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.

11/20

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'. www.hardens.com

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

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

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

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?