Eating Out: A warm welcome at The Wheatsheaf
How do you define what makes a good local pub? Is it the welcome? Is it the food? Is it the roaring fire? Is it the company?
I suppose it's subjective, and depends what you want from your local, whether that's a cold drink at the end of a day to unwind, a chance to chew the fat with your neighbours or a slap-up meal when you can't be bothered to cook.
It's now six years since my original "local" closed, and I still feel a serious twinge of sadness each time I pass the Haynes Arms on the A19 at Kirby Sigston. It's where my friends, who like me, grew up on farms scattered across the area, would meet of a Friday or Saturday night, sometimes for a meal, but more often for drinks – lifts home being easier to come by than if we went further afield.
Perhaps it's that sense of nostalgia for the heyday of the Haynes that makes me appreciative when I stumble across somewhere with a similar feel, and so it was on a recent, chilly Friday evening when, an organisational failure on my part meant I hadn't tried to book anywhere for tea until gone 6.30pm, I tried calling The Wheatsheaf Inn at Hutton Rudby.
I'd never been there before and knew nothing of its menu or serving hours, but as soon as the phone was answered, I could tell I was onto a winner. Could I book a table for two for that evening? No problem. Could I come as soon as I can get there (my stomach was already rumbling)? Yes, absolutely. And in the background was a pleasant hum of a busy pub.
Twenty minutes later, parked up in the centre of Hutton Rudby, my sister and I approached the Wheatsheaf, which overlooks the green and was completely parked-up with vehicles. Brightly lit, inside and out, we could see plenty of other diners.
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At the bar, we were warmly welcomed and shown to our table – right beside the fire – and handed menus, including one detailing the steak night special offer of two steaks and a bottle of wine for £35, which in this day and age, seems great value.
The roaring fire at the Wheatsheaf, Hutton Rudby
We decided to choose off the main menu though, which is packed with pub classics, although there was no lasagne or steak and ale pie available on the night we were there.
With half an eye on the portion sizes at nearby tables, we decided to share a starter, opting for homemade chicken goujons. They were pretty hefty specimens when they arrived, with BBQ sauce and a garlic dip, plus side salad, so sharing was a good decision. The chicken was tender, and the coating was nicely crunchy, although the more we ate of them, oddly the saltier they seemed to taste. Claire said they reminded her of KFC takeaways in her student days (which she very much meant as a compliment) but never having had a KFC, I couldn't provide any sort of informed comment.
Homemade chicken goujons - a hearty starter so we were glad we shared
For our mains, I chose the gammon steak with fried eggs, declining the addition of pineapple, and Claire went for salmon in a dill sauce from the specials blackboard.
My gammon was perfectly cooked, as were the fried eggs, and although my initial reaction to the near-platecovering portion of meat was "I'll never eat all this", I did, as it was too tasty to leave. The accompanying chips were about as good as you can get – plump with fluffy insides and perfect for mopping up stray egg yolk.
Gammon steak with two fried eggs - but the pineapple was declined
Claire's salmon, which came with a side portion of vegetables, was perhaps a tiny bit overcooked, but the delicious dill sauce more than made up for this.
Salmon in a dill sauce, from the specials menu
As we debated desserts – the menu was delightfully retro with options including banana split, knickerbocker glory and mint chocolate chip sundae – diners at the nearest table were putting the world to rights, discussing how unwise it was of Matt Hancock to trust a journalist – a journalist of all people! – with his Whatsapp messages. I managed to resist the urge to interject to defend the integrity of the trade, and we also resisted the puddings. Both of us were just nicely full, and a further course would have well and truly tipped up into the grounds of gluttony.
The bill, which included two glasses of wine and two soft drinks, came to £46.65 – really good value. Service throughout was great. From the original phone call to the moment we paid the bill, everyone was friendly, efficient and committed to providing a really good pub experience.
As we left, just after 8pm, there were plenty of diners still enjoying food, and a decent number of people in a for a drink. Clearly, the benefits of doing the basics well – a warm welcome, hearty food and a roaring fire – are paying off for the Wheatsheaf. Long live the local pub – we really don't know what we've got until, like the Haynes Arms, they are gone.
The Wheatsheaf Inn,
Hutton Rudby, 10 East Side, TS15 0DB.
Tel: 01642 700452
Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8 Service 9 Surroundings 7 Value 9