We like to look on the bright side. We focus on the positives. Our glass is only ever over-flowing, even when it’s less than half full.
And so the Chetwynd Arms at Upper Longdon can congratulate itself on achieving a healthy mark while there may be some who wonder how that can be so. After all, the food – and I’m sure those at the venue would agree with this – is distinctly average.
And while we’re on that point, we also ought to add a disclaimer: those gourmands looking for an outstanding culinary experience should stop reading now. You won’t find that at the Chetwynd Arms. Decent hospitality, great staff, pleasant beer and reasonably-priced food that fills a gap? Yes. But gourmand tapas that rivals the best of Spain, pizzas that you might eat in Italy, fried stuff and pies that are better than you’d find anywhere else in the UK? No. Absolutely not.
And yet we’re more than happy to put our necks on the block – is that where you put them? – as we explain why the Chetwynd Arms earns its better-than-average review. In truth, the reasons are pretty simple.
The pub is located on the corner of the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, occupying a stunning position beside the former Royal Forest. It’s a local, family-run business that provides a wide range of well-kept real ales, including plenty of guest brews. It serves pub grub, which it describes on its website as being ‘simple’ – thereby winning this week’s prize for honesty and transparency. The local scenery is stunning. There’s a decent beer garden and it’s dog friendly – though a couple of mutts went at it hammer and tongues when my friend and I met for a midweek supper. The décor is simple: pleasant fabrics, neutral colours and a reasonable amount of natural light.
It’s a pub first and foremost, rather than a restaurant with a bar, and there were plenty of locals enjoying pints of ale by Backyard Brewhouse, Daniel Thawaites and Thatchers when we called in. Like other customers, however, we were meeting to share food and conversation, as well as supping ale, and ordered from a modest bar menu.
The selections were tailored to those looking to fill a gap, rather than enjoy a memorable gastronomic experience. And, in truth, the food was no better than mediocre. Some was plain awful.
We started with a range of shared tapas. Mushrooms with white wine and tarragon sauce were fine: sliced button mushrooms with plenty of aromatic liquid.
Meatballs with spicy tomato sauce were a little comical. The meatballs were beneath a stack of tomatoes that looked to have been decanted straight from the tin. The appearance was so odd that it took a while for us to identify the dish: we assumed the role of food detectives, prodding around in the pile of chopped red vegetables until we found the protein, buried beneath. The flavours weren’t great; poor seasoning and a wan sauce.
Fish goujons comprised two small pieces of fish in a batter than was the wrong side of crisp and the right side of limp.
Battered halloumi was similarly not-great. I’m not sure the chef has acquired his regulation copy of How To Make Great Batter and 101 Other Fun Ways To Spend 10 Minutes. Perhaps he ought. BBQ ribs with roast apple sauce were dry and didn’t feature the advertised apple sauce.
Sausages with honey and mustard dressing were finely minced and the honey and mustard sauce was harsh and astringent. We picked and poked, eating some, leaving others.
The Chetwynd Arms is proud of its pizza, proudly advertising slices that are served from Wednesday to Saturday. They were the best part of our dinner, though not so good that people might travel great distances for them.
We ordered one each; a chilli beef number and a meat feast. There are decent pizzerias serving thin slices of deliciousness that are topped with artisanal ingredients. The Chetwynd Arms isn’t one of those. It serves so-so ingredients on top of okay bases. Their pizzas are as good – occasionally better – than those you might order for delivery on a moped. But they’re not the type that dazzle or win accolades.
So the meat feast was covered in pink and brown; decent, but no cigar. And the tomato sauce was insufficiently piquant while being way, way too watery. When we cut through the first slices, a small pool of pink water – tomato juice – gathered on the plate, giving the rest of the slices a soggy bottom. I guess the chef had just used chopped tomatoes, who can say.
The flavours on the chilli beef were better; everybody loves a jalapeno. We’d eaten enough protein and starch to last a month and called time before ordering anything sweet.
At this point, you might be wondering how the Chetwynd Arms has scored a fair-to-middling six out of ten. And the answer is simple. It has great staff and pretty much fulfils the brief.
The pizzas, for instance, were around a tenner, the small plates around £3. And when you’re paying that much, you don’t expect greatness. Which is just as well. Similarly, the staff were first class. The barmaid, who took our order, poured pints, kept the punters engaged with decent conversation and was all-smiles all night, was terrific.
A waitress was similarly good, being engaged and a little cheeky.
I guess the point is this. Eating out is all about horses for courses – particularly if you live in France or Iceland. Enough with equine humour. It’s all about getting the right dishes at the right price in the right environment. And the Chetwynd Arms doesn’t have delusions of grandeur.
It’s an honest-to-goodness pub, offering a bit of pub grub to keep the hungry punters happy. The food’s okay, no more, but that’s probably all people would expect.
And the staff are excellent.
So we’re entirely comfortable with a six out of ten for a pub that doesn’t have ideas above its station. And if you’re passing Cannock Chase and are in need of a decent pint and something to eat, it’s worth a visit.
The Chetwynd Arms, Upper Longdon - Tel: 01543 490266