were competent, though like the curate’s egg they were good in parts. In my case the pie itself was unquestionably home-made, tasty and properly cooked, topped with a good old-fashioned English shortcrust pastry lid, and served with a small jug of gravy of dubious provenance – I hope it was made fresh from real meat juices but don’t a great confidence there.
The chips, of the fat chips stacked like Jenga blocks variety, were allegedly triple cooked; regular readers will know I make proper triple-cooked chips with regularity, so I can tell you with confidence that they should be crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The Jenga blocks were not crispy on the outside, suggesting they were finished off at about 170c rather than the 190c you need to get top class results.
But even the chips were certainly home made. Alas, another small bowl on my plate contained frozen peas. Well, defrosted peas if you want to be strictly accurate, though it would not have hurt the kitchen to provide a few freshly-cooked veg taken from the skins that very morning. When you set high standards, you have to keep that level of attention to detail across every component, which attention was sadly lacking here.
Lindsey’s hamburger looked reasonable without being exceptional, and was supplied with skinny fries similar to pommes alumettes that probably had originated in the freezer – but she ate happily. Adam’s fish in batter looked good and fresh, and came with the same fat chips plus a tiny bowl of mushy peas.
But… rather than questioning the bar food too closely, I’d like to ask the management whether they do cook everything from scratch in the restaurant. From the comments observed on some sites, the dishes on the full menu appear more ambitious and are therefore given more cheffy touches (witness the seabass in the picture above.) Maybe that will complete a more detailed review? I can say this: given that we will be making many more journeys on the same road, the probability is that further visits will follow.