There's always something new and unexpected in the pub game, no matter how long you have been involved in it. Having said that, you don't really expect the unexpected in a Sam Smith's pub. OK, there may be a set of bizarre promulgations adorning the walls, advising you in polite but specific terms as to what you can or can't do and what will or will not be tolerated. Trust me though, in Sam's that's a norm - scarcely to be remarked upon at all, but rather, to be embraced as part of the ambiance - a kind of par for the course and an odd but somehow comforting enhancement to the overall experience. What is not expected though, especially in
The Kingsway Hotel is a very imposing building, more or less isolated on its own off a main road with an industrial estate behind it and little housing around it. It does though have a Hungry Horse more or less opposite it, so at least there is passing trade and the potential to attract it, though judging by the emptiness of the Kingsway, too much of it is doing passing and not enough doing stopping. I took the lovely E with me my for this bank holiday outing, in what can best and accurately be described, as pissing rain. The car park is pretty big and was more or less empty as we emerged, dripping onto the parquet floor, into a rather fetching, but decidedly bare 1930's room, with a bar to left - which most unSamslike - was illuminated by only two keg fonts, one dispensing Old Brewery Bitter and the other Taddy Lager. There is a well appointed dining room straight ahead, with, on this visit, one table silently occupied by three people. The owner of the enquiring voice turned out to be the landlady, a rather charming Scots lass from South Glasgow, who seemed rather taken aback by me being taken aback by her greeting. The confusion was sorted out when I explained we only wanted a drink. Chattily she explained that the emphasis was now on food, hence the paucity of the draught offering. I expressed my surprise at this as it seemed at odds with Humphrey Smith's usual policy and was advised in turn that it was his idea and her partner , a chef of 17 years standing had been encouraged to up the food offering which is all cooked on the premises. Well I never.
I observed that the place was, shall we say, empty other than the disconsolate lone diners who were quite possibly enjoying Brown Windsor soup followed by Woolton Pie or some such. Our chatty host explained that it was Humph's policy to open on Bank Holidays, so open they were - until six. Looking around the pub interior and building are superb. Built in 1938, it is a fantastic example of inter war pub design. Totally unspoilt, it has a plethora of original features, such as the aforementioned parquet floor, a working revolving door, panelled walls, proper fireplaces, as as well as the rather grand lamps of the time. A bit of a worm hole to the past in fact. An overspill dining room was again tastefully decorated in the same comfortable 1930s manner. Local photos enhanced the experience, but the eerie quiet must have made dining a rather soulless experience and one which I was glad I hadn't signed up to.
As I looked around and E chatted to the boss woman, the chef, bored shitless no doubt, joined us for a chat while I perused the rather unambitious menu. Oddly given the ambition, it was mostly standard British pub grub, though E approvingly noted the inclusion of liver and onions. In addition to the two keg offerings, there was a full range of Sam's bottles available at under a fiver each and even the revered Yorkshire Stingo was on sale at a modest - for this beer - £9 a pop.
You know, somehow I liked this place a lot. The landlady was a delight, the building was superb, but I can't help but thinking they'd be better off trying to attract drinkers, re-open the closed vault and if dining really is the game, up the offering a bit. I'd love to be here when it is going like a fair, but I've an idea a time machine might well be needed to achieve this.
I usually poke a bit of gentle fun at the Sam's pubs I review, but this time it just seems right to wish it well, as to lose such an architectural gem would be a great shame.
Apparently the pub only opens Wednesday to Sunday, bank holidays excepted.
The landlady was a big fan of Humph who she thought rather a hard working and nice fellow. You can only speak as you find I suppose.