What a difference a refit makes! Punch Taverns made a £322,000 investment in The Plough Inn last year and the result was quite spectacular.
The village pub was fully re-decorated, with new flooring, lighting, toilets and improvements to the beer garden.
We landed on a winter Saturday evening, by which time it was too dark and too cold to enjoy the latter, but inside, the evidence of the spruce-up was clear.
It was light, spacious and tastefully furnished with a mixture of functional, solid dining tables and chairs, comfy armchairs and poseur tables with bar stools.
A huge distressed-wood fireplace dominated the first part of the restaurant room, which also housed a large TV screen showing coverage from BT Sport and Sky.
There was a match on while we were there but it was not intrusive. In fact, from the spacious restaurant, we could barely even see the screen.
The atmosphere was cosy, friendly and comforting, with plenty of distance between the tables to make it intimate and conversations private. And gentle background music was enough to create a pleasant, warm ambience, while another big chill had arrived outside.
It was also spotlessly clean - in fact the latest Food Standards Agency inspection in June last year awarded The Plough a maximum five-star rating.
All good so far!
We ordered a drink at the bar – a pint of Doom Bar for me (it was either that or Black Sheep or Abbot Ale on the draught beer front) and Mrs L had her customary Merlot.
The first thing that struck us about the menu was the prices – as cheap as chips!
There were very few dishes above the tenner mark. Cheese and bacon barbecue burger, black and blue (Stilton) burger and chicken tikka platter, at £9.95, were among those main courses that came close.
The only meals to hit double figures were steaks, including 21-day-aged 8oz British rump steak at £10.95, The Big One burger, with two 6oz beef patties, fried free-range egg, bacon and beer-battered onion rings, at £12.95, and a mixed grill feast for £14.95.
There were nibbles, sharing boards, sandwiches, toasties, pies, burgers, grills and sides, as well as starters, mains and desserts, in quite an extensive selection, including a few vegetarian and gluten-free options.
It was archetypal pub grub – and so we went for a classic choice and made our order at the bar.
I started with soup of the day, which was wild mushroom (v), at the bargain price of £3.45. Across the table, southern-fried chicken fillets, with allotment slaw and barbecue (or piri piri) dip, for £4.45, caught Mrs L’s eye.
The soup, complete with a thick slice of light granary bread and foiled butter pats, was tasty, infused with a marked fungi flavour and suitably warming. But it was quite thin and lacked body.
The two breaded chicken strips opposite were also palatable, with succulent meat and a saucy coleslaw on a bed of rocket. It had been a pleasant start to the evening.
Our main courses soon followed and I was faced with an attractive-looking chicken and ham hock pie in a creamy leek sauce, with thick chips and peas (£8.95). The pie was spectacular – a dish rammed with mainly breast chicken chunks in the creamiest of sauces and topped with nicely-prepared shortcrust pastry.
It was a fair size and very filling, but was curiously accompanied by a small jug of rich, beef gravy. The chips looked spot on but their crispy exterior gave way to a floury centre, all the hallmarks of frozen fare, and the peas were overcooked and mushy - shame that neither matched the high quality of the pie.
Opposite was delivered Aberdeen Angus lasagne, slow cooked in red wine and tomato sauce, served with warm, garlic sourdough bread (£7.95). Lasagne guru Mrs L enjoyed the dish, which was loaded with cheese and not too tangy. Her salad was a colourful combination of cubed peppers, red onion and cucumber on a handful of rocket leaves.
We took a 20-minute break to allow our substantial meals to settle before tackling desserts. Both my black cherry cheesecake (£4.45) and Mrs L’s sponge pudding with raspberry jam (£3.95) were beautifully presented, light and a splendid way to conclude proceedings.
The accompanying vanilla ice-cream was exquisite, with tiny black flecks of vanilla running through it, proving its authenticity.
BARGAINS AND OFFERS AVAILABLE
Despite the very reasonable prices anyway, The Plough at Ellington does not rest on its laurels and makes some very competitive offers in a packed market.
A two-course midweek lunch, until 2.30pm, will only set you back £12 – and there’s a 2 for 1 offer on desserts.
On Thursday, Friday and weekend evenings, there is a meal deal of two rump steaks and a bottle of wine for £25.
A kids menu, with main meals, including pork sausages, chicken nuggets, fish goujons and beef burger, at £3.95, and Sunday feasts of one course, £8; two courses, £10 and three courses, £12, are also tempting.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Stilton/garlic mushrooms (v)......£4.95
Smoky bean bowl......£4.45
Macaroni cheese (v)......£7.95
Chicken & bacon salad......£8.95
King prawn linguine......£9.95
Bangers & mash......£7.95
Steak & ale pie......£8.95
8oz sirloin steak......£13.95
Winter Eton mess sundae......£4.25
Sticky toffee pudding......£4.45
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......7½
Use of local food......none mentioned
Value for money......9
Access for disabled......6 (step and tight door)
Verdict: Decent food, given the low prices. Friendly service and a lovely atmosphere.
OPENING TIMES: Monday to Saturday, noon – 11pm; Sunday, noon – 10.30pm.
FOOD SERVING TIMES: Monday to Friday, noon – 2.30pm and 5pm – 8pm; Saturday, noon – 8pm; Sunday, noon – 3pm and 5pm – 8pm