“ Address: Newcastle Road South / Brereton / Sandbach / CW11 1RS / Tel: 01477 544732 „
Went yesterday for an early Sunday dinner (6:30pm). There were no roasts left. There were no Specials left on the board, a lot of the regular dishes weren't on, and there was only one vegetarian option. We waited a long time for the 'table service' drinks so went to get some, but there wasn't anyone behind the bar.Wouldn't recommend. I would've emailed them instead of whining on a review site, but couldn't find their email address.In fairness, the food and drinks were good (we were lucky the vegetarian liked their only option) Rob
I haven't seen my friend Alison for a few months. Her Dad's been very ill and she's been away helping her Mum to look after him so we've not crossed paths since April. We were long overdue to get together and decided to meet for dinner. We usually meet in Knutsford to take advantage of the great choice of different cuisines available but on this occasion she ruled that out because the Tatton Park RHS Flower Show was in full swing and the area around Knutsford would be gridlocked. She suggested somewhere in the Holmes Chapel area and set me the task to find a venue.
I've been living a few nights a week in Cheshire for over four years now and I've got to know the back roads for avoiding congestion on the M6 really well. One place that's long intrigued me is the little village of Brereton and my fascination is down to something called the Brereton Bear Festival which takes place every year (or maybe every two years) when the locals make strange bear tableaux around the village. I drove through a few times and came across bizarre bears all over the village - one made out of bales of hay and a tractor tyre, another propped on a bicycle and dedicated to Lance Armstrong and I've seen photos of an Apollo Moon Landing with a bear too. The bear connection to Brereton dates back to the time when the local lord, Lord Brereton, killed a man and was given an unusual punishment by the king (I have no idea when this happened or to be honest even if it really did). The king told Lord B that he had 3 days in which to design and build a muzzle for a bear and after the 3 days were up, the bear was muzzled and let loose on him. The muzzle worked, the lord survived and the village took on the emblem of a muzzled bear.
The Bear's Head is a beautiful black and white building just off the main road going south of Holmes Chapel. It's not one of your cheesy 'modern but made to look old' places because the Bear's Head was built in 1625. We agreed to make this our destination.
I turned up on time but Alison was stuck behind a tractor somewhere en route. I sat in the car as the monsoon rains battered on the roof and mused on how nice it would have been to have eaten in the garden if we lived in the type of place that hadn't imposed a hose pipe ban just a day or two before it started to rain daily and solidly for several weeks. I was a both reassured and a bit worried to see so many customers heading into the Bear's Head - reassured that it couldn't be too bad and worried that we might not get a table. Alison finally rolled up just before 8 pm and we headed inside.
Neither of us had much idea what to expect and we were pleasantly surprised (and relieved) to find that it was not a spit and sawdust pub or a 'Slaughtered Lamb'. In fact, to be fair, it wasn't much of a pub at all. The interior space is enormous and almost entirely given over to dining. The olde worlde rooms had been knocked through to create a mostly open-plan space filled with scores of tables and chairs, mostly not quite matching but all the more charming for that. Old cartoons were framed on the wall and a large open fireplace (no fire - it might have been raining but it WAS July) sat temptingly at one end. We scouted around for a table without many to choose from and then grabbed a table set for four in a corner. I'm glad we didn't hold back and go for a little one or we'd really not have had space.
As usual when we're in a place for the first time, we didn't know if it was waitress service or 'order at the bar' but a passing waitress stopped us and said she'd be over in a moment so we settled down, stole the menus from the table next door and started reading. The Bear's Head is part of a chain called 'Vintage Inns' and Alison had been in another recently and recognised some of the menu. I was impressed by both the variety of dishes on offer and the range of prices. We could have eaten quite cheaply if we'd chosen carefully and some of the dishes were not a lot more than my local Wetherspoons - surely the lower benchmark for pricing in the UK. Starters ranged from £2.95 for soup with bread and butter up to £6-ish for scallops or tempura prawn skewers. Mains included a selection of seafood dishes like fish pie or a mixed fish grill, a range of meat, game and poultry dishes that included venison and duck dishes, a range of 'grills' and a section of 'pub classics' like fish and chips, gammon and eggs, and a couple of pies.
As we generally end up each wanting to pick at what the other has ordered, we chose to take two so-called 'sharing plates' from the start of the menu. These were a vegetarian mezze platter (£9.95) and a fish platter (£12.95). These seemed likely to give us plenty to pick at since once we get talking we tend to not pay much attention to the food. Alison ordered a half pint of some or other evil looking dark brown stuff and I had a bottle of San Pellegrino. The waitress took our orders and disappeared.
As we waited the tables around us started to fill up. We caught up on the gossip, talked about Alison's job hunt, bitched about the company where we used to work and started to get a bit hungry. As our tummies rumbled we noticed that everyone around us who'd come after we had was already eating. When one table had finished their starters and their plates were being cleared, I checked my watch and realised it was over 45 minutes since we'd placed the order. In theory our meals were listed in the starters section of the menu; surely nobody would expect to wait 45 minutes for starters, especially those that appeared on paper to consist of assembling a variety of bits and pieces rather than actually cooking anything from scratch. After another 5 minutes I got up and headed towards the bar to check if the chef had died or the waitress had amnesia and just as I was looking for someone to ask, the food arrived.
At this point we were really glad we'd taken a large table as both dishes were presented on large platters. Presented and then abandoned. Alison called the waitress back and asked ever so politely if it wasn't TOO much trouble could we have plates to eat off and these were then provided. I could see that there was rather more to the preparation of the dishes than I'd expected. The mezze platter consisted of a dish each of hummus and tzatziki, some olives, warm falafels and some flat bread. To be honest, not enough flat bread for the amount of dips. The falafels would have been cooked fresh but even so, 50 minutes is a long wait. On the fish platter we found warm fried goujons of fish and some prawn skewers as well as mackerel pate, smoked salmon, a small mound of cold prawns, a pot of pink sauce and some bread and butter. Again, rather too little bread given the amount of stuff to go on top. Even with a little bit of frying and grilling it seemed like 50 minutes would have been long enough to grow the chick peas and catch the fish.
On the mezze the hummus was excellent and I enjoyed the falafel though it was a little greasy. I find tzatziki a bit tedious but the olives were good and the flat bread was still soft. We tucked into the mezze before turning to the fish. The prawn skewers were very good - not just your cheap 'Iceland'-style catering pack prawns because these really did have some flavour to them and were firm and juicy. The fish goujons were far from exciting and needed a bit of cocktail sauce to help them on their way. The prawns were....well prawns, without a lot to say for themselves. My personal favourite was the smoked haddock pate which I loved though I have to say it looked like something you'd find in the woods on an 'identify which animal made this poo' trail. Since we'd been provided with only one thick slice of wholemeal bread to accompany this mound of fishiness, when the waitress popped back to take more drink orders we asked for another slice of bread. The soft drinks we ordered were excellent value - strange mixes of exotic cordials and juices - but it took a second request to get the extra bread.
By the time we'd finished our platters we'd been there so long that we thought there was a risk they'd start charging rent. We passed on the puddings and asked for the bill which came to around £17 each. For two platters, a half of beer, a mid-sized bottle of water and two soft drinks, I didn't think this was too bad although I'd never go back here if I was in a hurry because the service was just too slow. If it ever stops raining long enough for us to eat outside, I think we'll be back for another go.
The Bear's Head
Website - www.vintageinn.co.uk/thebearsheadbrereton/