I couldn’t work it out? Charming village in beautiful countryside. Chocolate box, almost cottage style pub and as soon as we left it shut?
Seriously, at 10.00pm on a Saturday night. I could swear the staff were actually willing us to finish our food and go, not obviously, but you know, you could just tell.
I was gobsmacked and several members of our party wondered how the pub kept going and these are canny folk who live in the same pretty Buckinghamshire village of Hardwick and see what’s going on.
When we arrived at 7.00pm the place was quite busy and most people were sat outside on what must have been one of the warmest days of the year (July 2016). Most of them were eating, there’s nothing wrong with that, people like to eat out and a good meal in a pub often hits the spot. There is clearly a place for good pubs serving good food. They don’t all have to have the same menu though do they.
Now The Bell at Hardwick does a pretty good job with the menu and I had Arbroath Smokies for a starter and Hardwick pie as a main. Both very nice, the Hardwick pie being of Desperate Dan size, including all manner of things, including chicken, gammon and stuffing. I’ll tell you, I proper enjoyed it.
I enjoyed the ale as well. Three real ales on hand pump and one dropped from the barrel in the cellar behind the bar. When I set off to drive down, I never envisaged drinking Oakham Citra that evening, but I did, and it was good, very good and it was the one they had to fetch from the cellar. I probably should have tried the more local Chiltern Brewery Pale ale which was apparently very nice. The Citra went exceptionally well with the fishy starter though so I carried on with it and ended up having three of them, purely to wash down the Hardwick pie, of course.
The pub is very, sort of, Olde Worlde and appears to have many original features, there is also a nice terrace to the rear, as well as the lawned garden at the front. Most of the tables are all set up with eating irons, although there is an accommodating bar area.
As the evening progressed I grew more and more perplexed as people kept leaving, but weren’t replaced, until there was just our little group left, in fact we were the only people left at half nine. For pity’s sake it’s Saturday night? This however is the norm but I was told it can be very busy at lunch times and tea time/early evening.
I was enthused on one hand, because the pub was closed for a good few years before being bought and re-opened in it’s present guise. From what I can find out, it’s the second free house in a small chain owned by Alex McCallum which specialise in organic and gluten free food according to an article from last year in the Morning Advertiser . Maybe there are some more now? Maybe not? Although he does also have a ‘free from foods’ supermarket in Princes Risborough, so his commitment to quality foods is commendable.
Do they really make so much money out of food? Probably, but I didn’t think it was over expensive and to be fair VFM. Is this the way forward? Lunch time to last completed food order opening hours? Is it the same where you live? let me know if it is, I’m very interested.
You sort of think, don’t they want to be a community pub? But, I was told by our friends that locals do indeed wander down for a pint or two and the village had carols around the pub tree last year. But what if you stepped out for a couple at the death and found it shut, you wouldn’t try it again would you? Perhaps there’s a trail of folk walking past every night, pretending they’re out for a late evening stroll, just in case it’s still open at 10.30pm? Maybe the pubs opening times on their web site (12 to 2pm, 6 till 11pm except Sundays) are aspirational? Maybe they don’t want any wet trade? But why was the beer so good, they must have been selling plenty, or throwing lots away?
Whatever, I wish them well and I hope they keep this lovely little country boozer going and if anyone can tell me how they do it on the Saturday night turnover I saw then please let me know? It just worries me when you can’t nip into the village pub for a swift couple and the possible allure of a lock in at twenty five to eleven. Or was that why country boozers like this started to fail in the first place?