The Summer House, Sedgley
While the Gospel End Village of today exists in little more than name, The Summer House is still going strong, very strong indeed, writes our mystery meal reviewer, The Insider.
And a happy new year to you all,
. By this time you will doubtless have had your festive fill of food and Twelfth Night has come and gone.
But while most of us have now put the Christmas decorations back in the box for another year, it is still Yuletide at The Summer House.
According to licensee John Coombes, the Christmas decorations are so popular they will be staying up until January 18. It took six weeks to set up the display, featuring 20,000 lightbulbs, a Santa's grotto surrounded by a forest of pine trees, and even a Hollywood-style snow machine, although given the past few days, that has probably been a little redundant.
There is certainly no chance of missing it on a dark winter's night. No wonder they cancelled the Walsall Illuminations. It probably couldn't compete.
Once, along with the village shop and nearby church, The Summer House was the heartbeat of Gospel End, a small mining community which was one of the nine villages that made up the parish of Sedgley.
Then the colliery became Baggeridge Country Park, and in the mid 1980s the church underwent a Grand Designs-style makeover to become a des res. More recently, the village shop was flattened to make way for, you've guessed it, executive housing. I suppose some will view it as progress.
You would expect there to be something of a lull in the aftermath of Christmas, but even on a Wednesday evening, it was packed to the rafters. And I mean packed. It is not a large pub, with two quite small rooms, and the few empty tables in the traditionally furnished bar at the front of the pub had already been reserved.
But squeezed into a tiny space at the end of the more contemporary-looking lounge was a solitary empty table for two.
You can't accuse them of skimping on the Christmas decorations inside, either. The walls of the front room are completely covered in cotton wool to give the effect of snow, and the place is positively festooned with tinsel, baubles and Christmas trees, not to mention the airborne Father Christmas who was watching over the diners packed into the lounge.
And to be honest, it was a little too crowded, There was probably not more than eight inches separating our table from the one next to us. Which would not have been a problem was it not for the fact that our neighbouring diners had to sit in that gap.
And while moving the table an inch or so to the left eased the problem slightly, the space between us and the family group the other side was only marginally bigger. It was like being on a commuter train in the rush hour, and it made for a slightly amusing scene every time somebody needed to go to the bar.
As you would expect, it does seem to be quite a family-friendly pub. The large party on the one side of the room appeared to span four generations, and the young children seemed to be captivated by the winter wonderland.
To the other side there was a more mature group; a youngish lady and two elderly couples, with a few regular drinkers perched on stools around the bar. Overall, the atmosphere was warm and friendly, if a little cramped, and everybody seemed to be making merry.
Beer wise, there is choice of Banks's mild and bitter, or Marston's Pedigree, as well as the usual lager and Guinness, although a guest ale would have been nice.
The menu is traditional pub fair, with old favourites such as the mixed grill, beef casserole and a good choice of steaks, and the prices are not at all bad. The sausages and mash, so often the barometer of a good dining pub, sounded good, and I did toy with the idea of the beef in ale pie, but with the fillet steak at just 11.50, and the peppercorn sauce just £1.50 extra, it seemed rude not to.
The food came in good time, although I was slightly surprised by the absence of cutlery. After waiting a few minutes for the young man to return, I scrambled my way to the crowded bar, where
I was told that knives and forks were on a shelf in the corner. I then squeezed behind a lady sat on a stool by the door to commandeer some cutlery, as well as some condiments, but I quickly discovered that most of the pepper pots were empty, and I also had to cadge some vinegar from another table.
The meals were simply presented, but tasted very good. The soft, juicy fillet looked much larger than its 8oz, and tasted better than many I have eaten costing £18 upwards, and the delicious golden chips were in plentiful supply. The sauce had a pleasant flavour, although it was a little on the thick side for my taste.
My dining partner spoke highly of the chicken in sweet and sour sauce, which had also been nicely cooked
It was a little disappointing that, a good 10 minutes after we had finished our mains, nobody had come to clear the table. Eventually, I ordered the desserts and coffees at the bar, and it was only at this point that the used plates were removed.
Sadly, they were out of cappuccino coffees, but my hot treacle sponge and my companion's chocolate and mint flavoured mousse were both tasty and good value at just £3.25 each.
Mind you, when they say the treacle sponge was hot, they mean hot - I've still got a burn on the tongue.
The final bill was £33.50, which I thought represented pretty good value for money.
Truth be told, the lights display led me to believe this would be more of a novelty pub than a serious dining venue, but the food was much better than expected, holding its own with many of the esteemed places I have visited.
I do think some aspects of the service were a little rough and ready, though, but I suppose you can't expect silver service at what is essentially a village local. Perhaps it is not normally as busy as it was on the night of our visit.
If you are looking for somewhere to eat and drink over the next week or so, it is well worth seeing the spectacular Christmas lights, particularly if you have young children who I guarantee will be mesmerised.
I do hope, though, that when they do take them down a week on Monday, they take the lot down, and don't, as they have done in the past, leave a vestige of illuminations behind for the rest of the year.
Fairy lights are not for life, they are for Christmas.
The Summer House, 92 Gospel End Road, Sedgley, Dudley DY3 4AN
Tel: 01902 676102
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