SINCE winning Best British Restaurant on Gordon Ramsay’s F-word, trying to book a weekend table at the Pheasant has proved trickier than cooking one of Heston Blumenthal’s recipes.
So, we plumped for a Thursday night berth instead, which was far easier to get.
I tried to clear my head of Gordon’s eulogising and went in with an open mind.
First impressions were good; Keyston is a lovely village, just off the busy A14, and the pub itself is in the more traditional mould; without the over polished veneer that so many in our region have.
We were offered the choice of sitting outside on a traditional pub table, or taking a spot inside. We went for the latter and found a nice big table with plenty of room to relax and admire the tastefully furnished room.
The waitress took our drinks order and we couldn’t resist trying the pigs in blankets as an appetiser. They were excellent, coarsely ground Lincolnshire sausages wrapped in crispy streaky bacon, a porky delight.
I was slightly unimpressed by the lack of a decent cider, on tap, or in bottle. With so much good local stuff around, the choice of Magners or Scrumpy Jack seemed a bit mainstream.
We decided to skip starters and settled on our mains. The menu is 80% British dishes, with a few intruders such as Pea Polenta chips with Caponata, a wholeheartedly Italian plate. There are 6 or 7 choices for each course and there are variations on a daily basis.
Between seven and seven thirty you can have a set menu at £22.50 for three courses, but you are restricted to a choice of six of the less favoured dishes from the main menu. This is fine if you like a dish from each course, but a bit limited overall (I would advise checking the website on the day if you plan to go for this option). The sourcing of the ingredients is very local and the chef should be proud of his hand in this.
We ate our pigs in blankets and enjoyed the fantastic homemade bread that was brought, but were kept waiting for fifteen minutes before anyone took our food order, and this only happened after prompting the waitress ourselves!
Once we had ordered, we relaxed again and took in the room. It is very much a ‘proper’ pub which has been spruced in a subtle way and made into a pleasant area to eat.
As time passed, we started to wonder how long our food would be. Fifty minutes is too long to wait in any restaurant, especially one with three other occupied tables!
When my pork belly finally arrived, it was a visually pleasing plate of food, with pork cheek and quince aioli as accompaniment. The pork had been cooked perfectly, with soft meat and crispy skin and the quince made a nice change to the usual apple sauce.
My girlfriend had the roasted Guinea Fowl. I have certainly had more flavoursome Guinea Fowl but the meat was moist and succulent apart from the burnt piece of skin on top of the leg. The accompanying potatoes were excellent though and worked well against the crisp skin of the bird. Once we had let the waitress know about the lengthy wait, we were treated much better; we chose our puddings and within ten minutes they appeared.
I had pistachio shortbread with strawberries and Chantilly cream; my girlfriend had spiced rice pudding with raspberries. I’m not sure whether it was the sugar rush that the puddings brought on, but suddenly the gripes over the service took a back seat and we relaxed again.
Both dishes were accomplished, with the raspberries dragging a wintery dish into the balmy summer evening and my strawberries were at their seasonal best.
I had a nice glass of Merlot which was the cheapest on the list. It was a good rounded glass and at £4 was excellent value. The rest of the wine list was tidy and well described, with prices starting around the £15 mark.
So, overall the Pheasant was pleasant, but the service could have done with a few choice words from Gordon!
1x Hors d’oeuvres
2 x Main Courses
2 x Desserts
3 x Drinks