I’ve amusingly become one of those people that returns to the same place for holidays. A slave to my first born’s need for familiarity, we’ve been to Devon three years in a row. Having stayed in a family room for a wedding weekend, Premier Inn seems to have usurped Hotel Du Vin as our short break hotel of choice (number one son LOVED the breakfast choice featuring Coco Pops). But more on that another time.
It’s the pull of the contentedly familiar that also draws us back to The White Hart Pub in Pirbright, Surrey. We have dear friends who not only live south of the river but, rather inconveniently, south of the M25 as well. Pirbright is a well to do little village near Woking that is a sort of halfway point for us and our friends. It also happens to have a cosy little gastropub where the staff are very switched on to Serving the Kids First.
For a start, its location is perfect. Just opposite a pleasant village green with a pretty duck pond and a small (slightly scruffy) playground. It’s just the right size to go for a post-lunch stroll to give the kids and adults a chance to stretch their legs and burn off pudding. The pub does have a garden for those rare moments when the sun’s out and it’s warm enough to eat alfresco. One day we’ll be lucky enough to attempt that.
Don’t be put off by the large menu, the food is very good. The kids’ menu has about 4 or 5 choices: mini-burgers, pasta, chicken, fish and chips plus a whole pot of ice-cream for pudding. They do actually serve them first and let us adults linger a while to ponder the more extensive grown up menu. Number one son went for the spaghetti with meatballs, a generous portion for a 4 year old, yet he somehow managed to inhale the lot before our mains turned up. I ordered the surf n turf without the surf. It was so much better than I was expecting – a succulent slab of slow roasted pork belly resting on a bed of mash, topped with a crisply battered apple fritter and a velvety slice of black pudding on the side. A million calories and totally worth the sitting-in-30-minutes-of traffic-on-the-North-Circular. The baby was offered various bits from everyone’s plate but only managed to nibble on a few green beans and then lasso himself and anyone with range on some spaghetti strands.
Number one son and our friends’ daughter sloped off into a corner to compare notes (talk at each other) while the parents tucked into their dishes. Our friends’ baby sat beautifully in his highchair for most of the meal, diligently opening his mouth for spoons and snacks. Our own baby played his usual game of pass the parcel, with himself as the parcel. So both my husband and I got to have that half distracted conversation with friends where you end up repeating yourself a lot and not really ever finishing what you meant to say. It’s ok though, we’ve massively lowered our expectations on what constitutes a ‘catch up’ with other parents. If we come away with 3 new pieces of information then we can nod our heads and say ‘lovely to catch up’ during the goodbyes.
The kids peaked early on their ice-cream, about half an hour before we’d finished our mains. But I stubbornly insisted on ordering pudding even though we may have been outstaying our welcome with the kids now running laps around the table. Despite all our attempts at shovelling food into the baby he’s still breastfeeding so I NEED to keep my energy levels up. I can confirm that the chocolate and salted caramel pot was every bit as rich, gooey and heavenly as it looks. Definitely only for those looking to gain weight.
We finally got round to paying the bill and changing nappies that needed changing (downstairs baby-change in the disabled loos), re-layering the hoodies, cardies and coats onto the 4 year olds and herding our party out the door and over to the park. As the dads pushed the kids on the swings the other mum and I worked out the last time we’d been here based on how pregnant we had been. We’d both had a slightly worrying time with the beginning of our pregnancies so it was something of a relief to be able to return to this neutral ground, this familiar place, where we’d last been so nervous with both our ‘happy ever afters’ to share. Next time we meet here, I mused, the babies will be toddlers, the ground will be drier and they’ll be running after their older siblings trying to climb onto the slide that’s too high for them. And I’ll get to try something else on the dessert menu.