Food review: Cookhouse & Pub, Oldbury
It’s the season of unpredictable weather so going out for a meal needs to be worth the journey. Leigh Sanders finds a place where it really is . . .
With the recent conditions making driving a risk-taking exercise of the highest degree, you want to find some good grub at the end of your quest to make that risk worthwhile.
Outside left you feeling like Jack Frost himself was running his prickly tongue all over your face, so having something hot and good-tasting in your belly was a terrific tonic.
It was a bonus, then, that the venue itself and staff working within the fairly recently opened Cookhouse & Pub offered the same warmth and friendliness as the food.
We had actually tried to go the night before. But, of course, it’s a busy time of year and everyone would be out with friends or co-workers. . . and we hadn’t booked. On top of this, they had lost the heaters in one half of the restaurant so were running on a smaller capacity. However, the staff were very apologetic from the off, continually saying sorry for the wait for tables and trying to fit in an alternative for another night if you didn’t have time to wait.
We took up the offer of a table the next evening and, based on our brief dealings with the staff so far, signs were good that this place had potential.
So, 24 hours later it was take two. The restaurant was back up to full capacity and judging by the warmth swirling around the venue they had their heating back on in all corners.
Again we had service with a smile, one of the sizeable booths at the back of the venue giving a bit of privacy to our meal and we were seated near the kitchen to be enticed by the smells floating out from within.
Of note here is the attention given to those who choose to dine alone. Situated next to a Premier Inn on the A4123 Wolverhampton Road in Oldbury – one of the main routes between the M5 and Wolverhampton city centre – they must undoubtedly get a lot of business trippers with laptop in tow looking to get a bit of prep done over a good bit of food.
To cater for that, they have comfortable looking ‘solo seats’ with a large enough table to accommodate plate and ‘puter with plugs and adjustable lamps to boot. We hadn’t seem this idea before, except perhaps for in London, so the idea was rather novel to us.
We joked that the company might be better sat in those seats. However, we then settled into our spacious and comfortable surroundings to peruse the menus. Both of us had been enticed by the huge specials board on the wall on the way past and we revisited them later.
But first of all it was time to treat the tastebuds with a starter. We were able to make our selections pretty quickly – one of us pregnant and with a constant hankering for meat, while the other just overweight and with a greedy yearning for everything fattening.
I had the Moroccan-style lamb koftas, which sat on a plush bed of hummus and mint with fresh pomegranate seeds topped with Middle Eastern spices.
The lamb was delicious and almost melted when meeting tongue, the spices sitting nicely with the sweet ting of the houmous. These starters were also well sized. They got us so excited while not over-filling us and leaving us fearing a monster main course ahead.
This could also be said for the other half, who had the honey and mustard pork chipolatas with chopped parsley. The dressing was a little too sweet for my taste and clashed too much with the savoury overtones, but judging by how quickly they disappeared I am guessing I was the only one thinking this.
With the first course finished we were able to sit back, relax and chat away while waiting for more. There were plenty of people around us; families, couples, friends. But the high-backed booths meant a lot of their chatter was kept out of our range, and we hoped vice versa.
Couples may not always get a lot of time to themselves. Work and childcare commitments can put paid to quiet evenings gazing into each other’s eyes. So to have some quality time together in comfort and with wholesome, well-priced food at your fingertips makes for a wonderful date night.
When the mains arrived the happiness amps were cranked all the way up to 11. We had both picked off the specials board and we weren’t going to be disappointed with our choices.
I had the special mixed grill, which differed from the regular option with the inclusion of tender, delicious ribs that peeled off the bone with ease. They were perfectly cooked, the barbecue flavour both zingy and satisfying. Also on my plate was a slim and equally well-cooked steak, a tikka-tinged chicken breast and sausage with a delicious portion of skin-on fries, coleslaw and dressed salad.
Those fries were close to upstaging the meat selection, and the meat was pretty tasty by itself. The fries were so crunchy, salted and seasoned to perfection. They added a different texture to the tender meats and the food was easy to digest without feeling bloated – a sign of quality over quantity.
As for the other half, she had the special lamb ragu which was sweetened nicely and came with a healthy side portion of garlic ciabatta. The sauce was delicious. I sneakily dipped more than a few chips in to savour the flavour. My partner agreed, and the ragu didn’t have a chance to hang around long and even flirt with the idea of starting to cool down.
We were pretty delighted with things so far, and we hadn’t even reached down to everyone’s favourite part of the meal – the dessert.
As mentioned, the quality before quantity mantra had left us with a sweet-sized hole that needed filling, and staff were more than happy to oblige with menus quickly provided.
This time I opted for the salted caramel, brownie and popcorn sundae. This was made up of vanilla ice cream stuffed with brownie chunks and popcorn pieces lathered in sticky, salted caramel sauce.
The sweetness of the mix was nice, but perhaps there could have been a little more flavour from the elements mixed together. The soft ice cream overpowered the rest somewhat. The texture of the popcorn added a nice crunch to the dish, and I was pretty happy with my finale.
As for the girlfriend, she decided liquid was the way forward and had a C&P hot chocolate made with C&P mini chocolate beans, a giant marshmallow and whipped cream on top.
At first this was forgotten, and we had to give a friendly nudge to have it brought over. But, as with the previous night, the apologies were plentiful and the staff sincere rather than blasé. It had been busy, so we didn’t mind. And according to her it was definitely worth the wait.
There was no rushing us, no ushering us towards the finish so they could clean up and get home. The staff’s conscientious nature had been on show from start to finish.
We couldn’t have been more impressed by their willingness and evident happiness in their job. We’ve all been youngsters and had that part-time bar job. And I certainly didn’t serve with that big a smile.
Full and with our faith in community spirit and human nature topped up, it was hometime. And a mental note was added to come back soon with family and friends.