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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Pigging out in Pangers

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 23 March 2009 | Views [1139] | Comments [1]

The bar of the very lovely Greyhound pub in Whitchurch

The bar of the very lovely Greyhound pub in Whitchurch

Yes, it’s me again, and so soon! Feeling a bit guilty at my lack of communication recently but it’s amazing the things you can fill a day with, still feel  that you’ve done nothing, and yet be exhausted at the end of it.

While in the UK recently – love ya guts, Eurostar – I went to Popsi Bubblehead’s home village of Pangbourne in Berkshire. This sleepy little Thames-side dot on the map is famous as the place where Kenneth Grahame wrote Wind In The Willows and also, to me at least, as the spot where Jerome K. Jerome’s legendary Three Men In A Boat gave up the ghost amid teeming rain, moored at the jetty by The Swan pub and took the train back to London.

I suspect if the Three Men were to moor there today they wouldn’t hotfoot it back to London quite so quickly. Like the nuns we so recently heard singing in the lovely Sacre Coeur church in Montmartre, the place is going off like a frog in a sock.

For a start there’s the Cross Keys pub which backs on to the Pang stream, an idyllic little Thames tributary. The actual crossed keys sign out the front is missing at the moment (no idea why because when we tried to use it on our last day there, a Monday, it was closed) but don’t let that put you off. Great beer, great atmosphere and it has a delicious lunch menu (http://www.crosskeyspangbourne.co.uk). The evening menu looks pretty good, too.

Opposite that is The Elephant (www.elephanthotel.co.uk), a different style to the Keys but just as warm and welcoming. This is more of a hotel-style hostelry but the front BaBar (geddit?)  is cosy and also does a terrific  lunchtime menu. Try the fish and chips!

What the Elephant also has is its posher restaurant bit, Christoph’s (12pm-2pm, 7pm-9pm) where you can try a grilled black pudding and smoked trout salad for starters before tucking in to local pork belly, winter greens, roasted beetroot and cider sauce, or slow-braised ox cheek, horseradish risotto, stock vegetables and ale juices.

The BaBar menu also has a game menu serving boast roasted pheasant and warm pigeon, each teamed with a wine suggestion. A syrah for the pigeon and an Argentinian malbec for the pheasant. Yum.

We also checked out an old favourite, The Greyhound in Whitchurch which is reached via a short stroll past the toll bridge over the Thames (20p for cars, each way). The menu’s a little more prosaic here but the beer’s good and the pub has a nice, gentle feel to it.

Time prevented us from frequenting The Ferryboat pub on the way back but that’s a little something for next time. Like that it’s a member of the British Institute of Innkeeping, though, whatever that is.

We also spent a pleasant afternoon in the more down-to-earth Star pub (the Old George had Sky but wasn’t showing the soccer) watching Liverpool play Manchester United with the local football crowd. It was here that Popsi asked me if I wanted fish and chips for lunch, only to discover that they didn’t do food and she’d heard someone ordering fish and chip crisps. Another alternative was Cajun squirrel crisps. But how would you know if they’re authentic?

The barmaid, though, was a real sport and said Popsi could bring a sandwich back from the bakery and eat it in the pub, no worries. She was a Liverpool supporter, too, so perhaps God rewarded her that day.

There’s a great little bottle shop in the village too, where we stocked up on bottles of Fiddler’s Elbow, Hobgoblin ruby beer, Hugh Feathery-Whittingstall’s excellent River Cottage Stinger (a nettle ale from his River Cottage farm in Dorset), Moonlight Ale (because “He Landed by moonlight”), a Fursty Ferret ale (not my favourite), a port stout and a beer that had a pic of a badger on it but whose name escapes me at the moment but which we bought because of the Wind In The Willows connection.

Add to this a terrific little organic shop, Garlands, which won Best Small Shop in the Natural And Organic Awards last year, and the gobsmackingly moreish Greys Cheese Co on Reading Road where we attended a cheese and wine tasting, bought a bottle of chewy red and perved on a selection of cheeses from the length and breadth of Britain (Cornish nettle yarg, a Devon oke and another cheese with nettle running through it – nettle’s the food of the moment it seems), and you have a minor foodie haven on the quieter banks of the Thames.

It’s only an hour or so from London’s Paddington Station so it’s well worth a visit if you are in that part of the world. Think about it: seven pubs in short staggering distance. Heaven.

I will add a few local pics forthwith...

Tags: berkshire, cheese, food, foodie, pangbourne, popsi bubblehead, pubs, tasting, thames, wine

Comments

1

Finally, Eat-Up returns

  Cal Mar 24, 2009 9:58 AM

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