There is a village that’s Forever England. Worfield is located in verdant countryside on the road between Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth. It’s quintessentially English.
There’s a small village school with teachers who know every child by their first name. There’s a church that’s stood proudly for generations. There’s a sense of community among local parishioners, who look after one another and take pride in their village. And, of course, there’s a pub that’s at the heart of it all.
Rural pubs have had an awful time of it over the past ten years. While once the counties of Staffordshire and Shropshire boasted one in every village, now they are increasingly rare.
Competition from other forms of entertainment, the ease with which alcohol can be bought in supermarkets, the fragmentation of society and lack of community cohesion and a change in social mores and the prevailing culture have hit landlords hard.
While once rotund landlords and ladies filled their venues with darts-throwing, domino-playing, pool-ball-potting, real-ale-quaffing, something-off-the-back-of-a-lorry-selling punters, now there’s little more than a hardcore.
Except for places like Worfield.
In Worfield, tradition is alive and well. The area has more pubs and restaurants per square metre than most areas in our region and the Dog Inn and Davenport Arms remains ever-popular.
When I called in for a midweek lunch earlier this month, the place had the feel of a Saturday night. One room was fully booked, another was more than half full. Show those numbers to your average High Street restaurateur and he’ll be salivating harder than a dog that’s walked through the desert.
The Dog doesn’t provide anything that can meaningfully be described as ‘a gastronomic experience’. In keeping with the traditional theme, it’s all roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, burgers or fish specials. Modernity has not yet reached the pretty village located near to the Shropshire border. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The average age of diners was probably around the 70+ mark as pensioners tucked into Christmas party food. Some were even wearing paper party hats. Rock’n’roll. And I’m reasonably sure I heard a cracker – though it may just have been a farmer’s tractor backfiring.
Service was brisk. It was marshalled by a landlady who was mature in years and brimful of experience and can-do spirit. She was quick around tables, eagle-eyed throughout and provided good instruction to a youthful waiter who worked hard and was a credit to his employers. Ain’t no machine like a well-oiled machine.
The food was simple but provided decent quality. There are many, many pubs across our region where unskilled cooks murder frozen chips, overcook poorly-sourced cuts of meat and overboil vegetables like a 1950s housewife.
The Dog is not one of them. Though the menu provided little room for inspiration or flair, the chef managed to prove a decent level of competence.
I ate the simplest food I’ve eaten in many, many years. Breaded, deep fried mushrooms were served with a side salad and mayo dip while a burger was garnished with crisp, salty bacon, strong, melted cheese and a side of sweet onion rings and fat, crunchy chips. Hell, it wasn’t healthy, but it tasted pretty good.
The mushrooms were beige. While the outer breadcrumb was nice and crisp, the inner was wet and unappetising as the mushroom’s high water content found it had nowhere to go.
The salad was fine – let’s be honest, a tomato in winter, a few slices of red onion and a couple of, erm, summery leaves aren’t a good look. Edible, fine, but nothing to write home about.
The burger was decent. Handmade in the Worfield kitchen, the meat was good, though a little underseasoned. It crumbled as I cut into it, like a sandcastle left out in the sun. Rather than staying whole and oozing umami-rich, gelatinous flavour, it was a big old ball of meat that had been slapped into a thick, round patty.
But while it lacked finesse and sophistication – eating a Dog Inn burger is liked being punched in the face by a cow – it offered quality cuts, unlike too many corner-cutting cheapskates masquerading as value-for-money pubs.
The bun was awful. Soft, squidgy like a mattress and filled with so much gluten that I thought I might just strap it to my waist, to save my digestive system the troubling of converting it to an extra notch on the belt.
Whatever happened to buttery brioche, to intoxicating sourdough, to buns made with love? The Dog’s version was no better than something you’d find in a pack of 12 at Asda.
The bacon and cheese were great. Too many chefs kill a bacon cheese burger by undercooking the bacon. In contrast, the Worfield kitchen was spot on with a slither of cured pig that was sweet, salty and delicious.
The chips were monumental. As fat as giant’s fingers, crisper than a packet of Walker’s and as golden as a sunset on San Francisco, they were magnificent. Onion rings were sweet within and encased with a golden batter than was as crunchy as car wheels on a gravel road.
The portion size was absurd. If I were a 28 stone man of 7’ 4” stature then maybe, just maybe, it would have been doable. Happily, I am not, and more than half of the too-generous plate was returned to the kitchen. Lord knows, The Dog provides value but I wasn’t the only customer that lunchtime who’d been given way, way, way too much food.
And so to the scores on the doors. It’s all about context. The Dog won’t be winning any awards for reinventing the wheel. It will, however, continue to satisfy a discerning local population that’s looking for good value, honest grub, high quality service with a smile and food that’s cooked accurately and with love by a hard-working kitchen team.
It’s clearly popular with retirees – and with good reason. I have seen the future. Thirty years from now, I fully intend to be lunching at The Dog and Davenport.
I have seen the future.
And it doesn’t look half bad.
Soup of the day with fresh bread roll, £3.95
Spring rolls filled with duck with a sweet and sour dip, £4.95
Salmon and prawn salad with marie rose sauce, £5.95
Pie of the week, £9.95
Homemade chilli with rice, £9.95
Sea bass fillets gently grilled in a lemon and caper butter, £14.50
Salad bowl, £3.25