What kind of crazy person decides to take a four year old, a two year old and a baby out for lunch by herself? Why that would be me.
It sounds like the most insane idea ever when you write it down on paper but we manage to eat lunch around our table at home without too many disasters, and after a long week the lure of someone else doing the cooking was irresistible. Well that and I rather fancied reliving a few childhood memories with my children for company.
When I was little my great-aunt lived in Bournemouth, land of bungalows and beaches, and every holiday we’d get up early and drive all the way over from Devon to see her, possibly with a Little Chef breakfast (and obligatory lolly) en route. When I was very little it always seemed to follow the same format: arrive at Aunt Marjorie’s house for coffee, run around the garden, head out squished in the back of the car for lunch and then on to either the beach or a National Trust property for a run around before home for the sort of high tea only usually seen within the pages of an Enid Blyton (sans ginger beer but cherry cake very much in evidence).
They must have been a highlight in our holidays because I find I remember so many of them, and I remember a lot of detail too. I remember the colours and smells of Aunt Marjorie’s house; the flowery wallpaper in her bathroom and the way her garden sloped up and away from the house. I vividly remember beach trips, collecting shells along the tide marks. And of course, I remember lunch. And lunch, more often than not, was at a Beefeater.
Which is why, some twenty and a bit something years later, I found myself taking Kitty, Elma and Pip along to The Plough up on the outskirts of Solihull. My first impression was that disappointingly, or perhaps thankfully, the swirly carpets are no more. As a child I loved those carpets, you could hop from one swirl to the next or try to get all four legs of your chair lined up on the pattern, but even I can appreciate that times must change and in fact The Plough has been redecorated fairly recently and looks comfortably relaxing in a sort of colonial style, with the most gorgeous Hello sign on the wall that twinkled, much to Kitty and Elma’s great delight.
We were sat in a lovely big booth, perfect for letting the girls have a bit of space and the occasional wriggle without disturbing too many other people (hopefully!), and it’s great for eating with babies; when Pip decided that he didn’t want his highchair or to sit on my lap it was lovely to be able to lie him back and let him have a little wriggle on the seat next to me. I was also hugely relieved that there was enough space to hold him on my lap; I’ve been to some places where the benches are so tight up against the table that I can’t really hold him comfortably or nurse him as the occasion demands. The girls got to sit together, or with me, or together again which they thought was very exciting and there was plenty of room to have all three of us on one side had we wanted.
And then there was the food. I think they still do a carvery on a Sunday but for a Friday lunchtime we could pick from the main menu or the lunchtime menu, and the girls had some fantastic Mr Men menus (which is why they told H they went to “the Mr Men Cafe” for lunch) with pictures of all the different options, perfect for little girls who can’t yet read and sometimes let their imaginations create something that doesn’t quite match the words when you read a menu out to them.
According to Elma, it also made an excellent hat!
Kitty started with a huge dish of cheesy nachos and salsa, while Elma demolished two big slices of garlic bread and Pip and I shared garlic king prawns with ciabatta (he ate the bread, I ate the prawns), and then Elma and Pip shared a mini burger, chips and corn, while Kitty had fish bites, chips and beans (a delicacy reserved for meals out as H and I hate them with a passion and refuse to cook them).
All the food was tasty but for me the stand out winner was the amazing and huge rack of Sticky Bourbon BBQ ribs. They were cooked to perfection, the meat practically falling off the bone and just utterly utterly delicious. It seemed almost a shame to eat anything else but the cherry and apple crumble hit the spot, and as for the girls, I suspect their jelly and ice cream might have been favourite part of the meal.
Well favourite food perhaps, because there’s one real challenge about being the only adult with a table of little ones. It isn’t that they’ll struggle to sit still for a huge length of time, it isn’t that they might giggle too loudly, and it isn’t even that one of them might screech when the other got ice cream in her hair (not that that happened of course), it’s that if anyone needs the bathroom, we all have to go; Kitty, Elma, and even small Pip still clutching his bit of burger. The girls thought this was a lot of fun. An awful lot of fun. By the time we got up for the fourth time to go I swear I could hear the other diners thinking “really! again! what is she feeding them!”. But rest assured, they were just having fun, and I can reliably inform you that The Plough’s bathrooms are kept immaculately clean and tidy. Never let it be said that my girls are not thorough in their research.
But best of all was the service; it quite simply could not be bettered, the staff were genuinely friendly, attentive without being overwhelming and really paid attention to the little things, like bringing a high chair, neatly sweeping up the steak knives that are the standard place setting and finding some junior cutlery instead, or letting me know that our mains were ready and asking whether we wanted to hold them while Kitty finished her nachos or go ahead so that Elma wasn’t waiting too long.
Beefeaters have changed since I was little it’s true, but only for the better, And if you so happen to have a great-aunt in Warwickshire we also have some excellent National Trust properties nearby to walk off those ribs.
Many thanks to The Plough at Solihull for hosting us for lunch, it was yummy!