Brown's, Worcester - Restaurant Review
...but beware the brutal experience of the Pizza Hut buffet, says Katie Jarvis
We love Pizza Hut! The idea that you can enter looking like early-days Twiggy and exit 40 minutes later resembling the late Cyril Smith - and all for under �6 - is one of the miracles of the modern world. Plus there's the added Russian-roulette-type excitement: mostly you exit happy to be alive; but the occasional experiences are so bad, you feel The Hague ought to be informed.
In Birmingham, during our recent canal-holiday-where-no-one-fell-in, we experience the latter. Firstly, there's the obligatory 30-minute wait on the stairs for a table (possibly surrounded by paid actors; who can tell?). We take it in turns to go off and do exciting things, with the slightly uncomfortable feeling that this could be cheating. (But we are on the canal-holiday-where-no-one-fell-in (including the dog)).
We finally secure a table in the basement and all plump for the eat-as-much-as-you-like pizza buffet. Ian and I push the boat out and pay an extra �1 each for the salad bar too. This is where it begins to go wrong. Firstly, the salad bar is like the universe itself: vast open spaces, with the occasional solid object floating around, held together by an inalienable force. In the case of the salad bar, the force is a natural disinclination to eat something that looks as if it's been around since the Big Bang.
Then there's the pizza buffet table. It's hard to eat as much as you like when it's empty. Judging by the hollow-eyed would-be diners forming a desperate edgy perimeter around it, this is not a recent state of affairs; they look like the survivors of some great nuclear disaster. When the odd pizza arrives, brought by a petrified, cowering waiter, the scene calls to mind David Attenborough, lone zebra, lions, Serengeti Plains, but without David Attenborough; not a pretty sight.
I call the manager over to complain. He's plainly bored by my comments, but magnanimously strikes �2 off the bill and tells me, "I'll do it this time, but..." �2?? �2??? In my mind's eye, the manager and I are in opposite corners of the restaurant, with a blood-thirsty crowd chanting, "Fight! Fight!" Instead, I catch a glimpse of Ian and the children urgently competing for space underneath the table. (They're not good at complaints.)
The manager, however, has caught sight of my face and, in a fiendishly clever about-turn sneers, "OK, I'll cross ALL the food off the bill, and you can just pay for drinks. I assume you were happy with those?" Now I'm wrong-footed; but as Ian and the children have already changed their names and are applying for a new life in a faraway country under a witness protection scheme, I give up.
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In compensation, the moment we navigate our long-boat into Worcester on our canal-holiday-where-no-one-fell-in (including the dog), I ring up and book Browns, a restaurant which lines the banks of the Severn. Our canal book says it's pricey but brilliant. It's wrong. It's just brilliant.
We get there early, starving hungry at 6pm, only to view the menu in slight dismay. All a bit fancy for three children. Our waiter kindly says, "Don't worry. I'll happily cancel the booking if there's really nothing they'd like, but we can always do a plain steak and chips for them and reduce the price if they only want two courses on our set menu." (I'm not making this up.) Not only that: because we're there early, Ian and I are still eligible for the lunch-time express menu, which includes many of the yummy a la carte dishes: three courses for �12.95. Even though we look as though we're on a canal-holiday-where-everyone-fell-in (hardly a decent kagool between us), and even though other diners are tiara-ed and eating lobster, the waiter treats us like royalty. "I've got children," he says, "so I always encourage people bringing kids out to restaurants."
The d�cor is contemporary, smart, pleasant; outside, the swans on the river provide amusement for the children, as we grown-ups tuck into chicken confit with a red onion relish followed by a roast pave of hake, warm chorizo and roquette salad; and soup, then slow-braised ham hock, pickled apple, baby leek and pearl barley nage. The others all finish with treacle sponges, chocolate mousses and lemon tarts, while I sample the fantastic cheeseboard, which includes Stinking Bishop. Plus they bring us as much bread as we can eat. The food is first-class; nor are the portions poor-man/cheap-menu size; it's the real deal.
It's ironic, is it not, that you can have such a poor family experience at such a family-oriented restaurant, and such a fabulous one at a restaurant where - from outside indications - you and your angels might fear to tread?
Wonderful stuff. Browns: the place where even paupers are made to feel kings.
Value for money 9