Food has long been important at the Plough, but I remember it well when it was first and foremost a pub - indeed, it was a regular Good Beer Guide entry in the 1990s. Tumultuous changes took place in 2004 when it was given a complete internal makeover. The design is now chic, modern and very un- pubby. The bar area (perhaps better described as the restaurant waiting area) has part-tiled, part-boarded flooring, big abstract paintings on white walls, a dark wood bar counter with polished grey top and stylish but comfy chairs. The only real ale on offer was Adnams Bitter but it was in good nick so no grumbles there.
We chose from the set menu (£13.50 for two course, £16.50 for three) which offered four starters, four mains and three sweets. Eschewing starters, I went for Breast of Chicken, Herb Mousse, Crushed Potatoes and Steamed Beans while Jane picked Pan-Fried Calves Liver, Bacon, Mash, Beans and Red Wine Juice. We were soon shown through to the restaurant which shares the same uber-smart décor, elegant but anonymous (though the wall of logs is an individualistic touch) Our main courses arrived, beautifully presented if not generously portioned. My chicken came in small roundels with the herb mousse pressed into the middle; I also got the same red wine juice and beans as Jane. The whole dish was frankly bland - my cold might have suppressed my taste buds but I don't really think so as the beer tasted fine! Each constituent part had little individual flavour so the overall impact was distinctly under whelming. Jane had the same issues with her Calves liver which, though melt-in-the-mouth soft, lacked anything like the strong taste you expect from liver - and ditto the accompaniments.
For sweet, I had White Chocolate Cheesecake which, again I'm afraid, could politely be described as subtle (and small). However Jane pronounced her Rhubarb Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream to be excellent, bursting with that hitherto elusive ingredient, flavour. But, all in all, not a great gastronomic experience - though our French waitress was utterly charming!
Gastro-pubs a good thing? On the one hand, they're arguably much preferable to pubs being converted into straight restaurants or, worse still, houses or shops. You can at least get real ale in the local ones and could, if you wanted, go in just for a drink - though you'd probably be the only person doing so. On the other, many of these places have crossed the line from being pub-with-food to restaurants-with-beer. What do our readers think?