“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….”
We have been going to The Chimneys with varying degrees of regularity for 17 years now as we live nearby. In fact we first ate there as we waited for the vendor to move out of our house so we could move in way back in the year 2000.
And the simple fact is that in those 17 years the menu has barely changed. Hunters Chicken? Check. Fish and Chips? Check. Burger? Check? Steak Pie? Check. Chicken Pie? Check? Various Steaks? Check. Fish finger sandwich? Check. A Caesar Salad you can add bits to? Check.
There has been some tinkering around the periphery of these dishes and a few new ones do come and go, but every time I visit it’s culinary groundhog day. It’s as if the place is stuck in a food timewarp and all the exciting things that have happened to British Pub Food over the last 20 years have completely passed it by.
There isn’t even a regular curry dish on the menu and the ones that do appear give the impression of having been constituted out of ingredients from other dishes. That gives the impression of menu expediency rather than a desire to create a genuinely new food offering.
It’s all so identikit and many of the dishes feel like they have been designed by the brewery for financial expediency, target rates of return and kitchen efficiency rather than any kind of real passion or flair for food. It’s quite easy to play “ingredient bingo” and spot the elements carried from one dish to another. The menu was supposedly recently changed to their Spring menu but I was hard pressed to tell the difference from the previous one.
We have eaten at The Chimneys several times in the last couple of months and the quality has generally been decent but with a few misses. The Sunday Lunches remain excellent, very filling and probably some of the best I have had anywhere. The Hunter’s Chicken is a good sized, well-cooked portion with nice thick (if slightly salty) bacon…. but this has been on the menu for at least 17 years in one form or another!
The Lamb Shank is flavoursome but very small (it’s more like an oversized lamb chop) and came with just four (yes four…) carrot batons as veg, and a small portion of mash even though the menu says bubble and squeak; not good value for £12.95. You do need to watch out for unannounced substitutions or missing accompaniments as this regularly happens to us.
On another recent visit, I had the Fish and Chips which was an excellent piece of fish well cooked in very good batter. However, I think the cost control police from Head Office had been in because it was served with the smallest portion of mushy peas I have ever seen – about a desert spoon that barely covered the bottom of the ramekin. I couldn’t decide if The Chimneys was trying to go all “ironic artisanal” on me (you know… where small but super high quality is trendy and all the servers have huge beards and stripy aprons) but as the mushy peas were…well… just mushy peas I decided it was just a very mean portion.
My wife had the Kedgeree Fish Cakes which frankly just don’t work as an eating concept – coating a rice based dish in breadcrumbs and deep frying it is a recipe for disaster because the rice soaks up so much oil the whole cake becomes inedible; served with buttered new potatoes and an oil based basil dressing makes the dish a total greasy failure to be avoided. The manager was kind enough to take on board our comments and did not charge us for it.
The Chimneys has always been a bit of Curate’s Egg. It has a really lovely atmosphere, very well kept beer, very good friendly staff. But it is hampered by a menu that is completely anodyne, a bit hit and miss in terms of quality and that often seems to have been designed by a brewery committee more concerned with spreadsheets and target rates of return rather than returning customers.
So come on Mitchells and Butlers, put the calculators down, pick up the cook books and inject some flair, passion and variety into what has the potential to be a superb pub and eating house.