Not a huge amount happens in the small village of Newland, on the western edge of the Forest of Dean. It's quiet, quaint and populated by forest people who keep themselves very much to themselves.
There is, however, a minor skirmish developing between those who run the Cathedral of the Forest, an impressive church that dominates the landscape in the village clearing and Kathryn Horton, landlady of the Ostrich Inn, which stands opposite.
The church was decommissioned a while back and is now run by an enthusiastic group determined to keep the place open, vibrant and serving as a valid attraction to bring tourists to the area. And it rightly does.
Our jovial landlady is, of course, right behind them on this. Anyone visiting Newland would be plain bonkers not to include a visit to her pub.
The problem is that the church group has organised a series of concerts in the Cathedral which are proving very popular, bringing many visitors into the village for the music. They all arrive in cars and the village gets gridlocked for the time the minstrels do their thing.
The spat - if we may call it that, for it all seems pretty good natured to me - centres around the fact that while the village is gridlocked the pub is losing out and, by the time the concert-goers disperse, it's closing time.
Now, I'm all for bringing high culture to the masses, spreading the delights of Handel et al throughout the land, but if it comes to arias or the Ostrich, then I know where my vote goes.
You see, the Ostrich is that rarity these days. It's a pub, a real pub. Better still, the Ostrich serves a selection of the finest ales money can buy and the sort of food that quite simply defines the word gastro, used so often now by any pub attempting to go further with their fodder than simply pulling something out of the freezer and bunging it in the microwave.
But Kathryn knows a thing or two about good food and is passionate about passing on this knowledge to a brigade of eager acolytes keen to make a name for themselves.
She started off in the game with a gourmet sandwich delivery firm at Canary Wharf in London in the 1980s. It was groundbreaking stuff and it wasn't long before she was
Newland, Forest of Dean
It's about four miles south of Monmouth or 16 miles from Chepstow. Either way, get on
the A466 to Redbrook and pick up the signs from there. 40-50 minute drive.
Telephone: 01594 833 260
All week 12 to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 11pm
Bar snacks start at £4.95
Small steps and small rooms
All children, however small,
* * * * * Overall
* * * * * Food
* * * * Service
* * * * * Ambience
* * * * * Value
making £1,000 a day. Later projects included a stint as a newspaper catering manager and food editor on Penthouse magazine (making this an appropriate issue for this review!).
But the desire to run her own pub and restaurant was too great and she eventually bought the derelict Ostrich. It was a complete shambles when she walked through the door, but with some help from the locals keen to have their favourite watering hole open again, it was open within days.
Since then, it's been a question of slowly improving the interior without changing things a great deal, bringing in some great beers and developing a menu that will attract both casual and serious diners alike.
The results are impressive. The bar is dark and cosy, with a roaring fire and burning candles adding to the atmosphere. Large windows which look out over the church let light in though so you'll often find an intoxicating mix of light and dark that adds to the charm.
As far as intoxicating goes, it's best leave that to the beer. On my visit local brewer Uley had it's Pig's Ear (£2.50) in the
pumps and in its pomp. In my opinion there is no better real ale, a warm, sweet nectar with a smooth and not too chewy texture that slips down with anything. It's strong mind you, so get someone else to drive.|
But it's the food that really sets the Ostrich apart and you need to book ahead to taste it. Good news travels fast.
We were seated in the small cosy dining room to the right of the dark entrance, but we were never forgotten by our attentive host who bustled in and out with a shrill and a shriek, making sure everything was as it should be. Welcoming is hardly the adequate adjective. Put simply, we felt at home and the children felt the same, quite happy to sit still, play with the dog or run around in the garden at the back.
We chose mainly from the bar menu which is extensive and great value for money. My old English sausages (£6.50) came served with a creamy, cheesy dollop of Dauphinoise potatoes, beautifully cooked vegetables and a potent onion gravy that was tasty enough to be drunk as a soup, but was thick enough to cling to every mouthful in generous proportions.
The sausages were locally sourced, delightfully meaty and had a herby aftertaste that complimented the rest of the dish perfectly.
It was a delightfully simple dish, but the quality of the cooking took it well beyond that, as it did with everything else we had around the table, including a plate of sizzling ribs, simplicity itself apart from the tangy sauce which was a complex delight.
Vegetarians aren't forgotten either. My wife chose the forester's feast (£6.25), a wonderful three-cheese tart served with a good, fresh salad. It was, again, a notch or two above almost any pub food I've tasted in a long time.
We all finished with the same thing and, as it came recommended by Kathryn it would have been churlish to refuse. Put simply, it was the finest, stickiest, sweetest and most delicious sponge imaginable. I'll say no more.
You, of course, may well discover a different Ostrich. The beers and menus change regularly. What doesn't, however, is the atmosphere, quality and overtly friendly welcome. Long may that continue, however the parking issue develops.