The Old Packhorse is a massive Edwardian/Late-Victorian house with 5 beers on 8 pumps and a Thai restaurant in the back. I don’t know that I could ask for more. It DOES seem a bit youth oriented at 5:30 pm, but that’s the neighbourhood for you; I suspect that later in the evening — if it isn’t also hosting a musician — it will be awash in young suburban professionals on the pull so a rush-hour pint might have been the best of all options for walking around and admiring the details. And, the beer was cheaper than expected and, from the evidence gathered later in the evening, cheaper than elsewhere in the buurt.
The big, ugly glass structure next to the pub (looming behind it in the photo, below) sits on the site of the Chiswick Empire, a nearly 2000 seat theatre that opened a few years after the pub. I was sitting in some of those very seats when I took the photo of the “Empire Bar;” on the next wall left and over the doorway to the Lounge Bar there are posters from the 1920s to the 1950s of the Empire’s shows (the last of which was a 7-day sold-out run of Liberace, a scant month before the theatre was demolished). Must’ve been grand in the day.
The chef, Rick Stein, has this fantastic travel and cookery show called Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. A bit like Tony Bourdain’s shows without the likelihood of a fight breaking out, the conceit is that Rick travels to less touristy destinations than usual but all within an hour or two flight from Britain so you could go on a Friday and return on a Monday and see loads and eat your fill of local stuff. I record these and scribble the recipes down as near as I can manage and have been looking forward to trying the Tafel Spitz (the specialty of the house at Plachutta in Vienna) ever since this one aired.
I’m sure this recipe will horrify the Viennese, but it turned out well.
Put 1 kg of a tougher cut of roast (mine was a silverside) under just enough water to boil and throw in a dozen or so black peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, some salt, and a pinch of carraway seeds and simmer just above boiling for 3 hours. Take some marrow bones and roast these for 30 minutes at 200 C while the beef makes its broth.
Plunge the meat into an ice bath and while it chills add about 500 g of root vegetables to the broth — I used carrots, turnips, leeks, and an onion which was cut in half and scorched in a frying pan on the cut sides (this is in every recipe so the carmelization must be important). Throw the bones in with this. When the meat is very cold, cut it in slices about 2 cm thick against the grain; the chilling is necessary as otherwise the meat will fall apart due to the long boiling. After about 30 minutes, slide the beef slices into the soup to reheat and soak up some of the veggie flavours.
Traditionally, this is served in 3 courses. First, the broth and vegetables are served as a soup followed by rye bread with the marrow used to butter it (we had some Austrian style black rye from our baker for this). Finally, the slab of beef is served with a bit of the broth on top, an apple and horseradish sauce, and rosti and creamed spinach on the side.
For the rosti, I brought a bunch of small potatoes to the boil then plunged them in the ice bath and grated them. This pile was mixed with chives and freshly ground black pepper then fryed in butter until crisp and golden brown on both sides.
The sauce takes some baking apples (peeled, grated, and tossed in lemon juice) and freshly grated horseradish at about a 3 weights of apple to 1 weight of horseradish. For each 100 g of apple add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar plus salt to taste then whiz it to a paste. This should clear your sinuses, gently; add more horseradish at your peril. I think it will go really good with roast pork, too.
I took the spinach and wilted it over some soy beans then thickened it with buerre manié because Jackie isn’t a big fan of creamed spinach. You do what you got’s to do, eh? A not too dry white wine would go well with the first course but as we kind of scooped everything into a plate and ran with it we just had a chianti.
A revelation. Thanks, Rick. See if you can get the theme music out of your head:
Since I was cutting the run short, anyway, I was pleased when I looked up from my fish treat and spotted what I reckoned to be another pub sign. Even better, this appeared to be a deviant bar so at last I might have an interesting write-up to do (no offense to the Tree, the Waterside, or the Coy Carp earlier this day). I eagerly approached the Carpet and Vinyl with thoughts of 70’s pubic hair and form-fitting/fluids resistance outfits.
Alas, it was non-euphemistically a carpet and vinyl shop. Sort of the old bait-and-switch (and, come to think of it, “The Bait & Switch” might make a good fetish bar name, too).
Although not as cold as it has been, I was fairly under-dressed for the damp, breezy day and while warm and sweaty I think the run from Uxbridge had depleted my breakfast. Very hungry, I popped into the first chippy I could find, the Sea Master. “It will be ten minutes,” which I accepted, deciding to cut the run short of the last mile and a half to Croxley and to just leave for home from Rickmansworth.
Well worth the wait … the fish was perfectly steamed inside the crisp batter envelope and not at all more salty than absolutely necessary. Why can’t EVERYONE do this?
Leaving the Waterside I wondered if all the pubs on this journey were going to be gastropubs (and posh ones, at that). The Tree was a proper boozer filled with proper pub citizens/denizens.
The Lounge bar was filled with the pub’s football club so I went to the Public bar and found a crowd watching F.A. Cup highlights and feeding a child (of about 6 years) candy. I sat with the kid’s family (also a part of the football squad) as the kid went into a full-blown Cornholio-like sugar rush. “You know what would calm him down,” I suggested to one of the old farts pushing gummy treats on the monster, “is a cup of black coffee.” The dad (or uncle) next to me said, solemnly, “we’ve tried that before but it ended in tears.”
I left but doubled back into the Lounge needing the bathroom. Ten footballers looked at me as I scanned the walls for the door. “What d’you need, mate?” “Pisser, please.”
“First door on the left,” one answered as all of them pointed to the two doors, one in the hallway and one in the room, on the right. I took the first of these and they all started shouting, “no! that’s the kitchen.” I tried the other door, looked back and one of the guys yelled over, “yeh, there, first door on the left.” Inside, the two bathroom doors were Gents on the right and Ladies on the left. I hope their sense of direction is better on the pitch than it is in their local.
Here’s a map.
The Waterside had a lot friendlier staff than the Coy Carp but I was still a sweaty and under-dressed mess so I took my Doom Bar out to the garden past the Sunday diners. The sunshine was fleeting but this shorter segment of the canal run (now off the canal and on the main drag into Rickmansworth) warmed me up considerably — nothing to do with the 10 pounds extra weight I’m carrying, surely.
Spotting the sign, I realised the garden continued on to a little island between some streams and I went out to inspect leaf buds on some of the trees in the marsh at the garden’s edge.
Looking back across the creek to the pub, you might not think it is as nice as it is but the interior has a grand old interior of timber and stone. When things start to green up, this will be really nice.
Forget the robin red breast…the first sign of spring is the snowdrops (followed in rapid succession by crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, bluebells, and invasive weeds. Hooray!
Here’s a map.
Five miles into a run up the Grand Union Canal from Uxbridge, I took a break at the Coy Carp. I got the feeling from the cool reception that I was probably a lot less welcome than the polished and posh families flowing in for lunch so I headed out by the weir to watch ducks.
A family came out and the little boy — perhaps 3 years old –got excited when he saw the terriers the couple near me were tending. “Duggie! Duggie! Wuff-wuff!” he said then immediately lost interest when he saw the ducks floating around. The adults chatted a moment then the parental units headed across the bridge followed by the toddler; “bye-bye, duggies,” he said as he passed waving to no one and nothing in particular.
The other side of the pub, by the canal, features some kayak slalom gates and there were tons of fisherman despite a huge sewage treatment facility having an outfall not a mile away. It was breezy and cool but my short stop wasn’t long enough to let the chill set in.
The sun started to come through the cloud cover and I drank up and returned my glass to the bar (someone needed to show the staff some class). I headed toward the bridge waving aimlessly as I passed saying, “goodbye, doggies.” The couple wished me well.
Here’s a map.