On our last night in Salisbury, our host from Naim Audio, Doug, took us to a little pub near his home. It was about a twenty minute drive from our hotel in Salisbury down to a quaint little village by the name of Fordingbridge. We wheeled up in front of The George, a gastropub along the banks of the Avon river. We were told it would be one of the finest meals on our trip. With a promise like that, I went in with high expectations.
The George is an 18th century pub that sits next to a seven-arch medieval bridge, known as the "Great Bridge", of which the historic former market village of Fordingbridge got its name. The building itself dates back to the late 16th century (and possibly even before that) and is the village's oldest pub. Originally known as "Le George", it has also been known as "The Great George" before the name was changed to simply "The George" in the late 18th century, possibly as a reference to King George III.
A young couple simply known as Caroline and James bought the George a little over a year ago. Caroline had a long history in the catering business while James managed one of the U.K.'s most popular pubs, The Original Oak in Leeds, a number of years ago before getting into a sales career. Wanting to get back into the pub business, James and Caroline made the plunge and bought the George in September of last year.
We were dropped off in a parking lot that you entered through a stone arch next to the George. (See map) Entering the building from the front you come into one of three indoor dining areas. This one is located on the bar level and that's where we ended up seated for the evening. It was a little loud with locals milling about. And it was also somewhat interesting that a handful of people brought their dogs into the restaurant with them. You don't see that in the States very often.
The bar area was small, but somewhat stylish and contemporary. Given how old the building was, it was a complete contrast to the outside decor of the building. Bartenders were working fast and furiously trying to keep up with all the drink orders.
Off to the side of the bar area was a little den-like dining room with a fire place. It was a cozy little room and would be a nice place to hang on a cool winters day.
Behind the bar was a step-down to another dining room that looked out onto the deck and out onto the River Avon (above right). The southern part of England sustained some heavy flooding in the late winter earlier this year and the Avon was out of its banks on a couple occasions. I was told that this particular room was under about two feet of water for a long period of time.
But the most popular place that particular summer's eve in England was on the deck along the Avon. The two tiered deck was full of people enjoying a nice cool evening along the river. And below is the scene they looked out on.
The original medieval bridge over the Avon is on the left and its hard to fathom that this tranquil river was a raging torrent of water a few months ago. I fell in love with the George at this point. I wouldn't have minded if the food was horrible from that point on.
Speaking of the food, the menu at the George is not extensive but features steaks, seafood, chicken entrees, vegetarian dishes and various appetizers. I was past the point of the notion that there were no good restaurants in England, so I was looking forward to trying a couple of things.
For an appetizer, I ended up getting the pan-fried mushrooms in a port and Stilton cheese sauce. A couple slice of homemade bread came with the appetizer. The mushrooms were wonderful and the port and Stilton cheese sauce was a great complement to them. I could have had a couple more of those for my dinner and called it a good meal.
My main entree was the char-grilled ribeye topped with a garlic/herb butter and served with triple-flashed chips (fries) and a roasted tomato. The steak was very good - tender, juicy and full of that great steak flavor. But I have to tell you - I have NEVER had fries as good as the ones at the George. First of all, they fry them in beef fat - not too healthy, yes, but OH - so good. They fry them three times in short durations. It makes the outside of the fries crispy, but keeps the inner potato nice and fluffy. They were just to die for.
One of my colleagues seated near me got the seared scallops that rested on a bed of new potatoes, black pudding and sun-dried tomatoes with watercress interspersed on the plate. He said the scallops were absolutely great.
Here's the fish and chips that my colleague Matt got. He was seated next to me and he said, "Hey, I'm in the U.K. I may as well get some fish and chips while I'm here." And it was a pretty impressive piece of beer batter haddock that they gave him. It came with the triple fried chips and a side of what were basically mashed peas. I told him the peas look they came out of a jar of baby food. He said the fish was very good.
And while on the topic of fish, our host, Doug, had ordered the George's famous fish platter as an appetizer. However, due to a missed communication in the kitchen it didn't arrive on our table until the main entrees showed up. But we were fine with that. It featured a mix of seafood including prawns in a Marie Rose sauce (which is sort of a British version of shrimp cocktail sauce that consists of ketchup, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, brandy, lemon juice and Tabasco), tempura prawns, breaded whitefish, cold smoked trout from the nearby Rockbourne Fisheries which is famous for in-stream trout fishing, crab meat, pickled cucumbers with homemade bread. The Marie Rose sauce was outstanding with the prawns - I'll have to try to make that for shrimp at some point. And I have to say that the smoked trout was excellent, as well.
For dessert after my very good meal, I signed up for the creme brulee. Our host, Doug, gave me a tutorial on what is actually the best creme brulee. "If the sugar coat on top is too hard and tough to chip through, then it usually means the custard underneath is too done and rubbery. If you can crash through the sugar coat easily and there's a bit of play in the custard, then that's the best." I've had a lot of creme brulee in my life and I had to say that I never took the time to figure out what is good or bad. I usually can tell if it's too done just by the hardness of the custard. The creme brulee at the George was nearly perfect. I got a cup of double espresso, as well. I don't know why I got it as I didn't get to sleep until after 1 a.m. as the caffeine kept me up. But it went well with the creme brulee after dinner.
Doug also ordered up a fondue for the table. It came with various things to dip into the hot chocolate and different types of granulated sugars to roll the fondue in after it comes out of the pot. I didn't try any because I was so stuffed. But it was a decadent end to a very good meal.
The notion that the U.K. doesn't have very good food went completely by the wayside that evening. Well, I knew that there were some very good restaurants in England and that our hosts would be taking us to some of them. While I really didn't try true British fare while I was in the U.K., what I had in terms of upscale meals were very good. The George was no exception. We had a very good to great meal there. You couldn't beat the ambiance of the place. It was a true highlight of our trip to the U.K.