THE Old Brickworks is a surviving example of a type of pub which I thought had long since disappeared.
It’s a pub which does so much for its kids and its cut-price diners that it has absolutely forgotten about those customers who quite reasonably expect to be able to just come in for a drink.
A family outing to Ikea gave me the chance to escape the endless snaking trail of flat-pack wardrobes and impractical lighting. So I slipped away under the M62, attracted by the pub’s tall red-brick chimney which can be seen for miles around. This has been a local landmark since Victorian times; the brickworks operated here for almost a century before closing down in 1985 and being converted into a pub in the 1990s.
The chimney is bathed in late summer sunshine as I roll into the car park, and I spot a spare table on the outdoor decking where I can hopefully sit for a half hour or so with something interesting from the bar.
But within ten seconds of walking inside I know I’ve made a serious mistake. Either side of a sturdy brick pillar, two shiny chrome sculptures dispense big brand lagers and Tetley Smooth. My tentative inquiry about real ale is greeted with a pitying shrug from the barman who pours me a pint of Guinness which is seemingly the best he can offer.
Later close inspection of the menu does reveal that the fridges are stocked with bottles of Doom Bar and Punk IPA, but I’m already sitting with my Guinness by the time I realise. It’s interesting too that Brewdog, alleged craft brewers of famed punk attitude, should choose to sell their wares through a mass market chain like Brewers Fayre, but it would have been a useful fallback in the absence of any real ales, had I known.
The food might be great, but to really justify the Brewer’s Fayre tag, then surely the bar should stock something which a real ale brewer would fairly sanction. Anything. A pint of crisp, refreshing golden ale would slice delightfully through the fulsome flavours of a traditional English carvery; a firm malty Yorkshire bitter would sit well alongside the pie and chips or the fish.
To fail to offer these things is not only to under-estimate their customers but also, to do it in a chain called Brewers Fayre, deeply insults the brewing profession. It’s a fault amplified by some stylish artwork around the walls which showcase several of the more photogenic elements of the brewing process. Are they taking the mickey? Either change the range or change the name.
Yet in fairness, on this Sunday afternoon visit, the Old Brickworks was doing a roaring trade. Turning right at the entrance, you are straight into the pub’s spacious restaurant, where a hubbub of excited children and a queue at the steaming, spitting carvery reveals its obvious popularity.
Food is served every day, starting with breakfasts from 6.30am, a fringe benefit of having a budget hotel next door. The Brewers Fayre menu visits all of the major bases, with steaks from £11.79, burgers from £7.99 and no-nonsense pub standards like sausage and mash (£6.49) and steak pie (£8.79). Aside from the Sunday carvery, each day carries a particular theme with curries on Monday and Thursday, Mexican on Tuesday, burgers and hotdogs on Wednesday, fish and chips on Friday and chicken on Saturday.
Two-for-£10 dining deals and kids meals from £3.99 offer still better value.
But just think how much more they could deliver, with just the addition of a couple of quality handpulled beers. Maybe then, a few brewers might actually be persuaded to try the fayre, too.