We plough the fields and scatter
Veganuary, dry January, a juice fast, no sugar, no wheat, no dairy, a brand new yoga course at the little outfit around the corner. A New Year, a new me! Or rather a U-turn back to my healthy lifestyle, so liberally abandoned at the sight of mulled wine and mince pies ! You know, the usual New Year’s resolutions. Bring on the beetroot, the barley grass and the acidopholous! It all seemed like an excellent idea after the excesses of December and the extra two Christmas pudding kilos.
Except, of course, I hadn’t bargained with my Neighbourhood Bestie, one of the shining stars on the firmament of my universe. Let me clarify right away that she’s not one of my top five just because, for the last 22 years, she’s lived about 500 strides away from my house, but because she is who she is, how she is, and simply altogether sparklicious . I invite you to imagine a tall, leggy Alice in Wonderland, sans hairband and frilly dress, confidently sporting a tool belt around her cashmere clad middle (N. Peal, definitely N. Peal, only the best) and quite possibly with a hacksaw in one hand and a wooden cooking spoon in the other. This girl can singlehandedly fix your broken washing machine and build you a new extension, upholster your sofa and do your accounts, create charming cards for all occasions, sniff out a bargain on Ebay and upcycle it. While she’s at it, she’ll quickly cook you a hearty stew made from vegetables, homegrown and handpicked in her stunning cottage garden. She believes in quality and common sense, and if she doesn’t already know how to do something, she learns how to do it. Perfectly. Just like that. No messing. You get the idea. She also loves her cat, talks for Britain, makes friends indiscriminately with anyone from the supermarket cashier to A-list filmstar, and has created the prettiest, calmest, dinkiest gem of a tiny peaceful home. She rocks casual wear like others do designer gowns, and, best of all, she can make you laugh until your sides hurt and you beg for mercy. Yup, that’s my girl, that’s my friend Tinki, the Queen of East Sheen.
So there I am, happily sipping my broccoli juice when the call to action comes by text message.
“Fancy a vino? Locally? Casually? Bring the Lovely Husband.”
Did I say Veganuary? Juice fast? Dry January? …..
The Plough, East Sheen’s oldest pub, has a good 200 years, if not more, under it’s belt. Set well back from the main drag, it sits hidden away in the historic conservation area, close to Richmond Park, where the houses still bear the appearance of the rural country dwellings they once were. An ancient plough hanging outside the entrance is a relic of the time when the inn itself was part of a collection of farmers’ cottages circa 1530, and London was a good half day’s ride away. (No change there then with today’s traffic!)
Now pub life has never really been my thing. Perhaps it’s because I’m not much of a drinker, perhaps it’s because, invariably, it’s just too much of a rustic environment for me. Being a total and utter town mouse with not a rural bone in my body, I’m all for the chic, sleek and fabulous. Still, when you get all spontaneous on a Friday night, when everywhere else is booked up, you take your chances. Outside it’s freezing cold, a real brass monkey day, and I have dressed myself, quite ridiculously, from top to toe in an approximation of alpine gear. Bestie, too, shows up in a long Canada Goose down coat, all of us shivering and hoping for fireside warmth. Alas, we are placed at a table directly beside the entrance. We perch, like chickens in a row, on the wobbly bench which is too high for the table. Every time someone enters or leaves, and the locals are flocking in in droves, we’re caught in the draught. Our three lemon sucking faces glower into the pub until the manager takes pity on us and moves us to another, sheltered in a little alcove. Two of us have to sit on funny little round stools but its cosier already.
The menu is ill conceived and far too long. This is not a restaurant, and many of the dishes on offer are of the type that have to be cooked really expertly to be successful. There are too many summery salads unsuitable to winter weather. Who wants a Cobb Salad when it’s snowing outside? Or a Wild Mushroom Risotto in what is clearly not a gastro pub? Since when has this dish become pub grub? It all sounds far too aspirational for the venue. There’s also little that’s light, warming and unmeaty. The choices are all too similar. Lemon sucking faces to the fore again!
The staff are lovely though, helpful, smiley and alert. We share a rather tasty little homemade Spinach and Three Cheese Tart. After all our umming and ahing, it’s a good start. I have no idea what possesses me to follow Bestie’s lead in ordering a Spanish Style Braised Lamb Shank. I barely ever eat red meat and this could not be further removed from the kind of food I generally prefer. Still, it doesn’t do to be predictable, does it? A massive piece of meat arrives which somehow reminds me of the Flintstones, of cave dwelling and roast leg of mammoth. It certainly does not fall off the bone as it should, nor is there much evidence of the promised olive and tomato flavour. Maybe the Spanish element fell victim to Brexit? The mash is pappy canteen mash and entirely tasteless. Catty bags all round, Tinki’s feline, Toby, will have a feast. The Lovely Husband is quite enjoying his Calves Liver with Crispy Bacon, Mash and Onion Gravy but is put off by the enormity of the portion. So big is it, that we all get heartburn just by looking at the plate.
Still, we’re chattering and giggling and being all girly. The Lovely Husband joins in gamely. For this evening he’s an honorary girl, albeit a rather deep voiced, muscular, bearded one, but he’s got a twinkle in his eye and is clearly having a great time being the rose between two thorns. And he keeps us well supplied with drinks. Good man!
Bestie is being reluctant about pudding but the LH and I won’t stand for that! What nonsense! We might already be well overfed but it’s not a decent supper if it doesn’t involve a sweet finale! Two desserts between three of us? That’s not too greedy, is it? Bring on the Bread and Butter Pudding and the Apple Crumble! No half measures in that department! These are, in fact, very good indeed. The crumble is well, appropriately crumbly, with fine tasting, tart apple underneath and a suitably smooth custard, not Crème Anglaise as listed on the menu, the bread and butter pudding lovely and spongey, with sweet juicy raisins, and also surrounded by a lake of said excellent custard. LH and I take two bites to every one of Bestie’s. She’s ladylike that way and not nearly as embarrassingly gluttonous as we are.
The bill comes to £118.09 including a bottle of wine, some extra drinks and an Americano coffee, which wouldn’t be bad at all, had the main courses been better and our seating arrangement just a little more comfortable. Who cares, though? When you’re in treasured company, all those issues pale into insignificance. Our deep affection has warmed us, our laughter fed us. It’s been a rich and wonderful evening, cave man shanks notwithstanding.
Bestie goes home to sand down her shutters, or whatever superwomen do around midnight on Fridays, and I go to float like an oil slick in my bedtime bath, swearing that tomorrow I’ll turn a new leaf. I’ll get back on the health wagon I have fallen off so resoundingly. It’ll be grilled fish and salad, vegetable soups, wheatgrass shots and daily yoga from now on. Of course, it will……
What I wore
Black Gap 1969 skinny jeans, Marks and Spencer electric blue V neck cashmere jumper, grey hand embroidered loden style Irmtraud Lanz cashmere jacket with faux antler buttons, psychedelic Pucci snow boots, black Mulberry barrel bag.
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