Football fans are used to this. Diners, however, are not. The cold terraces and chill winds that whip through April and May might be deemed normal by fans of Premier League football teams; they’re not so welcome among those sitting down for chicken breast, potato fondant and wild garlic pesto.
Yet restaurants across the region are making hay, even though the sun’s not always shining. There’s been a huge turn-out among diners happy to return to eating out and pubs with patios, wind breakers and outdoor seating have been cashing in.
The Boot, at Orleton, near Ludlow, is very definitely a pub. It is also one of the best in the county.
Funded and supported by the community, it serves good quality ales, snacks and sandwiches and has an exceptional team in charge.
It opened its doors post-lockdown, as soon as venues were allowed, and the people returned in droves.
For them, like so many others, it’s been the light at the end of the tunnel.
They might have expected less trade. After all, cooling easterly winds have been a regular feature of recent weather forecasts.
However, guests have been undeterred and tables set beneath an awning have been habitually full.
My friend and I visited for a light lunch. The joys of eating out with friends were palpable not just at our table but at several others.
People gathered with rugs across cold knees, huddled in winter coats and with hands stuffed into pockets when they weren’t engaged with knives and forks.
There was a hubbub of noise and gleeful chatter as sociable creatures exchanged stories of lockdown, Covid and what might come next.
Three-course dinners might be an option for those more used to frigid air, though my friend and I opted for a single course – a classic sandwich – as we enjoyed our re-introduction to eating out.
The Boot’s menu comprises plenty of classics; there were starters of breaded whitebait, cured salmon and baked camembert, followed by mains of fish and chips, burger and fries and homemade fish pie with a cheesy mash topping and greens.
For us, however, it was all about bacon as we both selected The Boot’s fabulous bacon butty, filled with Tudge’s thick-cut bacon, thin slices of fast-melting brie and a sweet/sharp onion marmalade.
The sandwiches were accompanied by chunky chips and a brilliant leaf salad with a grain mustard vinaigrette.
When venues are serving such simple food, it has to be well cooked – there are no places to hide.
Thankfully, The Boot’s chef knew his or her onions and we were both entirely satisfied.
The Boot’s commitment to local produce was evident with the choice of meat. Bacon farmed within a few miles, slaughtered nearby and cured locally was delicious. Salty, meaty and slightly sweet, it had been perfectly cooked so the edges were pleasingly crisp.
The brie melted into a gooey, cheesey mess – almost like butter – as it lay within the sandwich while the onion marmalade cut through any cloyingness from the cheese.
The chunky chips were pretty good with roughed up crispy edges in a honeyed shade of gold. Each was crisp and exploded with a puff of steam as their fluffy inners were revealed.
The salad, meanwhile, was faultless. Made with Lane Cottage leaves – again, locally sourced – it was dressed expertly and added intrigue and a hint of bitterness to the dish. Frankly, we were both thrilled. We’d ummed and aahed about something more substantial – no, not Michael Gove’s Scotch Egg – but were pleased to have settled on a dish that was perfectly executed, featured the best of local produce and left us happily full without becoming uncomfortable.
Besides, at 3pm on a windswept mid-spring afternoon, the idea of prolonging our stay – happy though we were – was beyond either of our constitutions.
There will be sunnier days ahead and soon hospitality will open its doors wide as we’re allowed back inside.
Such pubs as The Boot are enormously important to the region’s economy.
In an era when pubs have been closing down quickly, The Boot represents the best in its class.
The Boot Inn has operated as a thriving pub at the heart of Orleton village for many years.
Unfortunately the pub was closed in 2017 and was at risk of being sold for residential development.
The community formed a Community Benefit Society which put together a bid to purchase the Boot Inn and reopen it as a business in the village.
If successful, that would safeguard the future of the Boot Inn as a community facility for many years to come.
There is not one but two listed buildings on the site, both listed by Herefordshire County Council to protect them as valuable architectural assets, which they feel strongly should be upheld.
The parish council has listed the pub as an ‘asset of community value’ which gave the community the right to bid for its purchase.
The objective was to have a friendly and welcoming village pub that served local beers and sensibly priced freshly prepared food.
As support for a community pub grew, locals realised that the Boot Inn could be more than a pub and it set about introducing a range of community amenities including a café, coffee and lunch clubs for older and less mobile people.
Having great landlords and staff has been critical to the pub’s survival and growth.
My friend and I marvelled at the warmth exuded by teams who, frankly, must have been half-freezing.
Attentive, efficient and welcoming, they radiated generosity and were clearly pleased to be doing what they do best, as they provided exceptional hospitality for locals.
The memories of lockdown will soon be erased as such venues as The Boot put a smile on the faces of locals.
Great food, simply served and responsibly sourced then served with a smile – The Boot has the perfect recipe for success.