Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lunch at the Isis Farmhouse

When I did the Thames walk weeks ago, part of what I had been looking forward to was eating at the Isis Farmhouse. However, no guide book mentioned that it's only open Friday through Sunday, so when I went on a Tuesday, I was obviously disappointed (and hungry, but I've written about that already).  Despite that disappointment, I've remained rather fascinated by the Isis Farmhouse; it's a family-run pub (and, also the family home.  People live in this house as well as run a pub out of it.), located in what feels like the middle of nowhere.  It, I believe, has the distinction of being the only pub in England (maybe the UK) that can't be driven to-- you can only get there by walking or by boat (they host weddings there; it must be fun getting large wedding parties and lots of guests there).  And yet, it supposedly can be quite crowded which begs the question of where all the people come from (which is a large part of my fascination with it).  I've been wanting to know-- and I've mentioned this a couple times in the class I'm teaching. So, Friday, we took a class field trip to walk the River Thames (which apparently none of my students had done before) and have lunch at Isis Farmhouse.

It's really charming and the setting is gorgeous since it's right on the river. As you can see from the sky, we lucked out and got a really lovely day for the walk (which was especially nice after a few days of really dreary weather, including pouring rain for most of the day before.  As I write this, there is a pretty major hail storm happening, so I'm even more glad I got out in the sun yesterday.  This is the first time I've seen hail here-- I'm not particularly inclined to go out in it.).  And, the Isis Farmhouse was open when we got there which was exciting-- I was a little worried that I was going to have taken my class out there only to find it closed again.

The inside is charming as well.

Everything is written on chalkboards-- including the menu and upcoming events (these upcoming events are about Guy Fawkes which is November 3).

Isis Farmhouse is not like most other pubs-- it runs on really limited hours (it opened at 9 am for drinks, but lunch is only served from 12:30-2:30 and they do mean 12:30.  We arrived a little after noon and, even though they knew what the menu would be, we had to wait until 12:30 to order.  Which was fine-- we sat outside with drinks for a little while.  Dinner has a pretty small window too even though the pub is open pretty late.) and days (Friday-Sunday, as I've mentioned) and, unlike other pubs which have pretty extensive food menus, there is a very limited choice.  But, this is part of what makes the Isis Farmhouse unique-- and worth walking to (besides the walk itself, which is lovely).  And, the woman who was taking care of us was really nice.  It's not a place to go to if you're in a rush-- but I don't think anyone who is in a rush would go there since it's something of a process to get to in the first place.  I am really glad I bothered to go back-- and took the students in my class with me. Isis Farmhouse is the kind of place that only exists in a few places-- it's not the kind of experience that can be approximated in another pub in town. I don't really think there are many places like it at all.  (How many could there be-- I would think it's hard to run a business when customers can't get there by car. Or even by bus.  Boat and foot seems limiting.)

For lunch, we had a choice between a ploughman's lunch or broccoli and spinach soup.  There is, however, a much larger selection of drinks-- they have  really nice selection of beer on draft and in bottles (I have yet to get a bottled beer in the UK. In fact, I'm not sure who buys bottled beer in a pub. I haven't really noticed anyone drinking beer from a bottle.).  And, for the first time, the beer tasted like it looked (think nut brown)- which threw me a little-- I was expecting the disconnect I usually have so it was slightly confusing to order a dark lager and not be thrown by the taste.  It went well with the ploughman's lunch.

The reddish condiment in the back is some kind of cranberry sauce-- it was really good. I could have had a lot more of it.

I do find it interesting that in the UK coleslaw (which the Brits tend to load up with mayonnaise, much more than I think is typical in the US-- or at least any restaurant in Oxford does.  I don't think I've been served coleslaw anywhere else but Oxford  It's not that coleslaw is an Oxford thing... it's just that I've eaten a lot more basic meals like a sandwich in Oxford.)  is considered salad, which I guess is technically correct, but the term "salad" is so widely used here that I've started noticing how often things are referred to generically as salad. Lots of stuff is considered salad--for example, salad also refers to any veggies we would add to a sandwich (so, when ordering a hamburger, for example, you would be asked what salad you would like on it-- and this means do you want lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.  Also, if you ask for pickles, which are also under the umbrella term salad, you will not get a pickle. You will get pickled veggies-- they're quite tasty, but not what an American is expecting.). Pretty much any cold vegetable side is a salad as well.  Lots of surprising things are considered salad; and, it's hard to find what American's would really think of as salad.  (I have to remember to take a picture of the salad bar at the grocery store-- there's no lettuce on it.  It doesn't at all look like what we would consider a salad bar to be.) A salad that we would normally order on a menu as a meal, chock full of veggies and meats, is nearly impossible to find on a menu.  It's not that there aren't lots of vegetables-- salad just isn't the way they are presented here for the most part.  (There is actually a small salad on the plate in the photo-- it had mixed greens, tomato, red pepper and a couple radishes. No dressing.  But, it's probably the closest thing I've seen to a traditional side salad.  Many times, a side salad is just lettuce [iceberg], sometimes with a few shredded carrots.)

There was a large group at the Isis Farmhouse-- I wish we had been paying attention when they arrived, but no one in our group noticed them until they were all standing in front of the farmhouse taking pictures so I have no idea where exactly they came from or how they arrived. I'm assuming they arrived by foot though because I think we would have noticed a large boat pulling up to drop them off.  Other than us and this large group (I think they were Italian), there were only a few other people there, but it was the middle of the day on a Friday.  I've heard that the Isis Farmhouse can be quite crowded, but I'm guessing that Friday lunch, since it's not located near any businesses (or, anything at all, really), isn't really the big draw.  It might be worth trekking out there on a Saturday afternoon to find out if it's busier; I would go in the evening, but it doesn't seem like the river path has any lights, so I'm not sure how one gets back in the dark-- flashlight, I guess.

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