11 Mar 2009

Pimp My Pub

THERE IS little doubt as to which of Clavering’s pubs belongs to Jamie Oliver’s proud parents, Trevor and Sally. Once through The Cricketer’s porch, pasted with tourist board certificates, you come face to face with three tiers of his face. Between brasses and cigarette cards, copies of ‘Jamie at Home’ and ‘Ministry of Food’ are available, autographed. Propped at the counter, ‘Jamie’ – the magazine collides with spouts of Adnams and the time-out bell.
The 16th century stack smells of wood smoke and is ribbed with beams, the lowest of which are softly padded. A huge copper-closhed cart is limousine for the weekend roast. Details of Saffron Walden chic include chandeliers and candelabras, frilled shades and purple chesterfields.
On a Sunday night, even the overflow parking was packed with costly cars. Whilst Trevor and Sally have been here for years, Oliver junior’s fans must have delivered some capital. A local boozer has become big business. They feed up to 170 a night and hold keys to 15 bedrooms.
“Ooh, that would be nice,” said our half-glassed waitress when we ordered some fizz. She was as dry as the wine and potentially as acidic. Later I saw her shoe some kids along the bar.
After decent bread baked by Trevor at dawn, I chose braised local rabbit with gnocchi and wild mushrooms. At age five, my sister once pretended to have eaten a clump of the latter, worrying my parents into hospital. Aside from the excessively generous portion, flopsy was tender, although the mushrooms were slimy. A grating of cheese grated – best kept for Welsh Rabbit. Vegetables came from a nearby allotment, sewn by the flawless hands of the famous son.
Whilst beer is still star, the wine list becomes tolerable towards £40. With strawberry leaf and black truffle scents, our minimally marked-up Pommard added freshness and verve to an otherwise bulky meal.
Despite the menu’s obsession with things being well-hung, I chose fish for my main. Whilst I adore the decadent, lobster like meat of monkfish, I find them fierce creatures. According to Enrica Rocca, Sicilian fishermen used to hurl the slimy, scaleless bloaters back to sea fearing that they were monsters.
When beached, the spiky bottom dwelling mud revellers take on the colour of tar. If fish had halitosis, these David Mellor-mouthed specimens would be worst afflicted. Forgive my thieved language, but the loin was “lovely jubbly” except for the fact it was not waving but drowning in a pool of chilli butter. Jerusalem artichokes were nearly raw. So rather then jubbly, it was mildly dystopic. A side of chips were rough-hewn “pukka”, with skin left on, evoking hair loss. Lamb’s liver had the texture of a weathered tyre swing.
I left as stuffed as sausage-skin, and also a little sleepy, although a restless night lay ahead. Nouvelle Cuisine never came to Clavering and the meal set like concrete.
Rather then focussing on the food, I suppose many people come for a glimpse of Lord Sainsbury’s creators. As she was leaving, a lady wearing a giant tea cosy whispered to her friend “wait until they hear where we’ve eaten!”
The following day I paid a visit to my Ukrainian tailor who let out some material, easing a return into my trousers…
Incidentally, every Monday until April, the pub offers an annual big banger give away. With ‘free sausage suppers’ – you pay for booze and additional courses if you feel that you need them...
The Cricketers - Clavering, nr. Saffron Walden, Essex. CB11 4QT. T. 01799 550442