On a recent trip north of London, Nick stumbles into a revitalised pub serving better than ‘pub food’

You know how it is when you’re out of your known area, driving somewhere distant and desperate for a bit of lunch in a place that isn’t a motorway horror.

You see lots of pubs by the road that look like they might be okay, but who knows? You might walk into that pub scene in An American Werewolf In London,  but sadly without Rik Mayall playing chess. Or worse, arrive hopefully only to be told ‘the kitchen’s closed’.

As it happens I’d recently heard about The Saddle & Spoke  a brand-new free house pub with dining by chef  Will Ingarfill  situated in the Bedfordshire town of Biggleswade. Named after the market town’s long cycling history, it’s inside one of its most historic buildings, the Stratton House Hotel.

So we pulled into its  large car park, reassured that on Fridays food is served non-stop from lunch to dinner.

Inside it’s got a pleasant wood beamed feel with comfortable sofas and rich dark coloured walls that make it cosy while still offering a fresh modern look. Plenty of good beers on tap, sadly off the menu for me driving though.

The evening menu looks the most interesting, the lunch menu being rather pared down but a Venison & black pudding scotch egg  would have tempted me, if I hadn’t had a Scotch Egg the night before in Cambridge.

Korean Fried Chicken for a starter was definitely one to try though,  I love KFC (as we jokingly call it down in that there London). Sticky and spicy, these came prettily plated up with a dusting of untoasted sesame seeds. Some Wasabi mayo made it extra interesting, as did slivers of fresh red chilli to add some serious burn.

Somewhat healthier was Charred stem broccoli with goat’s cheese, quince, hazelnut and fig, all very fresh and dancing with the contrasting textures.  I find people who dislike broccoli because of some infant prejudice are usually won over when they try it the adult way – grilled;  it brings out the sweetness and drives away the moisture.

Mains didn’t offer the unusual as much as the starters did.  A beef & ox cheek burger with beer chutney, cheddar, gem lettuce is still a burger, even when elevated, and fish & chips is fish and chips, mind you it did come with truffle pea puree and was a very reasonable £14. Half the price ‘down south’.

I had the fish pie which was a decent bit of pie, although I like my white sauce thick enough to coat a spoon and this didn’t quite do it. Plenty of chunky fish though and the mash topping was enriched with cheese. A pot of tartar sauce was a bit odd though, I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Drink it?

P had a home-made raised beef & stout pie with a good dollop of creamed potato and winter greens, plus a red wine jus. The last was superfluous  because when the pie was cracked open it released a flood of excellent gravy all on its own. Nice to have a proper pie, I get annoyed when pubs promise a pie and then serve me basically a stew with a puffy hat on. This was a proper pie,real shortcrust  pastry all round and rich and toothsome.

I had a simple sourdough treacle tart with caramel ice cream for my ‘pudding’ which was rich without being cloying and the subtle sharpness of the sourdough made it a more balanced dish that it usually is, I actually felt I could still walk after, even if just to the car.

Saddle and Spoke seems a good addition to Biggleswade food wise, as well as helping to keep a venerable building viable into the future. Right now the evening menu looks the better bet for more creative cooking, but the Sunday Lunch is worth booking a table for with classic roasts and more items from that weekday evening menu on offer.

Are you ‘local’? Then get in.

Stratton House, London Road, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, SG18 8ED