“ Address: Sleapshyde / Smallford / St Albans / AL4 0SE „
The Plough is an attractive small pub in a very isolated position near St Albans. White painted walls with a thatched roof give it a chocolate box appeal and make it a great destination for anybody out on a country walk. The pub dates from the 16th century and is well decorated and cosy, with a large inglenook fireplace and real fires in winter. In summer there is a large patio which looks out onto the fields so that you can really enjoy the peaceful location.
Very much off the beaten track, the Plough can be found at the end of a dead end road in the very small hamlet of Sleapshyde near St Albans. I have never driven to the Plough but have passed it many times on walks. For me, this is a pub which is reached by walking across fields, following narrow paths that lead straight to the front door. Location-wise the Plough is ideal for walkers is it about 5 minutes walk across the fields from the Alban Way; a disused railway line that runs through lovely countryside from St Albans to Hatfield and which is a popular walk, cycle or run for locals at all times of year. Alternatively you can drive there by taking a narrow road just off the A414.
Although I have stopped for a drink in the garden many times, I had never eaten there and decided to make it the focus of a Sunday walk. I should have been suspicious at the website, which proudly and rather strangely proclaims that you can find: "Real Ale, Real Food and Real People" at The Plough. More important than real people to me is Real Dogs - and the website also told me to bring the dog - "dogs are always welcome", so I set off with my two boys and dog for a Sunday lunch.
Bounding into the main bar, we were brought up short by the look of horror on the landlord's face. "No Dogs in here", he barked. "But the website says that you are dog friendly", we said. Magically the landlady appeared... "Oh yes, we love dogs - we just don't allow them in the pub".
Eventually we persuaded them to let us sit in the small bar where fewer people were eating. Pushing the dog firmly under the table and keeping our feet on him for security, we ordered our meal - ignoring the indignant stares of the non-dog loving locals.
The pub is divided into a dining room area and a public bar. Both are cosy and rather dim, with dark wood tables, traditionally upholstered seats, and open fireplaces. The landlord and his wife were serving in the dining room area and a rather grumpy man was serving in the public bar. The question, "What type of cider do you have" was answered shortly with "what you see". A bottle of Appletiser was slammed down on the bar with no glass and no offer of ice.
The menu has a good range of traditional pub food such as gammon steak, cod and chips, or lasagne - all for under £10. There is a small range of starters, all for £5 including soup, chicken skewers and breaded mushrooms.
My son ordered the Sunday roast which turned out to be very disappointing. The beef was a little bit tough and gristly, and it came with a lump of very tasteless and watery swede. The roast potatoes were acceptable, as were the carrots, but overall we felt that it was poor value for £8.95
My older son ordered the pub's signature dish; Steak and Ale pie for £8.95. This was a big portion of pie which came with a large portion of chips. He found it tasty but the pastry was heavy and the steak rather tough.
I chose the safe option of scampi and chips, which was very average for £7.95 and came with peas. The chips were a little dry, but otherwise this was a good pub meal.
For pudding all three of us had the same dish: Warm Sweet Waffle with ice cream & toffee sauce for £3.95. This was the best part of the whole meal - lovely, warm, sweet and gorgeous, it was thoroughly enjoyed. Other deserts were very traditional dishes such as apple pie and spotted dick. A specials board offered a variety of dishes, all of which looked very similar to the dishes already on the daily menu.
The service was rather unfriendly. Initially we sat on a very small table, and when a larger one became free next to us we asked the waitress if we could move over. She seemed horrified by the suggestion and told us to ask the bartender. He too seemed aghast and muttered angrily to himself before saying that he supposed this was OK. All the waiting staff seemed strangely cowed and unhappy, casting furtive looks around them and serving us with a very anxious look on their faces. I have to add that at this stage my (very small and cute) dog was asleep under the bench, so I cannot put this down to dog anxiety.
Food is served every lunchtime, and on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Unusually, the pub recommends ordering a takeaway on the nights that it does not serve food, saying that they are happy to accept deliveries and provide plates as long as you still drink in the pub. This is a great idea and one that I haven't seen before.
The Plough is a real ale pub, serving two of my favourite real ales - Adnams bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord pale ale. They are not so strong on ciders and I was disappointed not to find Aspall cider served - but there is a good variety of wines. I opted for a lager on this occasion and added a half of Becks Vier to the tab that was set up for us behind the bar.
~~The Garden , the Toilets and Accessibility ~~
There is quiet and safe seating both at the front and back of the pub, so you can catch the sun all through the day. A covered smoking area is available. The pub is very accessible for those with mobility issues - all on one level, including the toilets, it is a short even walk from the car park to either the front or back doors.
The Ladies is down a short corridor at the front of the pub and was very clean and fresh - nicely cared for. The Gents was opposite but I could not check this out.
Although my first meal at the Plough was a mixed experience, it was pleasant enough for me to give it a second try. The location makes it a perfect stop on a country walk and it was cosy and well decorated inside and out.
I am prepared to give the pub the benefit of the doubt and assume that I caught them on a bad day. Next time I will leave the dog at home or make sure that it is warm enough to sit in the garden - and hopefully I will find the staff in a better mood.
The Plough Public House
Tel :01727 823 720