Nothing beats Friday night drinks. It’s the perfect reward for a hard week of work. But normally at about 7pm, after sinking a couple of aperitifs, you are left with the inevitable food dilemma. More often than not the pub or bar of choice doesn’t serve food, leaving you in an agonising quandary of whether to accept the inevitable and eat a dinner of salt and vinegar crisps or to leave the pub’s warm comfort for a restaurant of some description.
Attracting a mixed crowd last Friday, real ale drinkers propped up the bar while 30-somethings sat around a few of the tables, sharing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. But the other half of the pub serves as a restaurant; and herein lies the perfect solution to post-work drinks. My friend had arranged it all, and had fortunately called ahead the day before, so when our stomachs started grumbling we just crossed the room and slid into a reserved booth – the only empty table in sight.
The menu is very reasonably priced, making it a good option when you don’t want to blow the weekend budget on the first night. It boasts a good mix of traditional pub grub with some more unusual dishes thrown in – most of which cost around the £8 mark. And it was the more unusual options that attracted our attention. We opted to share the mussels and scallops in a Thai curry broth, followed by The Cross Keys Cassoulet, a sausage, confit duck leg and butter bean casserole, which we both ordered to avoid any cases of food envy.
The starter was impressive; an over-sized bowl held a generous portion of mussels and four large scallops that were swimming in a deliciously spicy broth laced in sweet coconut cream. We shamelessly finished it off like soup once the mussels had gone. The main course shortly followed, immediately leaving us both pleased with our choice. The cassoulet was served in a piping hot ramekin with a crusty baguette on the side and mixed salad. As we tucked in, it felt like a bottomless dish of rich, meaty flavours. The duck was so tender it fell apart around the fork, the sausage was succulent and the crusty bread was just right for mopping up the sauce. Despite our best efforts, the bottomless dish defeated us both in the end and we were left unable to even consider desserts, which include firm English favourites like sticky toffee pudding and apple and plum crumble served with whisky custard.
As our plates were cleared we realised that so had the restaurant side of the pub and we were the last table left. Having been so absorbed by the delicious grub and the flow of good conversation, we’d not even noticed the other tables leave. But even when surrounded by vacated tables, the pub has the sort of warm ambience that prevents it from feeling empty, aided by the chatter from the main pub.
We were then left with our final decision of the night; whether to nurse the remains of our wine at the table or to wander back into the lounge area. Either way, we both agreed it had been a pretty successful Friday night – and a discovery I couldn’t quite keep to myself.(Written for the Nottingham Post)