The Fox & Anchor, Coven

The Fox & Anchor. What a curious name, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider. It's next to a canal, so the Anchor bit seems logical enough. The Fox is usually a reference to hunting, used by pubs with a country sports tradition.

The Fox & Anchor, Coven
The Fox & Anchor, Coven

The Fox & Anchor. What a curious name, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider. It's next to a canal, so the Anchor bit seems logical enough. The Fox is usually a reference to hunting, used by pubs with a country sports tradition.

But the Fox & Anchor? What does that represent? Basil Brush on a pleasure cruise? What a strange combination.

As if to emphasise the curiosity of the name, visitors are greeted by a large stuffed fox on a shelf above the bar. Wearing a medallion with an anchor on it. Like Basil Brush with a bit of bling, I guess.

A cursory trawl of the worldwide web revealed just one other pub in Britain with this name; and that is a trendy joint in the Square Mile, owned by the Malmaison hotel chain, and very popular with the red braces brigade. No offence, lads, but I think a quiet canalside pub in Staffordshire is more up my street.

Delving a little bit into the history of the pub, it appears that the Fox bit was added later. The pub dates back to the late 19th century, when it was just the Anchor Inn, and the first known landlord was John Durham, who was recorded as being in charge of the pub in 1834.

With its rustic beams, exposed wooden floorboards and soft lighting, The Fox & Anchor looks every bit the 19th century country inn – from the inside at least. So it is another surprise to find that the building actually dates to, er, the 1960s, after the original one was destroyed by fire.

Parking is easy enough, with a large level car park and wheelchair access looked to be pretty good too.

There is a pretty country garden to the front, with benches and tables, although the grass was looking a little lush on the night of our visit, perhaps after all the heavy rain.

Yet I wonder how many actually sit in the front garden on sunny days, when there is a stunning patio overlooking the canal at the back? It is hard to think of many better ways of spending those lazy, hazy days of summer than watching the boats go by.

There is a small vestibule at the front of the pub, and an article about the British Motor Corporation plant at Longbridge during the 1960s makes for interesting reading, even if it does seem of questionable relevance for a pub in Staffordshire.

Black and white pictures of old Wolverhampton are dotted around the walls, and there is an interesting display of union flags and a straw hat, which will no doubt bring back many memories of either the Coronation, or the Silver Jubilee – depending on how old you are.

The pub is much larger than it first appears, divided into a number of small rooms, nooks and crannies, which gives quite a warm, homely feel. It is part of the Vintage Inns chain, yet did have quite an individual style, different from the company's other pubs. We chose a seat by the window near the front, which was quite a pleasant, cosy place to be, although I did think the olive-green walls made for a slightly sombre, oppressive atmosphere.

The clientele of the pub probably straddles the Coronation and Jubilee generations; not particularly old, not really that young, just somewhere in the middle. A smart, forty-ish couple had arrived in a sleek, silver Jaguar coupe; while others turned up in Range Rovers. Two youngish, smartly-dressed ladies bucked the trend by rolling up in a surprisingly brash souped-up hatchback.

Traditional pub food with a slight twist, best sums up the menu. The lamb shank, served with rosemary-roasted vegetables and dauphinoise mashed potatoes sounded interesting, as did the apple sausages with beer mustard mash, but I had that last time I visited a Vintage Inn.

The two 4oz venison steaks certainly offered something a little different, but past experience of venison (admittedly in another country) proved a little too rich for my delicate stomach so, you guessed it, I went for beef. There is a choice of three steaks on the menu, including an 8oz rump or 9oz sirloin, but I went for the 7oz fillet, while my dining companion chose the hand-made fish cakes.

Vegetarians may find their options limited on the main menu, although in the daytime the choice is broadened by the fixed price menu. This offers a number of interesting choices for both veggies and meat eaters, at a very reasonable £6 for a main course.

The food came in reasonable time, about 25 minutes, but we were a little disappointed that the bread rolls and butter we asked for turned out to be plain rounds of bread. The steak itself was very good, though, soft and quite chunky, moist without being fatty. The pepper and brandy sauce was also very good, and excellent value for just £1.50 (although at £16.45 for just 7oz, you could say the steak itself was a little pricey).

Yet the bit I probably enjoyed most was the helping of huge, fat, crispy chips. At the risk of repeating myself, it is the attention to the small details such as this which makes the difference between an OK meal and a memorable one.

While I wondered if a 7oz steak would be enough, it all proved surprisingly filling – perhaps it’s the chips that did it – and I only really wanted something light to finish with. The Sicilian lemon sponge with crème fraiche looked a viable option, and I was tempted by the chocolate brownie, but in the end we decided to share a bowl of profiteroles. They came with pleasingly generous helpings of fudge sauce and clotted cream, and were a good way to round off the meal without feeling too bloated.

The total bill came to £38.25 for two mains, one dessert, a drink each and coffee. Slightly above average then, but hardly excessive, and there does seem to be a marked variation in price depending on what you choose. The fish cakes, the scampi, the apple sausages and the numerous pies are all comfortably under £9, yet I still think my steak was better value, even though it cost double that when you factor in the sauce.

All in all, it’s a pleasant place to wind down for a relaxing meal and a leisurely drink or two. And if the weather plays ball, it’s a gorgeous location.

ADDRESS:

The Fox & Anchor, Brewood Road, Cross Green, Coven, WV10 7PW

Tel: 01902 798786

Web: www.vintageinn.co.uk/thefoxandanchorcrossgreen

MENU SAMPLE

STARTERS

Trio of seared king scallops served on a beetroot, baby spinach and chorizo risotto £6.45; Sautéed tiger prawns in roasted garlic, tomato and parsley butter £5.75;

Beer-battered mushrooms served with garlic dip £3.95

MAINS

Braised pork belly with chorizo, honey roasted apple and rosemary, served with dauphinoise potatoes and buttered greens £11.55; Summer lamb shank slow cooked and served with rosemary-roasted summer vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes £11.95; Scampi and chips with garden peas and tartare sauce £7.25; Pork and apple sausages served with beer mustard mash, honey roasted apple and seasonal greens £8.95; Roasted Mediterranean vegetable risotto served with baby spinach and a crumbed confit tomato £7.95

DESSERTS

Banoffee cheesecake with banana, dolce de leche and whipped cream £4.95; Treacle tart made with golden syrup and a hint of ginger, served warm with clotted cream £4.45; Chocolate brownie with chocolate fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream £4.25; Sicilian lemon sponge served with crème fraiche £4.45

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