The wench has had a funny old week. It started on a real low, got to a rather decisive middle and has ended on a relative high. Life is funny like that.
Now I don’t want to suggest that a Black Country pub is the answer to all our problems, but it’s interesting to note that a significant part of the ‘high’ involved four pubs, three good friends, two bags of scratchings, one bag of Jalapeño rifters, three portions of bread pudding, and several pints. If, like me, you’ve had a funny old week I can definitely recommend it.
This week the wench’s high was honed in Halesowen!
Wench 2 kindly offered to be designated driver, sentencing herself to an evening of lime and soda. We started off at The Whitley, a large and friendly Black Country Ales pub, with a car park at the rear and a beer garden off to the side, ideal for watching the number 9 bus trundle past.
The bar to the left hand side was warm and welcoming, and already pretty busy with what looked like post-work, Black Country boozing folk. Not a seat to be had, we chose to grace the other room with our presence. Plus I’m always a sucker for a good fireplace and overmantel.
While bloke remained loyal to the house with Pig on the Wall (Black Country Ales), chap and I enjoyed Launcelot (Goffs). If you’re desperate for your next pint of ale in The Whitley and want to get the attention of bar chap or wench then you can use the handy horn attached to the top of the bar counter flap.
I got a little bit excited when we spied some of the infamous Mario Lanza beer mats on display behind the bar. If you don’t know about this Black Country legend, well it’s our very own Banksy (well before Banksy was cool). For around 40 years a mysterious chap or wench has been sketching Mario Lanza on beer mats and leaving them in Black Country pubs. As well as becoming the stuff of local legend and rather collectable, the beer mats (and the mystery surrounding them) have earned their own documentary: Some day I’ll find you by Barney Snow. One day I hope to frame one in Chez wench.
We decided against honking our horn in The Whitley and headed off in search of The Hawne Tavern (see what I did there?). On route we passed what we thought was ‘Sex City’. On closer inspection we realised it’s called Sea City Chinese takeaway, but someone should have given them much better advice on the choice of font for the signage. There may be a few disappointed customers.
The Hawne Tavern is one of those pubs that you might not know exists, tucked off the main road on a residential street.
It was full to the brim with what felt like regulars. It certainly had that feel of a real neighbourhood pub. Lots of groups and families.
We clambered our way to the smaller bar, and whilst chap and bloke got the beers in I think I was asked three times what my order was. Very attentive bar chaps. Bloke sampled Black Mass (Abbeydale), chap went for a familiar Citra (Oakham) and I left my choice up to them. They bought me back a rather yummy Pale Rider (Kelham Island).
Not only was poor wench 2 still on lime and soda, but perching on a seat by the constantly opening back door was not much fun. There seemed to be someone dashing in and out every 30 seconds. Maybe they’d spotted the wanted man and were keen to cash in the reward.
We managed to get a seat at a table and the mad dash died down. I think everyone must have been wrestling the fugitive in the beer garden. A mass sing-a-long started up in the other room and as we weren’t nearly drunk enough to join in, we set off to our next destination.
I think we all felt really at home when we got to the King Edward VII. A large, open lounge and a particularly friendly bar wench. After the hectic atmosphere of The Hawne it was a pleasant change to have a bit of calmness. Some days I think it’s about matching the pub to your mood and we were obviously in need of space.
Bloke and chap got a pint of Bar-Steward (Acorn Brewery) whilst I chose Lemon Dream (Salopian). Fun fact: Bar-Steward is brewed in collaboration with the Bar-Steward sons of Val Doonican. Wench 2 got excited that she could at last swap lime and soda for Vimto Zero. Alas, in the life of a designated driver, it’s these small prizes that mean so much. The real excitement however was when bloke sneaked a bag of Jalapeño Chilli Rifters to the table, then proceeded to eat them with a pork scratching on top. Bloke likes to live dangerously.
Full of beer and scratchings I was a bit reluctant to move from the comfort of the King Edward VII, but bloke persuaded us that the short stroll to The Waggon & Horses was worth it. Never one to mistrust our resident expert we willingly obliged.
Once through the lovely door (that’s bloke and wench 2 shadowed in the glass there) I realised that as usual bloke was right.
Maybe it was the warmth of the beer or the fullness from the scratchings, but for this wench The Waggon & Horses had the right blend on the night. It has a more stripped-back decor which isn’t a bad thing at all, and the sort of atmosphere where it’s OK to be in a big group, or just read your book.
Obviously we took wise advice from the ales board and the helpful artwork, and bloke and chap made our beery choices. Franboozen Noir (Wentworth) for bloke, Blighty (Mr Grundy’s) for wench, Castle Hill (Mallinsons) for wench 2 and in bloke’s words ‘a Weissbeer type thing’ for chap.
I got really jealous of the Franboozen Noir and, along with chap, plumped for the chocolate and raspberry stout on the next round. Bloke went for something akin to paint stripper and wench 2 held onto her existing (and only) half. Our final round bought something of a delicious surprise. Bloke and chap bought back more Franboozen Noir for the wench, chap reverted to the ‘Weissbeer type thing’ and bloke switched to a Black Country Special Bitter (Holden’s), but it was what was secreted in bloke’s pockets that was the highlight of the evening.
Yes, you’re not mistaken. There, before this wench, lay three slabs of homemade bread pudding. It’s really hard for Black Country pubs to improve on perfection, but serving bread pudding is a noble effort. So, loaded up with three house-bricks we made our way back to the King Edward VII and the car. We don’t want to appear that we’re obsessed with our stomachs, but even loaded down with pudding we liked the look of the Sunday lunch at the King Edward VII. A return visit to be made.
Oh, and I almost forgot. How can you not like a pub that has a bit of romance behind the bar? Dame Barbara Cartland, I never thought I’d see you in a Halesowen boozer.