“ Address: Barhill Road / Onneley / CW3 9QF „
A few times a year my family, scattered around country and circumstance, decides to get together for some celebration or another. A few months ago, my uncle (my mother's younger brother) treated his family, along with his fiance's, to a meal at The Wheatsheaf to celebrate his imminent leave of bachelorhood.
The problems started early. Decay was first apparently with my mother referring to the pub as "The Wheat Chief" and then "The Wytcliff". I knew then this was going to be a memorable experience...
Onneley is what I can only describe as a small rural hamlet. The car journey there was a good 25 minutes going through Madeley, and the pub itself is not situated in a particularly easy-to-get-to region of the West Midlands. It is set back from the road and there wasn't much noise from traffic, which I appreciated. There was a large car park, and beyond that some wooden seating for drinking beer outside in the summer months. There was also a children's play area, with things like tyres and seesaws, but unfortunately I am a bit old and anyway I was worried my family would follow suit.
My parents and I were the first to arrive, and we were waiting for around 10 minutes for a member of staff to notice us at the bar - while there weren't a lot of people around, the overall agitation of the staff member (a young girl) suggested she was overworked. She eventually handed us menus, asked if we wanted any drinks, and told us to go through into the seating area to wait for a table. I will mention again, there weren't many people here at this point - one or two at the bar, the same amount of people hovering around tables, so while perhaps the wait wasn't arbitrary, it certainly felt like it. However, the seating area was quite nice in a rustic kind of way - a large hearth, 3 comfy sofas, a newspaper. By then some other relatives had arrived. A few of my older family members took a rest in one of the sofas sat around an unlit heath before we were seated, only to encounter trouble rising up again (nice cushions, though).
Eventually the entire family arrived: my uncle, his fiance, her children (2 girls, 1 boy, 1 grandchild, a friend of her daughter's, and her other daughter's boyfriend...), my aunt, and a few other esoteric members of my uncle's fiance's family whose names I didn't seem to catch. It was admittedly a large party. However as my aunt had worked there in the past she had made arrangements to have us all put on one table, sort of like at a wedding I suppose. In fact they put us in the wrong room, and on two tables instead of one, in a sex-based segregation rather like a PE lesson. My uncle's family (including me and my family) were on one table, and his fiance's on the other. Not exactly bringing the family together.
The room they put us in was very large, and separate to the main dining area. As The Wheatsheaf also does civil ceremonies I assume this was the room set aside for that. It felt a bit like we were in segregation, but as my family have a tendency to get drunk it was probably for the best that we didn't annoy the other diners. As we sat down a waiter came over and took drinks orders - both alcoholic and soft. The drinks were quite expensive. I don't drink alcohol, but I recall it cost around £4.00 for a no-name brand lemonade in a glass with no ice. My dad also complained that the beer wasn't great considering the price he paid.
Service was slow; luckily, I brought a book with me, but enjoyed overhearing my family lapse into bawdy jokes all the same (one that sticks in my mind is from my aunt, who knew the piano player, or, as she referred to him, "the man who plays the big brown thing" for fear that her slurred speech might offer up some unfortunate innuendo). As she used to work there, she knew all the staff and they continued to tease her throughout the meal, offering up a plate of snails instead of her chicken liver pate, and coming over to say hello and remark that she was holding her alcohol well (she wasn't).
Like most restaurants, The Wheafsheaf split their menu into starter, main (carvery, vegetarian or fish option), and a separate dessert menu.
I decided to have a starter of a soup of the day, which was pea and ham with crusty bread. I recall my mother had prawns and my aunt had chicken liver pate, so it there was nothing particularly innovative about the starter menu but it was prepared freshly. As my soup was extremely filling, I had no room for a main so I can't comment on the carvery on offer personally: it was split into beef or pork, or you could have bits and pieces from both meats. There were two different types of cabbage, varied forms of potatoes, as well as cranberry and bread sauces and other condiments.
After starters, blue cards were passed around which entitled the bearer to 1 Carvery Portion. Then a group would go up and pile it on high, a bit like school dinners. If anyone had ordered a veggie or fish option they would have gone to this same hatch area to collect it. The snails didn't look that appetising though.
For dessert I had key lime pie, my aunt and mother had tiramisu, and I can't remember what everyone else had... The key lime pie was very fresh and had a light base. It was slightly better than I'd had elsewhere, so I can't fault it.
One severe problem I had was not with the food (per se), but that in the end of the summer months, and with having the front door propped open with a big hunk of rock, was that there was a problem with flies. I have something of a phobia of insects, but especially in an environment where food is prepared or eaten. Frankly, I was grossed out. There were several bluebottles buzzing around, and after I gave up the ghost my dessert one decided to make a go of finishing it off for me.
The atmosphere was a relaxed, probably due to the alcohol. Several of my uncle's relatives had babies or young children who were aptly catered for and highchairs were provided. The one big complaint I have to reiterate is the fly problem. Seated as we were in a room reserved for big parties (there were 30 of us all together), when it began to rain buckets, there were a few leaks, thankfully not over where we were eating, but it did make the place cold and it's far from appropriate to have an impromptu water feature in a restaurant!
Now this may not be very tasteful, but I do think it's worth knowing about the water facilities in a restaurant - the bogs, basically. They were quite hard to find, tucked away in a corner - you had to walk down towards the bar and go up a ramp. It was a bit silly really, but easy once you knew where they were. I would say the toilets were NOT wheelchair-friendly. They were set out in green and white tile, and it looked clean and spacious, but there was a bit of an airlessness and that gave the toilets a strange smell. I mean naturally, it could have been worse, but it was just a bit claustrophobic. Odd for such a large room. As far as I know there were no facilities for baby-changing.
After the meal several leaflets were handed around advertising their theme nights during the week, one was Greek food orientated, another Mexican, and so on. I would be interested in going to one of these sometime, in fact my family made tentative plans to (that were of course never followed though).
As for price, my uncle paid for our meals, I believe mine was about £12 with just a starter and a dessert. Main meals were obviously substantially more expensive. I think the drinks probably cost more than the meals, though. Seeing how highly-piled my parents plates were, I do think it is worth the money, at least for the food, and everyone commented on how delicious the potatoes were and how lean the meat was (if that is your so-called cup of tea).
After this meal, I went there again with different people and had much the same experience. We were sitting somewhere differently as a small party of three, and the decor was very subtle and pleasant with those gold-sprayed dried grasses and whatnot in vases. The second time, I had salmon linguine, which was served piping hot and in a large portion. The food was delicious, but unfortunately, the venue still suffered with hygiene problems. I witnessed flies crawling in and out of the sauces and along the sets of cutlery... Because of this I would not eagerly visit there again for a meal.
Soon after we went there for my uncle's engagement party, I heard The Wheatsheaf is going under some restructuring, letting staff go and whatnot. I hope this improves the standard of the restaurant/pub as a whole, especially hygiene-wise, but I won't hold my breath.