It’s one of the great success stories of rural Shropshire. Wood’s Brewery was at the vanguard of a real ale revolution, leading from the front as the nation turned off frothy lager and fell in love with the sophisticated flavours of proper beer.
And while others have come and gone in recent decades, Wood’s has kept the fire burning. Creating a series of flavoursome ales, it’s been a bastion of quality and innovation. Raw ingredients are mixed and hand-brewed in south Shropshire to deliver the perfect pint. Little wonder it has won so many awards and become so popular among locals across the region, not to mention members of Camra.
Based in Wistanstow, near Craven Arms, the brewery sits beside a delightful country pub, The Plough Inn, which was established in 1774. It is an archetypal hostelry with decent food, sports on TV and plenty of delicious beer.
In recent times, the brewery has changed hands. And its savvy owners seem intent on raising Wood’s profile so that it becomes a regional/national player, rather than a well-kept secret among discerning Shropshire drinkers. They have every chance of success. The Wood’s brand is one of the strongest in the region; a byword for quality and with new investment and a hatful of ideas it’s time for Wood’s to soar.
The pub itself is light and airy with a towering ceiling, walls painted in neutral colours and plenty of natural light. It’s an ideal spot to meet friends, enjoy a casual supper or head out for date nights.
Cask ales in the bar are identified with beautiful oak pump handles – whichever designer created them deserves an award – and the menu fits the bill at all times of day, with bar snacks, sandwiches, lunch items and dinner options.
When my friend and I visited on a balmy and busy summer’s evening to enjoy great hospitality and enjoyable food the pub was reasonably full. Tables of 11, eight, three and a couple of doubles made it a busy evening for a Wednesday – a sure sign that The Plough Inn is doing well.
And that’s cause for celebration. For as many of Shropshire’s rural pubs have closed in recent years, depriving drinkers and diners alike of the choice that once existed, The Plough Inn remains full of life and vibrancy.
The food is decent, rather than spectacular, the service great and the beer a delight. All of which adds up to a rock solid seven out of ten. But I’ve skipped ahead and we ought to rewind to the food.
My friend and I ate from both the regular menu and the specials board, grazing on a range of dishes. They were entirely pleasant.
We started with a dish of honey mustard sausages and a humble bowl of nachos. The sausages were a treat, the nachos simple but fine. Shropshire has a number of exceptional butchers – in addition to a host of decent micro breweries – and the honey mustard bangers were a treat. A generous number of sausages had been oven-baked, giving them more flavour than those popped under the grill, before being doused in whole grain mustard and sweet honey.
Savoury, sweet and decidedly more-ish, we worked our way through them with glee. There’s a lot to be said for a decent bar snack – and the sweet-savoury bangers were just that.
My friend’s nachos were loaded with melted cheese, chilli and salsa; a hunger-sating assemblage of starchy carbs and flavoursome protein with a hit of chilli heat. She crunched relentlessly until the plate was polished clean.
Our mains featured on the evening’s specials board and gave the chef an opportunity to show a little imagination and skill.
A goat’s cheese salad had been dressed with balsamic and featured a range of interesting, bitter, summery leaves – rather than the dull pieces of lettuce and frisse that supermarkets offer. Blueberries and walnuts were generously scattered around the large piece of melty goat’s cheese, making for a super summer’s dish. Light but flavoursome, with acid cutting through the rich cheese and sweet balancing it out, it was a well constructed dish.
The other main was a treat. Three pieces of halloumi had been deep fried in a crunch Wood’s beer-infused batter and served alongside a portion of chips. The batter was delicious; light and crisp. The cheese was pleasant while the golden brown chips also had plenty of crunch. A side salad created the illusion of healthy food.
We were strategic in our eating, leaving a little of our generously portioned mains so as to have room for pudding.
She ordered an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream while I ate a Wistanstow mess. The mess comprised smashed meringue with blueberries, strawberries and lightly whipped cream. It was delightful and had just the right amount of fruit. The crumble was equally good; nutty, buttery and sweet with ice cream that slowly melted into the pieces of stewed apple.
Greedily, we ordered a slice of the house pie and a piece of bakewell to take away. They gave us a taste of the lunchtime selection of bar snacks and were a treat, with good pastry on both. Happy days. Service was excellent throughout. Two waiter-barmen were pleasant, engaging and helpful during the course of our evening.
Polite and attentive, they were efficient in their delivery of food and engaged in conversation when they visited our table. Both were a credit to The Plough Inn.
Shropshire has a dearth of decent eating pubs these days. A once-thriving sector has been hit hard by competition from supermarket ale sales and restaurants and the market is over-supplied. Only the best survive, therefore, and the Plough Inn is among them.
It’s an unfussy venue where there is no pretence. It offers the simplest of food – though the chef cooks it well. It doesn’t try to compete with venues that are in the running for awards, nor does it have ideas above its station. Humble, welcoming and with a mix of locals drinking beer and diners our for something to eat, it’s a thoroughly pleasant place.