The George & Dragon, High Street, Rowde, Devizes, Wiltshire

This Wiltshire gastropub is renowned for its seafood; and there's certainly something fishy going on here...

"Would you like some bread while you look at the menu?" An innocuous enough proposal but when it really means, "May I charge you for something you believe is free?", I get resentful. If the rest of the experience during my visit to the George & Dragon in the village of Rowde, Wiltshire, was exemplary, I might have forgiven the patron for this sleight of hand, but it is the first of several moves that make the meal slightly uncomfortable.

I am in Wiltshire for a meal to celebrate several birthdays – mine, my father's and my son's. Turns out it's quite tricky to find a good restaurant in this neck of the woods on a Saturday night in June that's not been taken over for a wedding. But I'm told by my relatives down the M4 corridor that the George & Dragon has a good reputation – particularly for fish, which the website boasts is brought in every day from Cornish fishing boats.

Our party of six hungry Markwells arrives at 6.30pm – this, I figure, makes life easier for us and the kitchen. (I've never understood the logic of making young children sit quietly in restaurants late in the evening. You wouldn't call them to the table at home then make them wait around for 40 minutes before the food shows up, would you?) Early arrival should mean an energetic chef and sprightly serving staff. We shall see.

The day's specials are chalked up. Dover and lemon sole, lobster, and local crayfish sound promising. That bread – six standard-issue rolls smeared with garlic butter or mustard – arrives while we're still deciding whether Dover sole at £27.50 represents good value (Mr M senior has a good appetite).

The second gaffe of the night arrives with his starter, in fact. A potted-crab dish comes with a giant gobbet of unadvertised and unwanted cheese on top. That he only eats cheese "once or twice a year" is a family tradition, and from his expression, he didn't want this to be one of those occasions. Ah well, the crab underneath is deemed very tasty; as are the puce, perky crayfish, which my mother can't quite comprehend have been caught in the nearby River Kennet.

A long wait for our main courses ensues. We exhaust who's been up to what and resort – as families do – to chatting to our neighbours, a mother and daughter visiting from Canada. What they make of this rustic pub room with city prices is anyone's guess.

Finally, more food. I am so proud that my son has ordered halibut with crab risotto (critic in training, clearly) that it's beyond dismaying that the dish before him is a heap of risotto with no discernible fish. Where's the halibut? "Oh, it's underneath," the patron answers loftily. It is not. So did he write the order down wrong, or not check the food at the pass? Pretty shabby, either way, and there's no apology forthcoming.

Scallop and black-pudding salad (£23), meanwhile, is a pleasing combination and if the monkfish wrapped in Parma ham (£16.50) is a little less generous and crisp than I'd imagined, it goes down just fine. The lemon and Dover sole, one for each parent, is the star of the show – fresh and excellently prepared, although it has been taken off the bone and Mrs M senior wishes she had either been offered the choice.

The plus and minus columns of this meal are each filling up. Great fish, but chips that are served in a sauté pan – a misleading affectation if ever I saw one – and sauté potatoes which are a little flabby for this early in service.

The George & Dragon redeems itself with wonderful home-made ice-creams, a humungous raspberry roulade (with extra cream, oh heavens) and a vast cloud of Eton mess (£6 each).

So the bill, for four adults, two children, a bottle and two glasses of wine, two pints and some tap water, comes in at £275, which is steep, I think. I don't subscribe to the view that one should expect cheaper prices out of London – great produce and great cooking is worth paying for wherever you are – but charging £7.50 for bread and £12 for vegetables which are described as included on the menu is galling.

Four of us hotfoot it back up the M4. The others, less than two miles away and potential regulars, won't be coming back – which, for a tucked-away gastropub in these times, is something the George & Dragon should give serious thought to.


Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

The George & Dragon, High Street, Rowde, Devizes, Wiltshire, tel: 01380 723 053 Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; dinner Sun. £275 for dinner for six

More fishy gastropubs

The Swan Inn

Macclesfield Road, Kettleshulme, Derbyshire, tel: 01663 732 943

A gastronomic haven in the Peak District, this 15th-century inn attracts consistent praise for wonderful food, especially its fish

Plockton Inn

Innes Street, Plockton, Ross-Shire, tel: 01599 544 222

An inn (with its own smokery) that takes fish straight from the sea to the plate (and has the best prawns anywhere, too)

The Sportsman

Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent, tel: 01227 273 370

Located on the salt marshes outside the town, this now-famous gastropub (of 10 years standing) is pretty much faultless – a relaxing place where the fish-based cuisine is simply superb

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'.

Suggested Topics
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants