Kirsten Rawlins reports back from an average meal, shared with her family at a traditional inn...
The Wolseley Arms – situated between Rugeley and Stafford – has plenty to offer; a variety of craft beers and cask ales, and a wide-ranging menu.
The pub dates back to the days of coaching inns, and was used as a regular changing place for coaches on long journeys before railways were introduced.
Before visiting we were pleased to find the pub has a very efficient, easy-to-use online booking system – an excellent resource given the busy lifestyles of today and the many people who dislike having to reserve a table over the phone. It even gives users the ability to amend or cancel their reservation and sends out an email to your inbox confirming your booking.
We visited the pub on a mild Wednesday evening and, while the pub is clearly a popular one, it was fairly quiet.
In keeping with its historical heritage, the watering hole is decorated in a rustic, homely style – with wooden beams, an open brick fire and checkered cottage-style curtains.
While the pub was kitted out nicely on the whole, it may be time for a revamp as paint was missing from some of the walls - though the lighting is so dark inside that diners could be forgiven for failing to notice. Though the tables and chairs were well spaced-out – the table was sticky when we sat down; more than a little off-putting, considering we were about to eat from it.
The bar itself is well-stocked, offering a wide range of craft beers and cask ales, as well as wines and ciders.
The service, however, left a lot to be desired. We waited for 20 minutes before eventually being asked what we would like to eat - and the waitress who served us was sadly frowning and a little sharp.
What’s more, over the course of the evening our drink orders took far too long to get to our table - at one point I had to stop eating to wait for my wine - and when it did arrive, it was the wrong type.
But – most cringe-worthy of all – every time the waitress our table she trod on my partner’s foot. Once would be fine, twice would be embarrassing – but by the third time he simply uttered ‘I’ll just move shall I?’, as she huffed and puffed as rushed around us.
In her defence though, it did appear the restaurant was understaffed – in our area there were just two waiters bringing both the food and the drinks to diners. Not that it was particularly busy, mind.
A full 20 minutes after ordering the food our starters arrived - much to the delight of my partner and my uncle whose tummies were roaring (never mind rumbling) by now.
My partner opted for the duo of pate starter, while I chose the Black Pearl scallops and prawns. My aunt and uncle, meanwhile, each went for the oven-baked button and Portobello mushroom starter.
My other half was made up with his starter, stating the pate was meaty, coarse and delicious - the bizarre ‘rustic bread’ they served (basically two oversized breadsticks) was underwhelming and in short supply.
The mushroom starter was also delicious; the mushrooms cooked to perfection and served swimming in a mouth-watering, rich garlic and mature cheddar sauce. Again, my aunt and uncle were underwhelmed with the bread and also said the amount of bread they had been given was insufficient.
My starter, on the other hand, was very underwhelming. At a price of £7.75, I had expected excellence – a treat, if you will. What I received was no better than a standard starter at a cheap chain eatery.
The garlic butter in which the scallops and prawns were served was nice – but making a decent garlic butter hardly takes an expert. The prawns and scallops meanwhile were overcooked and small, while the portion was just about adequate.
For mains my uncle opted for a special of the day – short rib of beef in a rich gravy sauce, accompanied by horseradish mash and an array of seasonal vegetables, such as onions and cabbage.
My aunt chose the chicken pie, while my partner and I both went for steak. He opted for the 8oz sirloin, while I (ever the piggy) went for the 10oz ribeye.
The chicken pie was reasonable – it was large, creamy, filled with hunks of tender chicken and served with a good selection of vegetables. But my aunt still felt that, while there was nothing particularly wrong with her meal, there wasn’t anything especially good about it either.
My uncle’s beef was delicious and cooked to perfection – though he did feel there wasn’t enough meat for the price of £11.95. The gravy in which it sat was also tasty and it came with a good selection of vegetables and sufficient creamy mash - though he commented that he was unable to taste the horseradish which the menu claimed the potatoes were mashed with.
I was again underwhelmed with my steak - and my partner shared my views when he came to eating his sirloin.
Both steaks were very tasty – mine especially, with ample amount of delicious marbling making mine ooze with flavour. But both were poor cuts of meat and were very chewy and tough in parts. Not what we had expected given my partner’s sirloin was priced at £14.50 and my ribeye at £18.95.
What’s more, we ordered brandy and peppercorn sauce each to accompany our steaks - which cost a further £1.50 per sauce. What came with our meals, however, tasted no better than instant peppercorn sauce made from a sachet. There was no taste of brandy in the sauce at all, from what we could tell.
The chips served with the steaks were average – not at all unpleasant – but really of the standard you would expect at a standard chain pub.
Overall we found all our food to be of a mediocre pub standard, but at high-quality restaurant prices – with a bill which totalled more than £100.
By Kirsten Rawlins