16.5/20 Proper pub, plus.
If you’re not interested in squirrel kebabs and possum and Merino wool socks, skip the Preamble and go straight to the review.
It started when Zebedee said he had sold squirrel kebabs in a teepee at the Frampton Show. We were sitting with Gerald in The Woolpack in Slad.
’ Mini pitta breads with a blob of mushy peas and four bits of squirrel,’ said Zebedee. ‘They sold like hot cakes a £2 a pop. Couldn’t make enough of them.’
‘They’re the devil to skin, squirrels,’ he went on. ‘ I used pliers to get the fur off the thighs and then cut the nuggets of meat I needed for the kebabs from there.’
‘They’re easier to skin when they’re still warm,’ said Gerald. ‘We used to shoot them on the farm when I was a boy.’
‘ For food? ‘ asked Zebedee.
‘Well, what did you do with them?’
‘We cured the skins.’
‘With salt and alum.’
‘I never worked that out. I think I wanted to make a coat,’ said Gerald.
‘You could’ve made squirrel tail badges,’ said Zebedee. ‘We did, for kids, just sticking a pin through the tail. They were very popular until a gypsy lady came in and bought the lot. She said they were good luck. They were, for her.’
From there the conversation moved on to the subject of socks made from possum fur and Merino wool. Did you know they make socks from possum fur and merino wool in New Zealand? Well, I didn’t, not until then. Very comfortable and hard wearing, apparently, and you don’t have to wash them as often as conventional socks, so Gerald said, and he should know as he was wearing a pair. That’s pub talk for you, random, meandering and full of wisdom. You never know where a conversation is going to start or where it will end. That’s why I spend so much time in them.
The Woolpack is a proper pub, perched by the road in Slad, an odd corner of Gloucestershire. Four small rooms strung together. Wooden benches, well-worn tables and chairs. The ghost of Laurie Lee haunting the bar. Black panelling. Photographs turning yellow with age on the walls that might have once been white and gone cream with age but are probably just painted cream. Proper fires in winter. A deck with an uninterrupted view across the Slad valley for summer. Local beers (I rarely stray beyond Uley Bitter, myself) beautifully kept. Local ciders. Reasonable wines. Crisps and pork scratchings. A cheerful tolerance of children and dogs and odds and sods. No music, unless it’s live. Easy going, cheerful, accommodating, friendly, properly hospitable. It feels as of it’s always been this way.
The nature and tone of the Woolpack owe a great deal to Dan Chadwick, artist, designer and Lord of the Dance, who lives just over the hill. He bought it from the previous owner and has restored it to being the model of a country pub by dint of a rigorous sense of the past and a keen sense of how that can be made to live in contemporary times.It manages to be both local drinking parlour and wayside watering hole. When I go in, I step out of the continuum of time. Sometimes I just sit and drink and sometimes I just sit and drink and eat.
Ah, eat. Snipe on toast? What are the chances of seeing that on a pub menu? But there were a few months ago, only four of them, an occasional bounty, dropped in by a regular, and when they were gone, that was it. The bird was exquisite, precisely roasted, sexily gamely, sitting with miniature plumpness on a slice of toasted sourdough, properly spread with its innards and being to go soft in a gravy of resonant gravity.
The devilled kidneys, on the other hand, are menu staples, the finest example that I’ve come across recently of a dish that seems to be going through something of a renaissance at the moment – a hummock of tender kidneys, pink at the core, on the same sourdough toast; a pool – not a sea – of sauce of beautifully judged punch and pitch that oozes quietly over the plate.
The whole menu is planned and the kitchen run with exemplary intelligence, impeccable taste and assurance by Adam Glover. There’s a balance between the standards – pork pie, pickled walnut and English mustard; mussels in cider; ham, egg and chips burger and fries; fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding – and the individual or daily dishes – sardines on toast with salsa verde; red mullet with lentils; lamb shank poached in stock with Jersey Royals; mutton curry with friend potatoes; blood orange and frangipane tart with clotted cream.
Each dish is done with serious attention to the quality of the ingredients and their respectful treatment. So the burgers are made to order, thick, juicy and meaty; the batter on the fish is light and crisp; the ham is top quality local, pink as a rose, and frilled with white fat; the chips are golden, fat and floury. Salsa verde is bright and sharp; the lentils an earthy mulch, with livelier flavours threaded through the lamb shank soft and collapsing from the bone and light and delicate; and so on and so. Not a dud in the whole menu. Merriment in every mouthful.
A first course will set you back £5-£10 ; main courses £12 – £20; puddings £6-£7; cheese £10. For food of this quality, that’s a snip. Throw in the beer and the conversation, and you’ll never want to leave.
The Woolpack Inn, Slad RoadStroud, GL6 7QA
Tel: 01452 813429
NB. The two codgers in the photo are (left) Zebedee Helm, artist, illustrator, cartoonist and squirrel kebabiste and (right) Dan Chadwick, artist, designer and proprietor.