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Nag's Head, Burntwood

Staffordshire | Entertainment | Published:

This ancient pub ticks all the boxes, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider . . . without the unwanted attention of Peckham's finest.

This ancient pub ticks all the boxes, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider . . . without the unwanted attention of Peckham's finest.

You may not be aware of it, but a small electric coffee maker made television history this week.

Blink and you would have missed it. Indeed if you work during the daytime, you won't have seen it at all. But this week Nescafe is said to have paid £100,000 to have one of its coffee makers on the set of ITV's This Morning.

It's a strange thing, the power of TV. Big Brother may have bitten the dust, yet people will still fall over themselves - and do pretty much anything - to have their 15 minutes of fame.

And then complain about how it has ruined their life.

But while small-screen exposure can be a big help in business, it can also be a double-edged sword. Ask Gerald Ratner for example, the man who lost everything after an ill-judged joke about his company's products was beamed into every living room in the land.

And I wonder how many licensees of pubs called the Nag's Head cringe every time an episode of Only Fools and Horses is shown. Or every time a newcomer walks in and thinks it is both amusing and original to scream "Marleeeene!" across the bar at some poor, unwitting stranger. What do you mean, that's just me?

The Nag's Head is one of the oldest pub names in history, going back to the days when coaching inns provided stables for their customers. Yet to some it will always conjure up images of the slightly down-at-heel drinking hole where Del Boy explains his latest money-making wheeze to the ever incredulous Rodney, where loudmouthed car dealer Boycie continually boasts about his wealth and Uncle Albert sits in the corner droning on about the war.

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This Nag's Head, is as far removed from Peckham's most famous pub as chalk is from Gorgonzola. being able to trace its history back to the Domesday Book.

Even so, it still takes a dash of chutzpah to market a pub called the Nag's Head as an upmarket dining experience - and this is an audacity I like. After all, why should a pub which has stood for hundreds of years change its name because of a TV sitcom?

Mind you, these days the Nag's Head is not so much an inn as a campus. While the frontage of the pub dates back to around 1650, it has seen numerous extensions over the years, some of which do little to fit in with the fabric of the old building. And you do wonder whether one particularly faceless addition, backing onto Nether Lane, would get planning permission today.

On the other hand, there can be no complaints about the car park, with more than 70 spaces.

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And while one may question the external appearance of the modern additions to the rear, it does make for a pleasant, spacious atmosphere inside, and offers excellent access for wheelchair users.

The pub has several large rooms, giving the feeling of being inside a stately home. On the night of our visit, it seemed most of the action was going on in the smart, wood panelled room around the bar.

Despite it being a Friday night, there were plenty of spare tables, and there is plenty of room to sit in comfort - none of the cramped conditions you get in some places.

There are lots of interesting drawings and photographs on the walls, depicting everything from foxhunting to the Auxiliary Fire Service. The ladder-back chairs, deep red carpets and beams to the ceiling add to the gentle, easy-going atmosphere; it's somewhere trying to be hip or trendy, its somewhere you come to relax.

As we took our seats, a young brunette waitress called Hannah asked if we wanted any drinks, something I have not experienced in a Chef & Brewer pub before. Apparently March is beer festival month, with a rotating choice of guest ales, although I would not say that Everards Tiger or Courage Best are the most adventurous options. Courage is a pretty middle of the road copper-coloured bitter, while the Tiger is a little spicier, with a bitter, hoppy taste and a mixture of different flavours.

If you prefer the grape to the grain, there is a pretty decent wine list, which includes the excellent Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a personal favourite of mine.

There is plenty of choice on the menu, with 36 different main courses, comprising a good range of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes. The appeal is fairly mainstream, with options such as the Moroccan lamb burger, the Chicago chicken with mozzarella and the Punjabi-style chicken Makhani giving a slightly cosmopolitan flavour.

It's been a few weeks since I've had a steak, and regular readers will know that is not something that happens very often, so I thought I had better deal with the withdrawal symptoms and ordered the 7oz fillet. My dining companion went for fish and chips, opting for traditional cod over the slightly cheaper pollock, and choosing mushy peas over the garden variety.

By this time the Nag's Head was starting to fill up, having been pretty quiet up until that point. A middle-aged man, who had been nursing his pint in the centre of the room met up with a group of friends, and the majority of the customers seemed to be small groups of young to middle-aged people, who I imagine visit fairly regularly.

The food came in reasonable time, about 25 minutes or so, and it was very good. A waitress had asked if it was all right for the chef to "butterfly" the steak - scoring it with several shallow incisions to ensure it was consistently cooked. The meat was soft and tender, and although only weighing in at 7oz, it was quite filling. To add a bit of zing, I asked for a Stilton and peppercorn sauce, and let's just say there was no shortage of flavour. I was a little sceptical, as cheese is not really my thing, but I really enjoyed it - it was very hot and definitely not for the faint-hearted. The chips which came with it were crisp and golden, and my only real criticism was that it came with a large field mushroom, despite me saying I didn't actually want this.

The cod was quite the biggest specimen either of us had ever seen, overhanging the plate by a good couple of inches. The batter was crisp and golden, and the meal got a firm thumbs up, even if it proved too much to finish.

It was as if the desserts menu had been compiled with me in mind. I love cheesecake, and there was a choice of two. I love chocolate fudge cake, and that was on there too. But when I saw I could combine my two weaknesses with a chocolate cookie cheesecake in sticky toffee sauce, my mind was pretty much made up. And pretty gorgeous it was too. My companion, still full from the giant fish, went for the small sponge and coffee.

The total bill was £39.70, putting it firmly in the middle of the market, and good value for an enjoyable night out. It scores as a soothing, relaxing place to wind down from the strains and stresses of the day. The staff were all friendly and helpful, without being in any way pushy, and the spacious layout and understated decor make for a tranquil, soothing atmosphere.

Luvvly jubbly, you might say.

Well, you'd have been disappointed if I hadn't thrown that in, wouldn't you?

ADDRESS

Nag's Head, Rugeley Road, Burntwood WS7 9HA

Tel: 01543 682510

MENU SAMPLE

STARTERS

Tomato and mozzarella bruschetta £3.49; Chicken and honey paté served with caramelised red onion chutney and toasted artisan bread £4.69; Chicken tikka skewers £4.69

MAINS

Chicago chicken - chicken breast wrapped in bacon, smothered in tomato and basil sauce, finished with a layer of melted mozzarella and sticky barbecue sauce. Served with chips and rocket salad £8.29; Steak and ale pie, with vegetables and mash £8.29; Beetroot and butternut squash risotto £8.49; Morrocan lamb burger in oregano flatbread with crispy sweet potato chips £8.59; Whitby breaded scampi with chips and either peas or mushy peas £7.29

DESSERTS

Bramley apple pie £3.79; Chocolate fudge cake £4.35; Cheese board £4.69

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