Oddfellows. If ever there was a place that sounded like it was made for me, this is surely it, writes our undercover food reviewer The Insider.
There has probably been an occasion when most of you, vehemently disagreeing with my latest missive in the world of dining, have shaken your head in disbelief, and sighed “He seems like a very Odd Fellow, this Insider chappy.”
The Oddfellows is actually one of the world’s oldest friendly societies, with notable members including King George IV, Winston Churchill and Stanley Baldwin.
However the organisation was not always held in such high regard by the Establishment.
Back in the 18th century it was viewed as a rather rebellious body, whose main activities seemed to be looking out for each other, drinking to excess and going on strike. A sort of cross between the Freemasons and the TUC, if you like.
And it seems just as the activities of the Oddfellows courted controversyduring the 1700s, it appears that this particular Oddfellows Hall also seems to divide opinion among Insider readers.
Jose Evans wrote to me a while back, lavishing praise on the warm welcome and delicious pork that she and her husband enjoyed during a visit.
“It was all cooked to perfection, with lovely gravy. There is a good selection of desserts, we particularly liked the lemon and raspberry sponge with custard,” she said.
But as you can see in the column left, David Adams is less than enamoured, arguing that the tables are too cramped, the portions too small, and the prices too high.
So what would I make of it then?
My first thought was how did those Oddfellows find a parking space? Seriously, the car park was packed to bursting when we arrived on a Saturday night, probably getting on for 100 cars.
Just where would you leave your coach and horses?
This is quite a large pub, divided into a number of different sections, and we decided to take a seat in a raised area in the front corner. The decor is bright and quite plush, with cheery red flowery wallpaper, and thick, striped upholstery.
I was pleasantly surprised by the wine menu.
Yes, there were a lot of what I call the supermarket wines, the Hardys and the Banrock Stations of this world, but there is plenty of choice, and reasonably priced choices such as Viognier Patriarche, Franschhoek Cellars cabernet sauvignon, and Niki Tika Marlborough sauvignon blanc bring a bit of flair to the proceedings.
There is also a decent choice of revolving ales, although they are all from the Marston’s stable.
Brakspear Oxford Gold, Ringwood Boondoggle and Banks’s Bitter were all on, but I opted for the Jenning’s Little Gem, a copper-coloured bitter with a complex, full-bodied coffee-like flavour.
We had barely taken our seats when we were approached by a waitress inquiring about our drinks order. You can’t say they’re not on the ball, but I would have perhaps liked a few more minutes to ponder the options.
This is a Marston’s Inn, as opposed to a Marston’s pub. As well as waitress service, the menu also seems to be aimed a little further up the scale, although it is still essentially simple pub food.
The redcurrant and red onion pork shank sounded a little more exotic than the simple pork T-bone I had at the last Marston’s I visited, and you really can say you ate all the pies by opting for the chicken, steak and fish pie combo for £8.45.
I decided to go for the Cumberland sausage though. Not cheap for sausage at £8.70, but the mustard mash and wild mushroom and Shropshire blue cheese sounded a bit special, while my companion went for ham, egg and chips.
The food came quickly, within around 15 minutes. I do wonder how they manage to cook a meal in such a short space of time.
However they managed it, though, I am pleased to say it was pretty good. It was quite attractively presented, the giant lengths of sausages being arranged in a tight ring on a bed of mash, and they were pleasantly juicy in the classic Cumberland style.
I’m not generally that big on cheese sauces, but this one really worked, with the delicate flavour
providing a tasteful counter to the tangy mustard.
I was less impressed with the garden peas, which seemed a bit bland and didn’t really go with the main meal, but this is a dish I would recommend as being better than the sum of its parts.
My companion said her meal was enjoyable, but not exceptional. The ham was quite good, but the chips were a bit bland, appearing to have come out of a packet.
For afters, I went for the Irish cream cheesecake, topped off by a caramel sauce. While I can see what David means about it not being a huge slice, it did have a good flavour, and was good value for £3.60.
My companion went for the lemon tart, which was pleasant.
The total bill came to £34.35, so I actually paid a little more than David.
While these things are all a matter of personal taste – and there is certainly no excuse for David’s cold vegetables – I actually thought it represented pretty decent value for money, and I just wonder whether David caught them on an off day.
I was on the verge of suggesting we stay for drinks when, at around 9.15pm, a very loud singer started performing. I know a lot of people enjoy this sort of thing, and there was quite a crowd that was lapping it up, but I’m afraid I’ prefer a quieter, gentler experience.
Cue for the Insider to leave, we decided.
Bridgnorth Road Compton, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV6 8AA
Tel:01902 754 805
Courgette roll skewers – courgette slices wrapped around a creamy goat’s cheese and risotto mix flavoured with almonds, watercress and red pepper, served with mixed leaves and a salsa dip £3.85
Coarse pork pâté served with rustic bread and Ringwood Best Bitter chutney £4.05
Sweet red pepper tart £7.75
Spring lamb stew £8.75
Szechuan Quorn pepperpot £7.25
Pork and bean casserole with new potatoes and a side salad £7.15
10oz Oxfordshire ribeye steak five battered onion rings £14.05
Caramel crunch sundae £3.95
Chocolate bread and butter pudding £3.60
Trio of tartlets: mini apple-and-blackberry, pear-and-chocolate and lemon meringue tarts £3.75