As the longest serving ale house in Bristol and with food served daily, until ten o'clock, The Shakespeare Tavern, (which derives its name from the Theatre Royal in nearby King Street) is seemingly an ideal spot to satisfy a sporadic need for some good, old fashioned pub-grub. And, feeling a little fragile after the alcohol-fuelled antics of the 'night before', the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I agreed to rendezvous at this very establishment with the intention of finding uncomplicated comfort-food that would hit the hangover without breaking the bank...
Date and Time: Sunday 22nd April 2012, 16:30
Name of Establishment: The Shakespeare Tavern*
Location: 68 Prince Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: To counteract the dreaded après-drinking afternoon slump!
A 'Greene King' pub of traditional calibre; this former Georgian mansion (dating back to 1725) boasts a cosy interior which can veer towards a warm, welcoming retreat in the colder Months (complete with log fire) and a light, airy kick-back (with the facility for a little alfresco action), when the weather picks up. Original features add a rather charming quality to the décor with smart oak panelling throughout, striking bay windows and a rounded mahogany staircase which ascends to the kitchen above. Yet despite its historical appeal and, in fact, a rather thorough menu of hearty-sounding culinary classics, a catalogue of errors balances its more positive attributes. Yes, despite the reassuringly long wait before our mains materialised, (which for me – perhaps a little naively so - always indicates freshly-cooked fare as opposed to the use of a microwave) as well as their ample presentation and the smiley service that ensued, both dishes - a fish finger sandwich made with multi-grain bread for me (£3.45) and the sausage 'n mash for the BFF (£5.45) - were a little lack lustre to say the least.
I’ll begin with a strength and the fish finger content itself which, I'm pleased to report, was well-proportioned and tasty; constituting generous chunks of white flaked fish within a light batter which was melt-in-the-mouth in terms of its disposition. However, with soggy supermarket-style sliced bread which, to my taste, had been over-buttered as well as a limp salad and a side-order of skin-on fries (£1.95) which seemed to take the concept of crispy to a new level (which bordered on incineration), it was all a little disappointing. The BFF was also suitably unimpressed commenting that the Gloucestershire Old Spot sausages which had been doused with a redcurrant and Rioja jus, were decidedly average in terms of their quality and the mash a little bland. She mentioned that the deep-fried onion rings were crunchy and flavoursome but not outstandingly so. Thus, although neither dish contained anything inedible enough to warrant sending it back, neither proved particularly enjoyable - an outcome which reminded me of something a colleague once said whereby, ‘if you’re going to die a calorific death, you’d want to at least go out with a bang…!’
When it comes to drinks to accompany one’s meal, The Shakespeare offers five cask ales, three draught ciders, four draught lagers and over fifteen different types of wine – phew! Yet despite this abundant array of tempting tipples which incidentally, appear reasonably-priced and appropriately maintained, the BFF and I confined ourselves to the lighter line-up; sipping at sodas given the primary motive for our visit!
Consequently, you know when you're feeling rather worse for wear and really craving the satisfaction of well-portioned, home cooked and wholesome cuisine – a hunger left hanging with the mediocre meal that is put before you? Well, that was well and truly the case on this occasion – the dishes we has opted for, although passable in terms of their execution, not quite not hitting the spot; appearing rather more substantial than they were upon consumption. As a country-wide chain with a website claiming to facilitate the location of your local 'Proper Pub', I would question whether The Shakespeare Tavern (and maybe even its counterparts) needs to up its game somewhat to bring it in line with the establishments arguably more deserving of the ‘Proper Pub’ badge – yes, it’s friendly, offers value-for-money and inhabits a number of deals intended to save its clientèle a bob or two, (it is also perfectly placed to serve Bristol’s drinking culture) but when it comes to the food itself, it just isn’t up to par – sort it out guys because Shakespeare may have once written, ‘drink down all unkindness' – as scrolled above the bar - but he also stated that ‘When workmen strive to do better than well, they do confound their skill in covetousness'....enough said!
And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave The Shakespeare Tavern a rating of 5/10 and in three words, described the dish she had chosen as 'mediocre and stodgy'.