Sometimes, after a busy weekend (okay, a heavy weekend!) all you want on a Sunday is some pub grub. But it has to be good pub grub: freshly cooked, quality over quantity and certainly not mass produced (yes, I’m looking at you, Wetherspoons). One of our favourite haunts in the Bournemouth area for just that sort of meal is the Avon Causeway, a relaxed country pub about 10 minutes outside Bournemouth whose unique feature is an old Orient Express railway carriage outside the pub, which can be hired out for private parties and murder mystery evenings. I organised one of these last year for a friend’s hen party, and very good fun it was too – but that’s another story!
The bar of the Avon Causeway is always busy with locals (and their dogs!) and it’s a nice place to sit and read the Sunday papers with a drink or two and a packet of crisps, or perhaps have a game of pool. On this particular visit, we went straight through to the restaurant, which is fairly large, spacious and bright, as we were late for lunch even by our standards. There’s also an option of dining outside in the enclosed garden (which has a smallish children’s play area) or out the front of the pub overlooking the car park, which is not as bad as it sounds, as the whole area is set far back from the road and it can be quite a pleasant place to sit if it’s in the sun at the time.
They generally have a carvery on a Sunday, which normally finishes around 3 p.m. When the carvery is on, they only serve this and a few specials, rather than the full menu. I prefer the full menu, as I love their fish and chips with mushy peas – which also comes in a ‘lighter bite’ portion, that is perfect for a late Sunday lunch and leaves a bit of room for pudding! Unfortunately, on arrival, we noticed signs saying that the carvery was being served until 6 p.m., so we only had the option of that or around five specials that were on the board.
Mr W had set his heart on a roast beef baguette that he’d had on a previous occasion, so one of the barmen did go and ask the chef whether this would be possible, and came back and said that we could indeed choose from any of the baguettes on the full menu, in addition to the specials and the carvery. Mr W was happy with his baguette, but I decided to opt for a seafood platter from the specials board, which comprised filo wrapped king prawns, prawn ‘purses’ (whatever these were!), battered calamari rings and breaded scampi, served with chips and a selection of dips. Not quite the fish and chips I was hoping for, but I certainly thought this might hit the spot.
The bar staff, as always, were extremely friendly and helpful (including one who told us he was on one of his first shifts behind the bar) and were very obliging when Mr W asked if they could put the tennis on one of the TVs, sorting this out for us immediately – in addition to having already sorted out the baguette situation for us. Generally, you have to order food at the bar and pay at the time of ordering, although the service at the tables is still attentive and they often come over and ask if everything is okay – and have been known to take dessert orders at the tables.
Our food came fairly quickly, and for pub grub was very nicely presented. Mine came with a dressed salad, that was definitely intended to be eaten, rather than just as a garnish, and Mr W’s baguette was bursting with thick pieces of juicy roast beef and had a generous helping of horseradish on the side – which is the best way for it to be served seeing as horseradish seems to vary tremendously in its hotness and needs to be tasted before it’s applied liberally to a meal.
Unfortunately, both of us found our chips to be a bit ‘hit and miss’. Some were cooked, but others were not, and although they looked crispy on the outside, they were bordering on raw in the middle. It also turned out that I’d made a bad choice with my main course. The overwhelming feature on the platter was not the seafood, but the various ‘coatings’ it came with. I had batter, filo pastry, breadcrumbs, and more filo pastry (I think) with the prawn purses – which turned out to be little oriental style parcels of rice noodles, veg and a small, almost indiscernible prawn, which inexplicably had a bit of the tail left on, meaning you couldn’t eat the whole parcel. It was all quite greasy, very stodgy, and the variety of coatings totally overpowered any of the seafood. It should have been called a carbohydrate platter. To make matters worse, the two dips provided could not have been less complementary to each other: tartare sauce and sweet chilli dip. Both were very nice on their own, but they really didn’t work as a combination, and the whole platter was having a bit of an identity crisis, unable to decide whether it was traditional English fish, or something with an Asian twist.
After this disappointing stodge-fest, I threw caution to the wind and decided to go for the usual sticky toffee pudding and custard as a sharing dessert. All of the puddings on offer were fairly stodgy, but that’s to be expected with pub grub – and again, sometimes it’s just what you want!
The pudding was pretty good and seemed home made, with a large puddle of toffee sauce and custard (probably not homemade) mixing together on the plate. Bizarrely, however, it had been decorated with blobs of what looked and tasted like strawberry jam, which was completely unnecessary from an aesthetic perspective, and certainly not a good flavour combination. I had a momentary flashback to school puddings of semolina and creamed rice, served with a big blob of cold strawberry jam in the middle. Unpleasant.
Ordinarily I would recommend the Avon Causeway as the full menu is varied and interesting and always good quality. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the food was a major let down, and it was a big disappointment that the full menu wasn’t on offer. Ironically, at around 5 p.m. some diners turned up who had come specifically for the carvery, but were told it had finished as they’d run out, but the full menu was now available! On the plus side, the service was good, and the atmosphere and surroundings are nice, but on the whole I didn’t enjoy the visit this time. I’m not sure if the extended carvery is going to be a regular thing from now on, but if it is, we may have to rethink our venue of choice when Sunday pub grub is called for.
Not recommended on this occasion.
Food: ** Service: *** Ambience: ***
The Avon Causeway Inn, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 6AS