The Foxhunt Harvester, Halesowen

A good choice of main courses on offer but the experience proved to be a mixed bag for our undercover meal reviewer The Insider.

The Foxhunt Harvester, Halesowen

A good choice of main courses on offer but the experience proved to be a mixed bag for our

undercover meal reviewer The Insider

.

It's funny how some things just slip through your grasp. During the three years I have been writing this column, I have managed to get around pretty much every corner of the West Midlands - except for Halesowen.

I've been to lots of places near to Halesowen. Clent, Cradley Heath, Hagley, Rowley Regis and Lye, among them. But for the last three years, the town itself has somehow managed to escape the Insider's scrutiny.

And for a town which gave us literary giants William Shenstone and Francis Brett Young, that would be a travesty, so I guess it's time to, er, hunt down a suitable venue.

Sitting in the shadow of the Clent Hills, the Foxhunt is easy to get to, being just a stone's throw from the main A456 between Birmingham and Kidderminster.

The chalet-style building is fronted by an ample level car park, which is enclosed by a white wooden picket fence. Being of a modern design with a wide entrance, it is all pretty wheelchair-friendly.

On arrival we were told there was a 30 to 35-minute wait for a table, and indeed the main part of the holding bar was packed to the rafters. We eventually took a seat in a somewhat drab area by the window next to the entrance, with a tiled floor and austere furnishings.

As was the case with last week's column, the choice of beers was somewhat disappointing. Basically, there's lager, Tetley's Smoothflow and Guinness, plus one "regional keg ale", which on this occasion was Marston's Pedigree, brewed in Burton-upon-Trent and a little on the strong side considering it was probably going to be a long wait.

On the plus side, while the wine list is not huge, it does include the very good (and quite hard to find) Nobilo White Cloud which I had with my meal.

But ordering an orange juice while I waited for my seat proved quite trying. First of all I was told that it could not be added to the restaurant tab, as we had not been given a table number. So I asked for a receipt, which caused more panic, with none of the staff behind the bar seeming to be able to operate the till. Eventually the manager was summoned to the scene, and after wait of what seemed to be about 10 minutes, I was finally presented with the appropriate paperwork.

As promised, a table became available within around half an hour. The dining area is generally quite bright and stylish, but the table we sat at left a lot to be desired. A rickety old thing, one leg was propped up by a folded menu, and another one by a grubby-looking piece of tissue paper.

It seems to be mainly the younger types who come here, a lot of family gatherings and the odd party with young children. No doubt the children will love it, with a special menu for youngsters, a puzzle page, and unlimited refills of Pepsi or lemonade.

Unless you are vegetarian - in which case it is soya sausage or pasta - it's hard to fault the choice of mains, and if you like grilled food you will be laughing. There is also a selection of fish and chicken, and an excellent range of traditional pub meals at competitive prices which are confusingly called Earlybird All Day - but are actually available from midday to 10pm. Indeed, had I read the small print, I may have well have chosen from this menu, but I slid into the assumption that Earlybird All Day would probably for people who were eating early on, like in the day for example.

As it was, I went for the lamb steak with a red wine, shallot and herb sauce, which the menu said would offer "a little French sophistication", while my dining companion went for the crispy bacon and cheese burger.

For many, it is the all-you-can-eat salad bar that is Harvester's unique selling point. There is certainly plenty of choice, and I am glad they have finally got rid of the kitsch "cart" with fake wheels. But I can't say I was impressed by the dripping wet crockery - the salad bowls were half an inch deep with water - and I do think that customers should be able to choose butter rather than sunflower margarine with their bread.

The food arrived within about half an hour, and was okay but unexceptional. The lamb itself was good, succulent and nicely cooked, and the sauce was pleasantly rich with a fresh, vibrant flavour. I did think the mountains of garden peas and machine-chips seemed like a bit of an afterthought, though, lacking imagination or attention to detail.

There were no real criticisms, though, so it was interesting to observe that some of the people on other tables appeared to be having one or two problems. First of all the young couple on the table next to us sent their main courses back, for which the manager came out and apologised. A short while later, the same manager was apologising to the larger family group behind us, although I didn't catch what their complaint was about.

After the huge main course, I didn't think I had much appetite for a dessert, but the prospect of the Cadbury Mini Egg ice cream sundae soon rectified that. I would say it was the best part of the meal: made up of a base of crushed Mini Eggs, topped of with generous helpings of soft ice cream, with yet more Mini Eggs sunk into it. Gorgeous, and a bargain at £3.79.

The total bill came to £32.62, putting it pretty much in the middle of the market for a somewhat average experience. It is clearly very popular, but maybe it is a victim of its own success. Maybe the staff are struggling to keep up with the visitor numbers.

When a waitress asked if everything had been all right, I responded "fine", which it was, but I wouldn't go any further than that.

An okay meal for an okay price. But don't get too excited.

ADDRESS

The Foxhunt Harvester, Hagley Road, Hayley Green, Halesowen B63 1DY

Tel: 0121 585 5886

MENU SAMPLE

STARTERS

Breaded mushrooms, served with garlic and herb dip (£3.19); Flame-grilled chicken wings (£3.49); Salmon and asparagus fishcakes (£3.99)

MAINS

Flame-grilled chicken breast (£5.79); Mixed grill (£9.99); Grilled sea bass fillets (£10.99); Combine Harvester (for two): spit-roast chicken, flame-grilled chicken breast strips, chicken wings and pork sausage with grilled corn on the cob, onion rings and sour cream and chive dip (£17.49); Sausage and mash (£4.99); 8oz sirloin steak (£10.49)

DESSERTS

Rich chocolate tart (£3.99); Fruit skewers (£3.59); Caramel apple tart (£3.59)

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