The Boathouse, Walsall
The Boathouse offers good value food and a lively atmosphere but don't go if you want a quiet, fine dining experience writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider.
The Boathouse offers good value food and a lively atmosphere but don't go if you want a quiet, fine dining experience
Get your head round this. Touch base and run it up the flagpole and see if they salute.The Unique Selling Point is 60 years old.
Apparently, the phrase so beloved of flip-chart merchants, was first coined by marketing expert Rosser Reeves in 1941.
Actually back then, it was called the Unique Selling Proposition, but let's not split hairs. And by 1961 the phrase had become so hackneyed that even Reeves had heard enough.
In an attempt to stop his term being abused by the David Brents of this world, he laid down three, very clear, criteria. (1) That it must be a tangible proposition; (2) that this proposition must be unique to the product; (3) that what was being offered must be strong enough to persuade large numbers of customers to switch brands.
Admit it, you're glad you know that, aren't you?
Well there is a reason why I have decided to stray perilously close to red braces territory. And like all good marketing strategies, this reason is very simple indeed.
The Boathouse has a USP, a big one. A very big one, in fact, about 30ft, if we're going to be specific.
The Boathouse is The Pub With The Narrowboat in the Lounge.
Gimmick but welcome
Yes, I know the Little Dry Dock in Dudley had part of a narrowboat set in the bar, but that has been shut for ages. And besides, this is a boat you can actually sit in while you enjoy a drink or tuck into your food. I don't know anywhere else you can do that.
A gimmick? Maybe, but a welcome one in my job.
Put yourself in my shoes. You walk into a pub for the first time, wondering what you will be able to say to fill this column, and then there it is, right in front of you. Job done.
From the outside, The Boathouse looks like it does exactly what it does on the tin. Next to the canal at Daw End, it looks for all the world like somewhere that you might store boats.
It has a splendid seating area at the waterside – although dining is only allowed in part of it. There is a good sized level car park, and the pub is wheelchair-friendly, although some spaces closer to the door would make more sense than the large roadside seating area – particularly when you can sit outside by the canal.
Entering from the roadside, there is a smallish bar room complete with dart board on the left. But most of the action – and the boat – was in the large, L-shaped lounge-cum-restaurant.
As well as the huge narrowboat-style seating area, there is also a stage at the end of the room which has been styled to look like a barge, and this is regularly used to host live entertainment. Then at the end of the room are two archways, which depict the scene of a boat heading into a canal tunnel. It's not exactly understated, but it's all good fun.
While the light, distressed wood tables and chairs along the side of the room give an airy contemporary feel, I'm not sure they go with the brightly painted boat, and I really didn't care for the carpet, which looked more the sort of thing you might expect in a Fatty Arbuckles from 20 years ago.
With the slot machines flashing brightly in the corner, and numerous televisions beaming live sports down from the ceilings, it is not too surprising that it seems to be popular with the younger crowd, and it was getting quite lively as the night wore on .
Unusually for this neck of the woods, there is a choice of ales from North Yorkshire-based Theakstons. I chose the mild, a dark, nutty drink, but for something a little different the brewery's Lightfoot ale was also on tap, reviving another famous Yorkshire brew which disappeared in 1919.
The menu consists of simple pub food: gammon and chips, breaded scampi, or a lamb shank in minted gravy for those wishing to, er, push the boat out. With most of the mains priced between £5 and £8, you really can't complain about the cost, and for those with more modest appetites, there is a range of smaller dishes.
It's just as well the prices are competitive, because you will not be able to pay with your credit or debit card. You cannot open a tab and settle up at the end, either; everything has to be paid for in advance. To be honest, I found this a bit of a bind, having to pay for each course separately, in cash, and asking for a receipt each time, although Andy, the smartly-dressed, grey-haired gentleman at the bar was charm personified.
I went for pie of the day, in this case steak and kidney, and it has to be said you do get plenty for your £5.25. I liked the thick, shortcrust pastry case, but while the meat was succulent enough, I did think it could have done with a bit more flavour. The chips and peas appeared to have come out of a packet, but I guess you can't complain at this price.
And I suppose at this price, you can't complain about sauces in sachets either, although I do think three sachets of vinegar between two people was a little on the stingy side.
My companion went for the cheese and broccoli bake, which was quite a substantial meal, and good value at £5.25.
The same can be said of the desserts. Those not wanting to over-indulge can opt for three scoops of ice cream for £1.50, which really does represent budget dining in these difficult times.
And you certainly get a lot of chocolate fudge cake for your £3.50, although it was a little on the dry side, with perhaps a little too much sponge and not enough filling.
The total bill was £19.60, so it is certainly easy on the pocket.
Should you go there, then?
Well it depends what you are looking for. If you're looking for a simple meal in quirky surroundings, and value is your watchword, it is hard to criticise, and for young families it is ideal. The kids will love the novelty of sitting in the boat, and the children's menu means there is plenty for them to choose from.
The good choice of real ales, coupled with the waterside seating area, means it is also an enjoyable place to spend those summer – or Indian summer – days.
If you're looking for a memorable dining experience you might find it a little basic, though, and with the lively crowds watching sport on television and boisterous children running around, it can get a little noisy.
View it as fun dining rather than fine dining.
The Boathouse, Park Road, Rushall, Walsall WS4 1LG
Tel: 01922 615032
Garlic bread with cheese £3.20; Breaded mushrooms £2.95; Chicken goujons £3.45
Lamb shank in minted gravy £7.25; Breaded scampi £5.50; Battered cod and chips £5.50; Hickory chicken £7.45; Cheese and broccoli bake £5.50
Baileys cheesecake £3.50; Jam sponge £3.50; Three scoops of ice cream £1.50
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