EATING OUT; Something to chew over

THE SILVER PLOUGH; Pitton, Wiltshire SP5 1DZ. Tel: 01722 712266. Open daily 12-2pm and 7- 9pm. Average price per person, pounds 17. Sunday lunch, two courses pounds 9.95 , three courses pounds 11.95. Major credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
It is one thing to review an overpriced London restaurant, which has courted attention with press releases and launch parties, then be sniffy about its timbales and sugar cages; quite another to fasten upon a lovely country pub which has been quietly going about its business, and hatchet its home-made fishcakes.

But the Silver Plough at Pitton seemed like an excellent haunt to try. It made its first appearance in the Good Food Guide this year and is warmly spoken of in the area. Pitton is an unassuming village, nestling in Wiltshire countryside and the little pub is very pretty indeed: white-washed, bursting with flowers, with two silver ploughs in front, and a lovely walled garden sheltered by a pear tree. On a Friday lunchtime it was uncrowded with plenty of wooden tables and benches for everyone, and butterflies all over the shop.

Inside, it was just as lovely and traditional in a wintry fashion: dark and heavily-beamed with wood-burning stoves and an enormous range of things hanging from the ceiling and on the walls - toby jugs, brasses, big fish in glass boxes, and mugs commemorating various phases in the emotional journeys of the Prince and Princess of Wales. We had reserved a table so decided, a little ditheringly, to stick with the restaurant area.

Sometimes I wonder about restaurants in pubs, I really do. It's as if they adopt a sort of restaurant school-uniform for those pub-goers who want to go posher, involving more formality than style - red tablecloths, piped music, and menus bound in imitation leather folders. But it is the range of bruschettas, brioches, ricottas, rostis and salsas which has become de rigueur even in such traditional surroundings, which is puzzling.

True to form, our menu offered an exotic melange: New Zealand green-lipped mussels; salad with quails eggs topped with grilled goats cheese; cod on bruschetta, topped with black olive tapenade. Drawn by its simplicity, I started with terrine of poached salmon wrapped in smoked salmon, while my friend Paula went to the other extreme with smoked breast of Barbary duck, served with a red-onion and sweet-pepper marmalade. "Hmm," said Paula. "It was very interesting reading the menu, rather more interesting than eating it." She declared the duck "chewy" and the marmalade so unmemorable that after five minutes she swore she had forgotten it. My terrine of poached salmon looked dainty but lacked taste. Salmon, as a fish, tends to come accompanied. To have one terrined without any evidence of herb, lemon, seasoning or smoking left on the tongue, was a bland experience.

Disappointed, we thought our perception might be clouded by the dark interior when all was sunshine outside, so we asked to move under the pear tree. The move was accomplished with great charm by young, friendly staff. Outside, with the relaxed murmur of conversation and the rustle of breeze accompanied by a wood pigeon and a cuckoo, it was idyllic. Alas, after several bites of free-range supreme of chicken with a fondue of gingered leeks (which sat looking lonely, beige and, well, small in the middle of her plate), Paula said: "Hmm. Chewiness seems to be a theme. I wish I could taste a bit more free-ranginess or, for that matter, ginger. And these leeks are a bit stringy. Very good for masticating."

I had plumped for a medley of grilled and chargrilled (plenty of scope there for lapses of attention) Mediterranean vegetables with ricotta cheese. The artichoke hearts were excellent, very tasty, properly cooked but with plenty of bite. Unfortunately, however, the grilled yellow pepper looked more like a dried apricot. There was plenty of olive oil, but I don't know where they'd got the ricotta - it literally didn't taste of anything. Oh dear, oh dear, and everything else was so lovely. The waitresses were helpful and efficient. The wine list was excellent: a very good, accessible range mostly under pounds 20, starting with a selection of "bar wines" at pounds 9.50, and then a page of interesting "star wines" and a main list with plenty of choice without being overwhelming.

A blackboard arrived offering puddings. "Are they home-made?" we asked hopefully. "Well no, they come from a local company," was the reply. The local company was very good at lemon tart which had thin, moist pastry, creamy texture and the perfect degree of lemoniness. Lemon sorbet arrived, however, gigantic in a sundae dish with two curly biscuits looking for all the world like a peach melba and tasting, bizarrely for a sorbet, somewhat dry. When the bill arrived at pounds 39 plus service without wine, (though with six pints of lime juice and soda) we couldn't help but punningly remark that it was hardly a Pittonce, and that the food simply wasn't up to it.

Maybe the thing is to have pub food in a pub, we thought. Determined not to be unfair to the idyllic little haunt, I went back the following lunchtime and ordered a couple of home-made fishcakes from the bar menu at pounds 4.50. Even on a Saturday there were no screaming hordes, no queue at the bar and there was the same air of relaxed tranquillity.

The fishcakes arrived with an undressed salad and a chilli vinaigrette on the side, which tasted like it had come out of a bottle. The cakes were large and fried, with an unconvincing coating which was neither breadcrumbs nor batter. They weren't chewy but where was the taste? - fishiness, butteriness, salt and pepper, cheese, capers - anything that would have mitigated the bland repeated mouthfuls?

The Silver Plough is a lovely pub, with an idyllic garden. It's quiet, the wine list is superb, the service unaffectedly charming and the range of items on the menu tempting and exotic sounding. But next time, I think I'll stick to the ploughman's lunch. !

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