Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Grove Lock, Leighton Buzzard

So finally, I was looking forward to a rare Saturday when I was nether working nor had any other plans, only to be told The Ewing had an afternoon work 'thing' on the wilds of the Bucks/Beds border that she couldn't get out of. Always sensing an opportunity I kindly offered to accompany her, as long as we could go for a long, and possibly boozy (well, for the non-designated driver, anyway) pub lunch afterwards.

Although the area's bit of a wilderness for food and drink, flicking through The Good Pub Guide I found the Grove Lock, a Fuller's pub beside lock 28 of the Grand Union Canal. The original lock keeper's cottage now forms the pubs dining rooms, and their website promised 'hearty food, traditional ales and wonderful views over the water'. Well, it had to be better than an identikit chain restaurant in Milton Keynes shopping Centre.

Despite being a Fuller's pub we drank pints of the special, Liberation Ale from the Liberation Brewery, after being offered a taster by the very enthusiastic barman. A light, hoppy beer, it made a good choice for daytime drinking. They also a vat of warm, spiced Aspall's cider on the bar for those getting into the festive spirit, or feeling the chill.

After choosing our drinks we were lead upstairs to the old lock keeper's cottage, and this was the view out the window. There's something rather exciting about locks, the fascinating way the water rises and falls to let the boats through, and I was enthralled like a child at Christmas, much to the Ewing's consternation, every time a barge came past.

The one thing that finally dragged me away was the arrival of our food. I went for  the steak and kidney pudding with greens and mash from the specials board; a proper winter weekend warmer. If your lunch could show emotion then this would have jumped from the plate and gripped me in a bear hug.

I haven't had a good old Kate and Sidney pie for a long time, and the rich meaty fug that rose up when I cut through the bronzed pastry made me wonder way I'd waited so long. The offal gave the gravy a rich, uric, tanginess and the fluffy mash and bitter greens were spot on.

The Ewing chose the venison stew with beetroot dumplings and kale .This was another warming cuddle on a plate, although she was slightly perturbed on lifting the lid from her casserole to find bright pink nuggets, rather resembling raw mince, on top of her stew. Lurid appearances aside the beetroot dumplings were a nice twist, the deer and veg sound.

As if all the meat and potatoes weren't more than enough  we also shared the treacle tart, again from the specials board. The tart was sublime, deep, crisp pastry and a breadcrumb filling saturated with sweet syrup. This is, however, one of the very few things in life I don't think is improved by custard. And while the jug of the yellow stuff served alongside was very nice, I craved some cold cream to cut through the tooth-aching sugariness of this fine pudding. (Have no doubt, this was a very sweet dish, the honeycomb pieces were anchored to the serving slate with blobs of icing).

The food here is much how I want pub grub to be; scotch eggs; rabbit terrine, ham, egg and chips; home made pie of the day. A simple menu with simple things people actually want to eat. From the London porter in the smoked salmon to the London Pride in the batter for the fish and chips, there is a touch of attention and individuality that makes you think someone in the kitchen cares, but isn't trying too hard to impress with fancy flourishes.

This is the view of the Union Canal from from outside the pub car park. There was something rather bleak and rather lovey about being here on an overcast late autumn afternoon, the garishness of the bright  red barge standing out against the leaden Bedfordshire skies.

After we finished had our lunch and were walking down by the water, we saw a dad and his sons rather hopefully casting their lines into the canal and hoping for a bite. Don't know if they had much luck, but I do know they could have done a lot worse than popping in to the Grove Lock to enjoy some decent food and a warm welcome after an chilly afternoon's fishing.

Square Meal

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