There are days set aside in the British annual calendar that are rubber stamped for meals out.
Birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations of promotions at work, exam results.
They are all occasions where you are most likely to think ‘yeah, can’t be bothered cooking for that one’ and check the bank account before heading off to your favourite eateries.
But here’s an unofficial one – after attending a food festival.
That’s what we’d just done this breezy Saturday. We’d been to Chillington Hall, near Brewood, to attend the Great British Food Festival and dodge the early showers before the sun decided to show its lazy face.
We hadn’t taken as much cash as we would have wanted to had we possessed a little less restraint. So we’d picked up a few bits, which sensibility preventing us from scooping a George R R Martin-esque feast to travel home with.
Suddenly, after gazing at those sweet and savoury delights and watching a cooking demo by Parveen ‘Parveen’s Indian Kitchen’ Ashraf, the regular pasta bake or chop just seemed a little...meh.
So we said two words – the first rhyming with duck and the second being ‘it’ – and stopped off somewhere to tantalise the tastebuds a little more.
Busy but friendly
We chose The Anchor Inn in Coven, just off the Stafford Road north of Wolverhampton, as we had dined here previously and enjoyed our experiences.
It had once provided the setting for a rushed Saturday evening date night after a challenging day of adulting, and had also given a base for a catch-up meal with my sister who had come to visit.
The food had always been good, the vibe pleasant and the staff friendly.
It is perhaps unfortunate, then, that we happened to rock up on the same day and at the same time as a wedding party. The bride was clambering out of her classic car as we rolled up with carrier bags and windswept baby in tow.
It meant that our experience was not as high quality as we have previously been able to enjoy. The service times and food seemed to dip in quality – but those staff who were rushed off their feet trying to keep the wedding party and regular diners simultaneously satisfied still did so with smiles on their faces.
They even took time to stop and talk to our 11-month-old who was gurgling in his high chair and launching crayons across the table. To show manners and be friendly without making it seem forced when up against it was a real credit to the manager and his team.
All three of us chose to eat from their Weekend Treat Menu which offers either two or three courses and either two alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks for just £21 or £25 respectively.
The drinks on offer include Bulmers Original, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, low alcohol – 0.5 per cent – St Peter’s Without, or the usual fizzy soft drinks or two bottles of any flavoured J20.
You can also have a bottle of wine to share (or not) – The Leading Lady sauvignon blanc from South Africa, The Protagonist, a merlot from the same nation, or American white zinfandel The Bulletin.
It offers great value for those looking to extend their weekend treat without emptying the wallet completely. But there are a few supplements for things like upgraded steaks.
To start, I had the seared scallops and heirloom tomatoes with roasted red peppers and sunblush tomato dressing. The scallops were the perfect texture and the sunblush tomato and red peppers added a real zing to what could otherwise have been a fairly plain dish. It wasn’t that filling either so you could really look forward to the coming challenges.
My girlfriend had the oven-baked button and Portobello mushrooms in a garlic and mature cheddar sauce with rustic bread. She described it as “lovely” and in particular loved how “thick” and “flavoursome” the mushrooms were and the creamy nature of the sauce.
Her mother was with us and had the duo of pâté, which was a coarse pork and Madeira pâté and duck liver parfait, served with Bramley apple butter, blackcurrant curd, baby gherkins and rustic bread.
She thought it was very well presented and she had two nice wedges of pâté to sink her teeth into. But as befalls so many places you eat - there is never enough bread to supplement the amount of meat you have been given. You end up just eating a wad of pâté by itself it the end which, while tasting great, kind of defies the point.
I got to have the gherkins to myself as she is not a fan and can tell you they were juicy and crunchy and the flavour packed a little kick – scrumptious.
There was a lot going on to keep our young companion entertained while we waited between courses. The staff engaged him through windows with silly faces and laughs, which he returned with gusto.
And when he did get a little bored The Anchor is in a lovely place along the canal with plenty of wildlife swimming past as well as dog walkers and their four-legged friends on the towpath and the odd longboat chugging towards its destination. A lover of puppies, he was able to gurgle in delight and forget his boredom. And with the sun shining and the ample vegitation blocking out the majority of noise from the Stafford Road this is a really beautiful setting.
Back inside and the mains were arriving as I settled little man back into his high chair. I had been outside for some while, so it went to show our waiting times had lengthened compared to what you’d normally expect.
I’d had the fish and chips – an ample beer-battered cod with triple-cooked chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. Let’s start with the absolute crème de la crème of the piece – that zinging sauce. Wow! I couldn’t get enough of that and lathered my fish with it.
Unfortunately, that was also due to it needing the consistency. The batter was very soggy so I lost that crunch I love from the outer coating and it often fell apart before you could even gather a mouthful on the fork.
Apart from that, though, the taste was lovely.
The future mother in law had the steak – upgraded from an 8oz sirloin to a 10oz ribeye for £3 extra. This came with triple-cooked chips, home-made onion rings and a thyme-roasted tomato.
This had been left on the heater a little too long and was quite dry and overcooked. I tried some and she was right, the steak felt a bit coarse and gristly as a result. She was also disappointed in the garnish that came with it, saying it “didn’t look appetising”.
My other half plumped for the Wagyu burger – premium beef served in a brioche bun with tomato salsa, mixed leaf and horseradish salad and homemade onion rings and skin-on fries.
She was disappointed as the onion rings didn’t come with it. We had waited a while for it to arrive so didn’t want to put the staff out by chasing missing ingredients while other tables still waited around us for their ordered plates.
We also ordered fish off the ‘build your own’ children’s menu where we picked chips and vegetables as the accompaniments. He definitely enjoyed the chips and veg and his fish was much crunchier than mine had been. I was jealous.
Sharp and sweet
We had another wait for desserts, though certainly not as long as previously. I selected the British blackcurrant and Prosecco cheesecake with blackcurrants in sauce lathered over the top and an amaretto crumb base.
This was a sharp and sweet delight. The textures were so pleasing compared to the soggy feeling of my fish and I certainly ended the meal with my favourite dish for sure. It was ample sized too. I felt like I was indulging in a real treat.
My better half chose the Belgian chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and Irish liqueur ice cream – and she, too, thought this was her best.
She described the brownie as “thick, smooth and decadent” and loved the ice cream that came alongside it.
Her mother had the elderflower gin crème brûlée, which was made up of J.J. Whitley elderflower gin brûlée and came with home-baked butter biscuits. Because of this it is only available to over-18s.
Our son getting his hands on some of Nanna’s biscuits to keep him happy as we all chomped away. His silence spoke volumes about those.
And she thought her crème brûlée was “creamy” and a light way to finish her meal off – saying the overall dish was “lovely” as well.
Again, it is important to stress we thought the added pressure from the wedding party most likely affected the food we were having. We mainly got what we asked for, it was just a shame some of it lacked its usual quality we’ve come to expect.
The staff, though, can’t fall under the same criticism. It’s that happiness in their role and warm and friendly nature towards customers that keeps them coming back time and time again.