FOOD: A natter over a good platter at the Victoria Tavern in Barrow
Victoria Tavern, Barrow
The last time I reviewed the Victoria Tavern I didn't exactly sing its praises. While the staff were friendly, the place was tired and the food was beyond bog-standard. My cod was so dry and curled up, it looked like one of those plastic fish things out of Christmas crackers, that flip over when you put them on the palm of your hand.
The Oxford Street pub has recently undergone a makeover, and my friend Maureen suggested we try it out. Maureen and I have been friends for more than 30 years, dating back to our time working at– and with those happy days very much in mind, we invited our former editor Bob Herbert to join us for a meal on Wednesday evening.
Bob is the equivalent of local royalty – absolutely everyone in Barrow knows him; it's like dining out with a celeb. And he and Maureen know absolutely everyone in Barrow. So we were a bottle of (good value) wine in and gossiping like mad about A who used to be married to B before she had an affair with C, who got arrested for some shenanigans or other with D, who's now dead... before we got round to clocking the Vic Tav makeover and thinking about food.
The Vic has had a typical pub chain revamp: tartan carpets in muted blues and greys, feature wallpaper, loudly upholstered chairs and leather banquettes. It's fresh and smart but it won't be winning any interior design awards for originality.
The menu is stuffed with pub classics and meal deals. After much deliberation, Maureen went for cod and chips (£5.79) and I fervently hoped it would be better than the fish I'd endured here in 2015. Bob settled on gammon and chips at £5.19 – but the two came to just £8.49 as a meal deal. I was hell-bent on a burger.
Ordering was something of a marathon exercise, involving me having to gallop back to the table numerous times to configure the exact constituents of Bob's meal. Chips or fries? Chips. Mushy peas, garden peas, beans or salad? Salad. Two eggs, one egg and one slice of pineapple, or two slices of pineapple? Two eggs.
And that was before I had to enter into negotiations with the ultra-helpful chap behind the bar regarding my burger. "You don't want the Big Daddy," he informed me to sage nods in agreement from his colleague. "It's MASSIVE – about a foot high – you'll never finish it." He steered me in the direction of the pub's new range of burgers, and after much discussion, I eventually settled on a Tennessee burger for about £7.
By the time I got back to the table clutching another bottle of wine, Bob and Maureen were up to W, who did a runner with X, who had a squint and a drink problem and a child to Y, who won £5,000 on a scratch card bought from Z's shop just before it burnt down in mysterious circumstances. Or something.
We shared a starter platter between us, comprising garlic bread, chicken wings, scampi, garlic mushrooms and nachos, which was tasty and plentiful.
Our mains were all good, to my relief. Maureen's cod was thick and tender, Bob's gammon generous and my burger suitably-sized and tasty. It had a very sweet, pulled pork topping, which I was in two minds about but overall it had been a good choice. The French fries were a bit soggy but I wasn't bothered, as by this point we were making inroads into a third bottle. None of us wanted pudding but we felt duty bound to try a steamed syrup pudding and custard, which was delicious and dirt cheap.
It's all standard pub fare, done a great deal better than the last time I visited. Service throughout was very friendly and attentive – my mate the barman couldn't do enough for us. Top marks on the staffing front.
By the time my husband came to collect us, we were all a bit misty-eyed with nostalgia about ourdays, although there's a fair chance that had something to do with the amount of wine we'd shipped.
The food for the three of us cost well under £30, which was great value. The bar bill was considerably higher. It had been an excellent evening, we all agreed as my husband shovelled us into the car. My recollection of getting home is rather hazy – which is pretty much par for the course for an-based outing.
Good, cheap pub food
Food served all day
Has that pub chain feel
Distracting TVs in the dining area