The Whittington Inn, near Stourbridge
The Whittington Inn, once the home of Sir William de Whittington, grandfather of legendary Lord Mayor of London Dick Whittington, is about to mark its 700th birthday.
The young man behind the bar looked towards me and smiled. "Are you the 75th birthday?" he asked,
Well stone me. I know the old barnet is receding a little, but I've still got a few years to go yet. It turned out that the room we were standing in had been booked for somebody celebrating their three-quarters of a century, and the disco was about to start. I'll assume they thought I was an invited guest, rather than the guest of honour.
As it happens, the Whittington Inn also has a pretty important birthday coming in the next few weeks. The pub, once the home of Sir William de Whittington, grandfather of legendary Lord Mayor of London Dick Whittington, is about to mark its 700th birthday. There's an anniversary which only comes up once in a while.
It is also said that King Charles II took refuge in the building following the Battle of Worcester. Queen Anne also spent a night there in 1711, and the solid oak front door holds one of only two her Royal seals in the country.
The house became the Whittington Inn in 1788 when Lord Stamford transferred the licence – and the pub sign – from a smaller building a few hundred yards away.
Situated along the A449, the Whittington is easy enough to get too, and you certainly won't miss it thanks to the garish advertising billboards which look a little out of place alongside the 14th century architecture.
There is a huge car park. Trouble is, on the night of our visit at least, it was also packed with dozens of cars, resulting in quite a walk, although there is a dropping-off point at the entrance.
It is a very large building, a seemingly endless labyrinth of oak panelled, timber-beamed rooms. There are three main dining rooms – one of which was where the birthday bash was being held, and a few smaller rooms for drinkers.
It was also heaving, in the main rooms at least, with barely a seat to spare. Curiously the small rooms at the far end of the pub were deserted. Not wanting to dine alone in a small room, we were about to leave when we discovered a free table, tucked away behind the Christmas tree, in the main room next to the entrance.
The pub certainly seemed to have embraced the festive season, and most of the diners appeared to be in large organised groups. There was the party of 10 in the far corner, another group which I imagine was probably a work's party of some sort or another. We were sat next to a friendly middle-aged couple and the husband's parents.
The rooms are delightful, the beautifully preserved oak panelling adorned with tasteful paintings of horses, certainly a cut above the average pub restaurant.
The menu is the standard Marstons Taverns fare, and there is certainly no shortage of choice, with a range of hotpots, steaks, fish, burgers and pub favourites. There is also a range of "light bites", which are essentially smaller versions of some of the main menu dishes.
The lamb steak and the beef and ale pie looked tempting, but I decided to go for beef instead, opting for the sirloin which was reasonably priced at £9.95, while my dining partner went for the classic beef burger.
As well as a large and varied menu, there is also a decent choice of beers, with the usuals Banks's mild and bitter and Marston's Pedigree, as well as a guest ale. During our visit the guest was Brakspear Gold, a very pleasant light beer with Goldings hops and a fruit flavour.
I was slightly concerned when moments after our orders were taken a waitress appeared to be heading in our direction with plates filled with food, wondering how it was possible to produce the meals so quickly, but much to my relief if was for the group sitting next to us, and our hopes were raised by the very attractive looking hake which was brought to the lady sitting opposite.
Our meals came within reasonable time however, and the food was plentiful. The steak itself was nicely cooked and fairly supple, and the plethora of crispy golden chips were enjoyable enough. The peppercorn sauce, a £1.40 side order, had plenty of flavour, although I would like to have seen a few more, er, peppercorns, but given the price it would be churlish to complain too much.
My companion spoke highly of the burger, which came with iceberg lettuce and tomato, and was served with onion rings, chips and coleslaw.
After two hearty main courses, we didn't want too much for afters, but decided to share a bowl of profiteroles. As with everything else, it was quite a generous helping and not a bad choice for £3.50.
The total bill was £31.60, which represented excellent value for money, reflecting perfectly how Marston's has managed to buck the industry trend, and see food and drink sales increase to a national trend of pub closures.
There was part of me that felt it was all a little safe, a touch too middle-of-the-road, and that a building as beautiful as this cried out for something a little more memorable than the standard pub chain fare. But looking at it from a different angle, it allows people to enjoy good solid food in stunning surroundings, and without breaking the bank.
And you have to say, that somewhere this busy in the middle of a recession must be doing something right.
As we left, the septuagenarian's party was still going strong, making merry and digging it large to the thumping beat of the Love Shack. Marvellous.
The Whittington, Kidderminster Road, Whittington, near Stourbridge DY7 6NY
Phone: 01384 872110
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