Rating: **** Open fires, leather armchairs and a cosy atmosphere, nothing quite says ‘autumn Sunday’ like an afternoon in the pub, writes Elizabeth Joyce.
Pickled ginger foams, squid bonbons and toasted raisin brioche are all well and good, but sometimes you just want a good pub with good grub.
After all, there’s not much out there that beats a roaring fire, big glass of red and cracking Sunday roast.
Now, we’ve got a confession to make. We’re aware that we’ve been frequenting some pretty posh places for our food reviews of late. And by posh, we mean expensive.
So this week we decided to keep it real, as the kids say.
We wanted to find a warm and welcoming place that offers great food but doesn’t break the bank.
The sort of place where you don’t have to wait three weeks to get a reservation, only to feel instantly intimidated and out of place as soon as you walk through the door.
Which brings us nicely to The Oaken Arms, the ever-popular pub on Holyhead Road, Codsall.
The Oaken is always bustling, always friendly and always serving up satisfying and tasty dishes.
I used to be a midweek diner, enjoying classics such as bangers and mash and aromatic braised pork belly to more unusual creations like wild boar and chorizo burger or slow-cooked game and blackberry pie.
However, ever since I tried one of its roast dinners, I’ve been a Sunday convert. The Oaken Arms makes the best roast in town. Almost as good as your mum’s, which is saying something.
The plates come laden with crispy roast potatoes, veggies, stuffing and pigs in blankets. There’s lashings of gravy, tons of meat and wide-eyed smiles all round.
And so it was on my latest visit.
Me and the boyfriend didn’t book a table, which really isn’t the best idea seeing as it’s such a popular place, but nevertheless we were ushered to a little setting for two by the friendly waiter.
The interior is classic country pub. There’s open fires, soft leather armchairs and lots of wood. Despite being part of a chain (Vintage Inns), it’s comfy, cosy and in no way soulless. The tables can sometimes feel a little squished together but that’s the worst of it really.
Being something of an expert by now, I knew there was no way we could manage a starter and polish off a roast dinner so we decided to refrain. But, if you’re made from stronger stuff than us, there’s plenty on offer. There’s beer battered mushrooms for just £3.99 up to seared scallops and prawn risotto for £6.45.
There’s also a nod to the retro with the classic prawn cocktail, served with multi seed bread and butter, for £4.75.
We were nearly tempted by the tasting platter for £11.95, comprising brie and onion marmalade brûlée, chicken in a paprika crumb, pork belly fritters, beer battered mushrooms, lamb meatballs and crusty bread with mango and pineapple salsa and caramelised garlic and parsley mayonnaise. Mmmm. But it would have been a starter too far.
What we were sure on however was alcohol. A bottle of Casa Lejano Merlot was swiftly ordered for £13.95 and was soft, warming and gorgeous. Mr Liz also ordered a pint of Peroni because he was “super thirsty” that day and apparently a glass of water simply wouldn’t do.
On to the mains.
The roasts on offer include a half chicken, 28-day aged Ashdale beef, herb-crusted loin of sweetcure pork and turkey and stuffing. There’s also a veggie option of mushroom, leek and cashew nut suet roly-poly.
I went for the turkey, while he strayed from the Sunday specials (!) and opted for one of the pies created by super chef James Martin.
Not content with both a Peroni and almost an entire bottle of wine (I was driving. Sad face), he went for yet another boozy option, the beef and Merlot pie. The man’s dedicated, you’ve got to give him that.
Despite being rushed off his feet, our waiter Callum was super friendly and efficient as he juggled us and several surrounding tables. Our mains arrived after a comfortable wait and we were both impressed.
The turkey was sweet and tasty, smothered in lip-smacking gravy and given a punch by the accompanying stuffing. The sausage wrapped in bacon was a whopper and the potatoes were soft inside with crunchy crisp edges. The only thing that let it down was the Yorkshire pud, which, sorry guys, was overdone and far too hard.
His pie came with an assortment of greens and huge, honking chips. Swimming in sauce and with big chunks of beef, it was just the job on a cold and blustery afternoon. His verdict? Extremely satisfying pie and the chips made good dunkers. A no-nonsense review if ever I heard one.
Our mains were so tasty, we didn’t speak for the next 10 minutes. Always a good sign.
Instead we listened to the goings-on around us. A rather posh family sat nearby thanking mummy for sorting out the trip to Italy, while next door were a couples of couples chatting about kitchen decoration. It was a nice bubbly mix of young and old, families and couples – a little too early to see the groups of friends turning up to toast the last few remaining hours of the weekend with pints of beer and glasses of wine.
Huge main courses finally finished, we were able to resume conversation, which came in the form of "what pudding are you having?”.
There are some absolute belters on the dessert menu, ranging from peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake to a giant éclair. There’s also honey frozen yogurt, a salted caramel sundae and apple and cherry crumble. If you’re more of a savoury fan however, don’t despair, there’s a respectable cheese board for £5.95 featuring Cornish brie, Cropwell Bishop Stilton and Ford Farm cheddar.
The boyfriend went for the Belgian chocolate brownie for £4.25. It came with vanilla ice cream and a wall of chocolate fudge sauce. The whole thing disappeared in two seconds flat before he sunk contentedly into his chair and enjoyed the sugary after-effects.
Meanwhile, I’d gone for the coffee and a mini pudding option, a really cute little offer that gives you a steaming cup of Joe alongside a miniature version of a chocolate pot, salted caramel sundae, apple and cherry crumble or churros.
I went for the chocolate pot, which was rich, creamy, very naughty and accompanied my black coffee perfectly. It’s super super sweet however so only for the brave. Strictly for professionals.
Full, happy and now in desperate need of a nap, we called for the bill.
Because we like a tipple, the whole thing came to £47.55. For two fab courses each as well as drinks, this is more than reasonable.
If we’d behaved ourselves a little more and not gone for the wine and beer, our food would have come in well under 30 quid. Not bad at all for a top-notch Sunday meal.
If you’re still not convinced, there’s a fixed-price set menu served Monday to Saturday until 5pm where you can get one course from £6.50, two from £8.50 and three from £10.50. Mains on offer include grilled rainbow trout fillet; lamb, redcurrant and Rosemary meatballs and Butcher’s Choice sausage and mash so it’s not to be sniffed at.
The puddings look good on there too, there’s warm apple fritters, a churros sundae and a Cake of the Day selection.
Easy on the eye, easy on the tastebuds and easy on the wallet, The Oaken Arms has everything the humble and happy diner needs.
There’s not a trace of foam, mention of pea spheres nor dashing of lobster oil in sight. And thank goodness for that.
- The Oaken Arms, Holyhead Road, Codsall WV8 2HX
- Tel: 01902 847342
- Web: www.vintageinn.co.uk/theoakenarmsoaken