The Ostrich Inn, Newland
Somewhere, in the dark depths of the Forest of Dean, is a fabulous inn that's worth wrestling with the sat nav to seek out ...
The Ostrich Inn in Newland is not the easiest place to find. Even the woman on the GPS sounded tearful at times: some of her instructions were obviously wild guesses (I should know; that's the exclusive basis on which I map-read). Like when the road zigzagged and she hazarded: "Do a u-turn, then turn left". What?? She's clearly from London. I told Ian he should have stuck with John Cleese.
My dad's the best. Whenever he map-reads, he'll confidently issue instructions right up until the very moment when, instead of the M4, we surprisingly arrive via some sort of narrow lane-cum-footpath at a sheer cliff face. At which point, he'll turn to the driver and accusingly say, "I think you've gone wrong." Blood bath.
Ian can't understand why I have to turn my map every time we turn a corner. I can't understand how he can keep his map pointing in the same direction. (I could do this, but only if I wildly swivelled my head to compensate.) Only vacuuming demonstrates a greater divide between the sexes: he hoovers in straight rows up and down. You could bowl on our striped carpets.
I like the Forest of Dean - Ian's late and much-loved grandmother lived in Cinderford, and every time we visited, I felt like I was making a guest appearance in Heartbeat. It's the kind of place which hasn't lost its values; where a new line in white bread at the Co-op is enough to generate a frisson of excitement. (OK; I'll be up to apologise next week. But I genuinely do like the Forest. Honest.)
I'd heard that the Ostrich Inn was good, which is a feat in itself for such a tucked-away little place. And then, of course, there's the intriguing name. The Forestry Commission has recently confirmed there are big cats living in the area - caught on thermal imaging cameras. One theory is that these are one-time pets, turned out into the wild when the law tightened up. My personal theory is that it's all to do with climate change. You may scoff now, but when (say around March 21, 2011) Coleford is characterised by wildebeest majestically crossing African-type savannas in summer, and River-Wye ice floes stocked with Emperor penguins in winter, you'll be the ones apologising. Remember you heard it here first.
Anyway, turns out the name's neither tropical nor topical; it's to do with the Probyn family, once big cheeses in Newland, whose coat of arms featured an ostrich with a key in its beak. (Can sense there's a joke here - possibly to do with feeling peckish - but will avoid it.) Setting aside the potentially difficult parking, this is the most beautifully-positioned pub, opposite the church, with all the charm and attractiveness its long history (dating back to the 13th century) would suggest.
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Inside, in spite it being before 7pm on a Saturday night, the bar is already teeming with diners and drinkers. There are curious glances as we wait at the bar for our local ales, but it's a jovial, friendly atmosphere; not a hint of Wicker Man about it. In the micro restaurant, we're put next to a blazing fire, which is either the most realistic gas fire I've ever seen, or the least realistic real fire. (It turns out to be the latter.)
The d�cor is a combination of quaint and quirky. There's the kind of carpet, for example, that would have an estate agent saying 'You'll have to ignore the carpet'. (Great advice - thanks. I was on the verge of making a decision about where I live for the next 10 years based solely on the previous owner's floor coverings.) But it's a Patrick Moore of a place; though the constituent parts may be found wanting, the whole has an insouciant charm that's strangely endearing.
The bar menu is cheaper than the a la carte, with dishes such as old English sausages, and a cheesy forester's feast (an excellent veggie option). The restaurant menu is far posher: rabbit rillette with spiced damson chutney and toasted ciabatta for him; pan-fried wild mushrooms and wilted roquette with Dijon mustard mayonnaise for me (both �6). And there are some fishy choices on the specials board. I'm not bowled over by mine, though I am - by the time the main course comes - utterly in love with the young chap who serves us. A heady combination of Smithy from Gavin and Stacey, and an escapee from the French Revolution, he's an unusual waiter, with character, knowledge, outstanding charm and cheerfulness.
We continue with a canon of Welsh lamb, marjoram butter-crushed new potatoes and a port and redcurrant jus (�17.50); and a venison pie (with a very odd crust) cooked in port, orange and juniper with a fresh herb dumpling lid (yup - that's the one) (�16). And finished with a fruit crumble and a raspberry gateau. With all the fantastic Forest fare around, it did seem a shame that the local food they obviously use is not flagged up a little more.
And so to sum up: the food isn't knock-out, and certainly not cheap. Furthermore, the Ostrich is out in the sticks; and without etiquette niceties (pulling out chairs; unfolding napkins for you; refilling wine glasses, etc), though the meals are generous - quite a rarity.
So why am I about to recommend it pretty much whole-heartedly? I'm not altogether sure, to be truthful. The best I can come up with is this: 'convivial' is not a word I'd often use for dining-out experiences, but it sums up the Ostrich to a tee. Probably a combination of size, intimacy, friendliness and localness. Puzzlingly, it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in a long time. One of the many mysteries of the Forest.
Value for money 7
The Ostrich Inn is at Newland, Forest of Dean GL16 8NP; 01594 833260; www.theostrichinn.com