No such difficulties at the village's other pub, the Exhibition, where licensees John and Tracy preside over a thriving business anchored in its deserved reputation for great food – though this is very much a pub first and foremost. The “Grubbing Around” article in ALE 350 reported on the excellent meal my wife and I enjoyed here recently. A new introduction on the food side is the Magnificent Seven. A choice from that number of dishes for just £6.95 including home-made cottage pie, chilli and chicken curry. Until 1981 this was one of the last “front room” pubs in the area, where Mrs Bullen would fetch your beer from her kitchen. It was then refurbished and extended by Tolly Cobbold and has grown several times since without losing its character. On the real ale front, Adnams Bitter and Woodforde's Wherry are constants with a guest alongside such as Tim Taylor Landlord – though Red Squirrel made a welcome appearance recently. John and Tracy are in negotiation with Punch Taverns to buy the freehold and Punch have agreed in principle to sell so it's now all down to the price being right. My fingers are crossed.
Heading east we come to Willingham which, not that long ago, had five pubs but is now down to two (though there are rumours of a “micro pub” possibly opening up in the village). At the Over Road crossroads stands the Black Bull, a rather utilitarian looking 1960s building, as most buildings of that era tended to be. The present single bar layout represents an opening out of the original two bars though both must have been pretty small. The décor is simple and pleasant with a maroon and cream colour scheme and stripped pine bar counter. Pub-grubby food is served lunch and evenings except Monday and Sunday. Greene King IPA and Abbot plus a guest from the GK range are the real ales.
Next to the heart of the village, right into Church Street, past the late-lamented Three Tuns and into the Duke of Wellington. This attractive low-ceilinged local makes the most of its exposed beams and three open fires to create a relaxed rustic feel. The main bar has big scrubbed tables, bare-boarded floors and candelabras plus an area set aside for eating. The splendid home-cooked food majors on pies and salads. This is a rare outlet for the delicious Greene King XX Mild served straight from the cask. The other beers are IPA and three changing guests; the latter are served using the cask breather system which is officially frowned upon by CAMRA because it brings applied gas into contact with the beer – see if you can spot any effect on the taste.
From here we take a short out-and-back trip to Rampton, home of the Black Horse, a free house run for several years now by Debs and Kez. It had previously been a Greene King pub, which they wanted to close, but planning consent was happily refused. Wells Eagle and Bombardier are the regular real ales and at least one of the guest beers is likely to be a local brew with both guaranteed to be interesting. Beers can be bought in one third pint glasses if you aren't sure what to go for. The interior comprises two bars separated by an archway and both are smart and comfortable. Home-made food is served most evenings and Sunday lunch and I'm reliably informed that the pies are to die for.
Back to Willingham now before turning south, crossing the guided busway and entering Longstanton. The Black Bull is the village pub though it doubles up as the Dragon King Chinese restaurant and take-away. Owners Andy and Chow have invested significantly over the past year in a major overhaul of the premises with impressive results. Inside the front door is a “pubby” bar area with pool table while further back is a huge lounge-cum-restaurant, all very stylishly kitted out. There are two handpumps though generally only one is in action, selling the likes of Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Elgoods Golden Newt and St Austell Tribute. As well as full Chinese meals, you can get a variety of interesting bar snacks such as Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls (£3.50) and Salt & Pepper Squid (£5.50).
And finally to a real ale outlet I've only just discovered despite it being in an adjacent village. The Pavilion in Over Road was, until a year ago, Lonstanton Sports and Social Club but it now has a full licence and operates like a pub. It occupies spacious premises overlooking the sports field with a big main bar, a smaller lounge and a large conservatory. When I visited in mid-November just one handpump was functioning, selling Lord Conrad's Lickety Spit but manager Craig told me that a second pump was on its way which will be devoted to Lord Conrad's ales. He hopes to sell mainly local beers on the other pump. The price (£2.65 a pint) is another attraction. A kitchen is presently being installed so that a limited menu can be offered, including Sunday lunch, and sporting and other events properly catered for.
S So, that's it – except that I've taken on a few new deliveries in the city so there may yet be a final article to wrap those up. Also, we're always looking for help with aLE delivery so please contact me (the editor) if you think you can assist.