Restaurant Review: The Catherine Wheel, Albury

Lunch with Peter Roads at The Catherine Wheel


The Catherine WheelPelham Road, Albury SG11 2LW01279 771191

IF running a village pub is hard work at the best of times, Peter Roads' job at the Catherine Wheel in Albury is doubly so. This is the pub that on Friday October 29, 2004, burned to the ground, victim of an apparent arson attack. It was the last pub in the village and the oldest, dating from around 1765, and the fire started at about 4am.

The precision with which these facts are recorded is an indication of the depth of feeling in Albury at the loss of such a treasure, one of the few places left in the village, as one resident pointed out, where locals could meet and socialise. The sense of shock is still palpable, as is the undercurrent of resentment that it took so long to rebuild, but rebuilt it was and the new Catherine Wheel opened over the August Bank Holiday weekend last year.

It is a modern structure, light and airy and much larger than its predecessor, with a big garden area for when the better weather arrives. In tune with the times, it has also changed focus, from somewhere to drink to somewhere to drink and have a meal, and the food side of the operation, under the control of chef Paul Hayes, is what is now commanding attention.

Thus Peter, who is the leaseholder and also runs as tenant the Bull Inn at Much Hadham, has the job of persuading the locals the pub they regard as theirs is in safe hands, while also filling the 65-cover restaurant, which means spreading the word as far afield as possible that the Catherine Wheel is back and worth the trip.

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The pub side of things appears in good heart, with Deuchars IPA, Breakspear Bitter and a guest beer among the real ales, and busy days see a good crowd of drinkers at the bar as well as visitors sampling the restaurant. It is clear a lot of effort is going into this side, with separate lunch and dinner menus changing almost daily and a separate Sunday lunch menu.

Lunch guests usually have a choice of six starters and 11 mains, while the evening menu has only slightly fewer. There is a neat balance between the traditional and the new, with lunch mains ranging from braised lamb shank on mash to salmon and crayfish tossed with spaghetti. There is also what is rapidly becoming the house speciality, home-made shortcrust pie of the day, usually chicken and ham or steak and kidney, and sometimes venison.

A typical evening line-up can feature starters from homemade soup of the day to chargrilled asparagus and brie tart, and mains from roast chicken breast to lemon and lime steamed monkfish on Chinese rice noodles. Sunday lunch offers the usual four roasts - beef, lamb, pork and chicken, served with a generous six vegetables - plus specials such as half roast pheasant on garlic mash and guinea fowl breast on celeriac mash. Not your average pub menu, then.

Peter is aware he is still in experimental mode and confesses the monkfish dish, at �15.95, is the most expensive he has so far offered anywhere, but it is selling well. But he agrees about the hard work. 'It's tough,' he says. 'We have the economic climate to contend with and people still don't know yet that we are here. Spreading the word is the main thing now.'

Helping that along is a new programme of themed events - steak night, curry night, gourmet night and, coming up on March 30, a casino night, complete with a jazz pianist and optional dressing up. A fish night is on the cards and already launched and going well is a 'ladies that lunch' session on Fridays at �10.95 with a limited menu of four main courses and a glass of Champagne.

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