Mock John Major all you like – Y-fronts, Back to Basics, that funny nasal high-pitched creak of a voice, Edwina (ugh) Currie – but the Dish Detective has always had a soft spot for his vision of Britain.
In 1993, facing the Maastricht rebels who threatened to bring his government down, he argued that being in Europe would not stop us being English, and that ‘50 years from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers’.
Don’t know how many pools fillers are still around in the internet lottery age, but 25 years down the line, you can tick off a few of these with a trip to the Bat and Ball.
Want a view of rolling hills, ripening wheat, and a decent pint, even before you get to the thwack of leather on willow across the road? It’s enough to make you feel patriotic.
The Dish Detective had always heard that the Bat and Ball was a very good pub, but had only ever driven past it. The Dish Detective had also heard it was a famous institution as cricket was invented there.
Fortunately your sustenance sleuth was wrong on only one count. Cricket may not have been born at Broadhalfpenny Down – developed, perhaps you could say, or popularised –as a display on one of the walls explains, but dear lord the pub still smashes it for six (and if you think that the Dish Detective will not, ahem, slip in every cricket pun possible until this is over, you are sadly mistaken).
We went on a sunny Saturday for a late lunch. It was busy in the garden – and friendly, with a couple of drinkers having a chat on the way in – although being a warm day, and after peak lunch time, inside was quieter, with tables to choose from.
A small, but noticeable point, all the tables were spaced out. You wouldn’t feel on top of your neighbours, and there was also plenty of room to pull up a high chair for the baby without feeling you were blockading everyone else in.
You can tell the Bat and Ball has been a pub for years; it is properly put together, without identikit decorations but with much-loved episodes from its history. It’s worth a walk around to drink it in. Also worth drinking in is the beer. The Bat and Ball is owned by Fullers so it’s Pride and HSB all the way, but it’s a well-kept pint – unlike some places which fail the test and serve Pride on the cold side which is tantamount to treason.
So to the food, which breaks no boundaries but is none the worse for it. It’s gastro pub grub. A burger and chips (£12.50 with an extra £1 for onion rings) for the DD’s companion felt handmade, as did the chips. The meat, from Chalcroft Farm near Fair Oak, was good, juicy and tender.
The DD went for a barbecue bacon chop (£13.50), which was tremendous. Charred not burnt, but importantly for a thick piece of bacon cooked properly all the way through. Nothing worse than a crunch on the edge turning to squidge in the middle. This came with a pineapple ketchup, a fried duck egg and chips. You felt you were in safe hands.
The Dish Detective opted for a second pint of Pride (£4) instead of a pudding (on a sunny Saturday rules are meant to be broken) while our companion went for a vanilla panna cotta, which while passable was the only wrong note. Even for a dessert it was sweet, losing the impact of a creamy dish. But this was no grumble.
Sometimes you want the familiar, but done well. You don’t want to be bowled a googly.
You want a pub with 20-20 vision that does the basics well.
It’s not complicated but the Bat and Ball proves it’s an all-out winner.
The Bat and Ball, 023 9263 2692, Hyden Farm Lane
Child Friendly 4