Not just any pub, mind you. The Havelock Tavern, tucked behind Olympia, is a well-kept local secret. A few minutes in its good-natured fray and my nerves were soothed no end - maybe it was the faultless bloody mary from ready-mixed jugs, or perhaps just treading its uneven floorboards - "feels like you're already drunk," commented Vince, cheerfully.
My motley crew of five bagged a rare empty table and considered the Havelock's very un-pub-like behaviour: it ladles on the light with huge old windows, which, along with well-spaced tables and other endearing idiosyncrasies like mismatched chairs and crockery, make it a place apart. No wonder that in just three years it's become a favourite haunt of discerning locals - a stylish but unpretentious young crowd (who, Guy noted, were all reading The Independent).
More pub-like is the Havelock's no-credit-card policy, which makes for good old-fashioned ordering: up front at the bar.
Menus, changed twice a day, list imaginative dishes that don't sacrifice quantity for quality. We devoured slabs of the freshest bread before the arrival of our mains. Pregnant Anna-Maria paused just long enough to admire the golden lusciousness of her warm vintage-cheddar tart (pounds 6) before wolfing it down: " `Vintage' is the right word; lovely and strong." The boys' lamb shanks on buttered cabbage (pounds 9) were succulent fists of meat, though Guy felt his mashed spuds too Smash-like: "I like my lumps." Each to his own.
Venetia and I turned to our own dishes, large salads (pounds 8.50) topped with fabulously crispy slices of duck and bacon. But the meat wilted the bed of rocket and beans with an excessive oily gusto that seeped into the new potatoes, and after a few bites, I yearned for something tart or al dente. Venetia felt the boiled eggs with the duck were unnecessary: "like eating two generations at once," mused Vince, over another pint of good draft beer.
Our one pudding, almond and peach tart (pounds 4), got short shrift: five forks stormed its meringue-like crust, liberating juicy chunks of fruit on an excellent light pastry.
Four o'clock in the afternoon, and I'm raring for some more home-building. Floored at the first fence: my trusty professional can barely lift her bloody mary, let alone a hammer. Hell, you just can't get the staff nowadays...
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