Food review: The Furness Railway, Barrow
WHILE the cat's away, the mice will play. Or, in my case, when the dogs are at the groomer's, the owners can head off for lunch without two pooches staring mournfully out of the window through four reproachful "don't leave me" eyes.
On Tuesday, having waved our two goodbye at the doggy salon for the day, my husband and I pondered where to go for lunch. What with it being the day after Easter Monday, the Lakes were out - neither of us having masochistic tendencies.
The Furness peninsula it was, then, so we headed to Barrow for lunch in a pub neither of us had ever been to: the Furness Railway in Abbey Road. Formerly the excellent Co-op department store, the last time I set foot in the building had been to purchase a pair of Green Stripe plimsolls; and despite having had many a night out in Barrow over the years, the Railway has for some reason never been on my route.
A veritable horde of tables and chairs optimistically occupy the pavements around the building (who are they kidding - this is Barrow!), roped off like the stars' runway at the Oscars. Needless to say, not a single soul was sitting outside, despite it being a sunny afternoon.
We headed inside, past a gaggle of smokers at the main entrance, and set about finding a table. It's not difficult: the place is huge, with seating areas galore and space for goodness knows how many diners. After procuring two glasses of lime and soda (no one can say we don't live it large), we settled ourselves in the quieter end of the pub, heading towards Ramsden Square, if you will.
It's so large, it had to me a whiff of the works canteen about it, albeit a works canteen with carpets. The Railway was refurbished a little over 18 months ago, and has gained a reputation as a popular place for contractors to stay. It's smart enough inside, with a fairly monochrome colour scheme shot through with splashes of purples and mauve, but some of the tables and chairs are showing signs of wear and tear.
This being a Wetherspoons establishment, the food is plentiful and very cheap, with meals and drinks deals, two for one offers etc, as all big pub chains now seem to offer. We ordered some grilled halloumi to share as a starter (£2.89), followed by a large mixed grill for Gordon (£11.15) and a New York deli burger at £6.15 for me. The menus give a precise calorific content of each element of each meal, which in one way is good (socially responsible, health aware blah blah blah), but in other ways is rather off-putting.
Our grilled halloumi, which arrived so quickly it was practically on the table before I'd got back from the bar to order it, contained 475 calories, which was OK, as we were sharing. There was plenty of cheese, it was hot and it was tasty. A tick.
So far the only irritation had been the behaviour of an old man sitting around the corner from us who kept sneezing, over and over - as if he were in training for some sort of sneezing endurance event - in the loudest, most revolting, germ-spreading way I've ever heard. It went on and on and was, frankly, disgusting - and the staff really should have done something about it. Thankfully, the old sneezer managed to put a cork in it by the time our mains arrived.
Gordon's mixed grill (1197 calories, plus 597 calories' worth of chips, plus 143 calories for the peas, grilled tomatoes and mushroom), was large but all the meat was overcooked - as was the fried egg. It wasn't bad but as mixed grills go it was pricey for the quality of the cooking. He left all the chips and onion rings; and a lot of the meat was wrapped up for our newly-coiffured doggies to enjoy later.
My burger - a mere 818 calories, plus 597 of chips and 338 of onion rings - was tasty enough but the meat could have been hotter. Nice big strips of gherkin, good quality pastrami, and a goodish garnish of tomato and onion. It could have done with either more of the deli dressing or a bowl of some sort of tomato salsa. Horrified by the amount of calories, I left the brioche bun, the onion rings and all the chips (save one, just to test it - it was crisp and fluffy).
Yes, we wasted a lot of this meal - but the thought of consuming the best part of 4,000 calories between us for lunch put us off somewhat. Needless to say, we bypassed the puddings - neither of us being prepared to down 900 calories of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. It's great that customers can keep a check on their caloric intake, but it leads to a strangely joyless and guilt-inducing dining experience.
The Furness Railway is cheap and cheerful, serving standard pub grub which is perfectly acceptable. On balance, however, I far preferred the place as the Co-op department store.
Food 3 Service 4 Atmosphere 3 Value 3.5
Pros Family friendly Serves food all day Bags of space
Cons Uninspiring food Feels a bit like a canteen