When I was asked if I wanted to review a local Beefeater that had recently refurbished, I have to admit I thought twice. I’ve only been to a few Beefeaters in the past and if I’m honest, they weren’t that good. Despite my reservations, I decided that one of the main things I always wanted this blog to be was something everyone. If you like food, I want you to be able to enjoy this – regardless of your tastes, budget, location, or style. I’ve always said the social experience of going out to eat shouldn’t be limited to those with the budget for gastropubs and Michelin star restaurants, but for everyone. Also, although I’m not joining the ‘family gang’ any time soon, I do appreciate that people with children want somewhere ‘kid-friendly’ that’s not too expensive.
With all that in mind, I decided to check out the Griff House in Nuneaton. It’s on the outskirts of Nuneaton, adjoined to a Premier Inn. It’s got a big garden, and the inside has been refurbished with mellow tones and almost gastro-pub style furniture. We arrived on a busy Thursday night feeling pretty hungry, so eagerly took up the initial offer of a tear and share flatbread to feast on while we were making our minds up (be warned – despite my lofty ambitions, self control went out of the window tonight). The thin, crispy bread came still warm with no risk of skimping on the garlic butter, which literally dripped off it. What’s not to like!
After this, we toyed with the idea of skipping a starter – until we spotted one I’ve never seen before, ‘Pulled Beef & Yorkshire Pudding’. I was intrigued at how someone could turn the nation’s favourite Sunday roast into a starter, so we agreed to share. For this, I have to congratulate Beefeater. A board appeared, with a yorkshire pudding cut into quarters, a kilner jar (plastic not glass) filled with slow-cooked pulled beef mixed with onion gravy. Also on the board was a small bowl of horseradish cream cheese. And there you have it, a nice little ‘build-your-own’ roast beef canapes set. Seriously though, I thought it was a great idea. Bit of Yorkshire pudding, spoonful of rich beef in gravy, and a dollop of cream cheese, with the heat of the horseradish coming through.
For main course there’s plenty on offer, from steaks and burgers to salads, fish dishes and various pub classics. I toyed with the idea of a salad, but self discipline failed me (AGAIN) and I found myself drawn by the Sticky Bourbon BBQ Ribs. In hindsight, this was a bit of a risky choice, given the rib treats I’ve enjoyed recently at places like Nosh and Quaff, and the Grillstock Festival. The slow-cooked pork ribs had been basted in bourbon barbecue sauce and grilled. They were pretty meaty and tender, falling off the bone as expected, and the glaze was rich and sweet and barbecue-y. No, they weren’t better than some of the speciality ribs I’ve had recently, but as pub grub ribs go, they were pretty good.
I opted for spicy skinny fries (you can have triple-cooked fat chips if you want) which looked great, but turned out to be a bit too much on the crunchy side. I’m not sure if they’re meant to be like that, or if the ones I had had been left in a bowl on the hot plate for a bit too long, but put it this way – anyone with less than perfect teeth would probably have had some issues when they bit down on those bad boys so it’s a good job my pearly whites are in fairly good nick. The onion rings were crispy, and the ‘chunky slaw’ was indeed chunky and crunchy, without too much mayonnaise, exactly how I like it.
Mr M, King of the steaks, chose the biggest one he could find on the menu – an 18oz Porterhouse. This is basically cut from the bone-in sirloin, and means you get the marbling that my husband (and I) loves so much. According to the Beefeater menu, they use 21-day aged beef that is grilled by chefs trained in their own academy. This had echoes of the grill school I learned about at Miller & Carter and I’m wondering if having your own grill school or academy is an ‘in-thing’ for pub chains these days.
The steak was, as you can imagine, enormous, and while Mr M enjoyed it, he said it didn’t trump some smaller steaks he’s had recently. Having said that, I imagine there’s a certain assumption that if you order a hunk of meat that big, you may not necessarily be as concerned with quality as you are with quantity – and while not excelling in the former, this steak was still pretty decent. Jamie had ordered triple-cooked fat chips, which were nicely cooked, and particularly good for dunking in his piquant peppercorn sauce. He also enjoyed a simply-grilled, fat Portobello mushroom which I have to say was pretty tasty.
Were we full? Of course we were. But despite my ramble about balance not that long ago, it completely went out the window on this night. Tempted by the waitress, who sung the praises of the lemon posset, we had a little look at the dessert menu, where ice-cream caught our eye like the glint of a coke can ring-pull attracts a magpie. It wasn’t long before the words ‘Rocky Road Sundae with two spoons please’ were falling out of our mouths and we found a rather large portion of calories, sugar and saturated fat in front of us.
We’ve all had a pub ice-cream sundae before and they don’t differ much between Harvester, TGI Fridays, the Hungry Horse and, yes, Beefeater. This isn’t a criticism in any way, it just mean I won’t go into the minutiae of the cold creamy ice-cream, chocolatey chocolate brownie, sickly sweet marshmallows and gallons of whipped cream. It was nice. It was sweet. It was naughty. Job done.
From start to finish, the service at the Griff House was great. Not only was the front of house guy who met us amiable, helpful and incredibly polite, but our waitress Deanna was particularly impressive, juggling god knows how many tables on a busy night without putting a foot wrong, putting up with my indecision, and somehow keeping a radiant smile throughout. This girl could teach a lot of service staff – including some older and more experienced than her – a few things about how to wait tables well.
We had a pleasant evening and left with our eyes bigger than our bellies and wracked with guilt at the amount we’d packed away. For a big chain, the food is fine and if you want a lot of it, then things like supersized steaks, unlimited soft drinks, and extra portions of fries can certainly help you along the way. But is it value for money? I’m usually the first one to say that sometimes, somewhere that’s fairly cheap and fairly decent should have its place as much as its more expensive relatives in the food industry, but I’m not 100% sure falls it into this category.
We were lucky enough to have dined as guests of Beefeater, but our meal – a flatbread, one starter, two main courses, a dessert, and an unlimited soft drink each – would have come to about £55 . Not bad, you say. However, a few days later we celebrated our wedding anniversary at a gastropub in Warwickshire, where we enjoyed some seriously good food (review to follow), the kind you rave about, and had bread and olives, starters, mains, a coffees with a mini dessert and it came to less than £10 more (without counting the alcohol). Not much of a price difference yet quite a yawning chasm when it comes to quality. There’s a bit of an assumption that some of these country pubs with a focus on food will not only be a cut above when it comes to their menu offering, but also with the price tag.
I’m not criticising Beefeater, and I’m not criticising the food we had at the Griff House. It was tasty, well-executed and served efficiently and politely. All I’m saying is beware the false assumption that big chains are always cheaper than their smaller rivals – it’s something I’ve fallen into and was quite surprised when the realisation dawned on me that that’s not always the case.
If I’m honest, which obviously I am on this blog, then I probably won’t make a special effort to go back to the Griff House, or to seek out a Beefeater. Not when there’s so much other choice knocking around. But if I find myself in Nuneaton, and i want simple, quick pub food that I know is going to hit the spot, then I would be happy to head there. And would be happy to tell you to as well. But if you’ve got a little bit more time and you want a little bit more – not in quantity, but in quality and value for money – then broaden your horizons. Look out for a little hidden gem, because it’s probably just as good as you think it will be – and less pricey than you fear.
Our meal at the Griff House was complimentary but the views in this blog are, as ever, honest and a reflection of my own personal experience.