So, last night, I went to the pub with some friends. And I still remember bits of it, even though it was, well, quite an experience. What happened?

I got a text from my friend, Jane, saying that some of them were going to meet at the Horse and Crown, 7-ish and would I like to come too? Silly question! There are few things I like more than meeting people in the pub, especially if it’s a local village pub. The Horse and Crown is just that. A little cosy village pub, on the High Street, such as it is. It was more in the middle of nowhere really. When you enter, it has ambient lighting, a fire cheerily blazing away on the side and the murmur of local gossip. Ah, so relaxing and so welcoming. 

The Seven Oaks, Newdigate, Surrey

Jane and Bill were already at the bar when I came in. “This is my shout,” said Bill. Had I not known better, I would have expected him to shout my arrival to the locals, perhaps? No, it was just a way of saying, that he was buying me a drink.

I ordered a glass of red wine. A large red. Something Australian or Californian was put in front of me. I raised my glass, said “Cheers”, and took a sip. Jane and Bill smiled and raised their glasses too. I did notice that Bill immediately paid for the drink. “Put it on the tab,” he said. Now, he could do that because he is well known here. What that means is that you leave your credit card with the publican behind the bar. Whatever is consumed will then get charged to your credit card. Oh, and no tip. It’s one of the nice things about pubs. Tips are not customary. Mind you, I did spend a small fortune buying two rounds for everybody.

Ah, sorry, buying a round means that you buy everybody in your group a drink. It’s quite a fair way of doing things and it all fits nicely into the ethos that, at least in the pub, everybody is pretty much equal. You might be a big cheese somewhere else, but it doesn’t really count for anything in the pub.

James and his wife, Ellie, came in not long after. Ellie wanted a G&T. I still had my wine. Jane too. But Bill’s glass was almost empty.

“What can I get you, mate?” asked James.

“Mine’s a pint of lager” replied Bill.

“Pint of lager, pint of bitter and a G&T” said James to the chap behind the bar.

“Ice and lemon with that?”

Ellie nodded.

“Shall we grab a table?” asked Jane, “before it gets too busy?”.  

Ellie said, “Yes, there’s one over there, by the fire”. We picked up our drinks and headed over to the table, leaving James to manage the drinks.

“Do you want a hand?” I asked.

“No, I’ll be fine, thanks” answered James. “You go on ahead.”

A few minutes later, James came back, clutching the two pints and Ellie’s G&T in both hands. The three glasses were full to the rim.

“Mind your back,” he said to a group as he manoeuvred his way to our table.

“Cheers”, said Bill. Only this time he was saying “thank you.”

James also pulled a few packets of crisps and nuts out of his coat pocket and put them on the table for us all to dig into.

Ellie asked Jane if she had heard about the gastropub which had re-opened in the next village. A gastropub is a type of pub restaurant. The rules are still the same. You order and pay for everything at the bar, and then they bring it to your table. But these pubs tend to be more upmarket, a lot of them with a good selection of tasty meals, and they are really great for Sunday lunches.

Jane replied, “Yes and their sticky toffee pudding is to die for”. This caught my attention.

“Sticky toffee pudding? I might just put that on my menu back home in Brida!” I said.

“Well, if you’re looking for inspiration”, Bill said, “I suggest you try the one over at the Duke’s Head. The Chef there has got it properly sussed.”

The conversation flowed. A few other people joined our crowd, and such was the atmosphere that we all found something to talk and laugh about. Soon, I sensed it was my turn to buy a round.

“What can I get you?” I asked people individually. Feeling slightly dizzy with the list, Ellie came to the rescue and said, “I’ll give you a hand.” By now, it was quite lively. People had drifted in and were standing in small groups or sitting at the tables. But the bar area was just taken by people waiting to order their drinks. I waited for an opportunity to catch the publican’s eye. Anything else would have landed me in hot water. No shouting, complaining or pushing to the bar. Just a discrete signal.

The choice of beers was awesome. Local, continental, and even foreign beers from the US, Japan and China. All on tap, ready to drink in those large pint glasses. A pint is about 500ml. Then there are all the different spirits, soft drinks. The choice was huge. Pubs are down to earth places. So, sophisticated cocktails don’t really fit into the scene. I’d forgotten how thirsty the English are! A couple of pints are not much for an evening at the pub. And at about 7 quid a pint, well, I had my credit card, so that’s ok.

“Do you want a tray for those, luv?”

“Yes please.” I replied.

Ellie and I gingerly crossed the thickly carpeted floor back to our table where we were warmly greeted by our crowd. After all, their throats were totally parched after having to spend ten minutes without a drink in their hand.

I vaguely remember last orders being called but things were becoming a little blurred by then. Back in the room of my B&B, I just about managed to jot a note on a scrap piece of paper to remind me of that sticky toffee pudding, before I blissfully sank into a wonderfully deep sleep.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Serves 6

What you need

175g medjool dates, stoned and roughly chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml boiling water
50g unsalted butter, softened
80g golden caster sugar
80g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175g flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of ground cloves
75g walnuts

For the sauce:
115g unsalted butter
75g golden caster sugar
40g dark muscovado sugar
140ml double cream

What you do.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish approximately 24cm x 24cm.

2. Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a pan with a pinch of salt and heating slowly until the butter has melted, then turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour half the sauce into the base of the dish and then put it in the freezer while you make the rest of the pudding.

3. Put the dates and bicarbonate of soda in a heatproof dish and cover with the boiling water. Leave to soften while you prepare the rest of the pudding.

4. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, and then beat in the eggs, a little at a time. Stir in the flour, baking powder, cloves and a pinch of salt until well combined, and then add the dates and their soaking water, and the walnuts, and mix well.

5. Take the dish out of the freezer and pour the batter on top of the toffee sauce. Put into the oven for 30 minutes, until firm to the touch, and then take out of the oven.

6. Heat the grill to medium, and poke a few small holes evenly over the surface with a skewer or fork, and then pour over the rest of the sauce. Put briefly under the grill, keeping an eye on it as it can easily burn. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Recipe is by Felicity Cloak.

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