Eating out with Freddie — The Old Granary
The Old Granary The Quay Wareham BH20 4LP 01929 552010
Published in June ’08
Wareham Quay must be one of the most photographed spots in Dorset, which means that the Old Granary, standing next to the river at the Quay’s south-eastern corner, is a familiar sight. In recent years it has been a modestly successful restaurant and bed & breakfast establishment but now it has been given a complete new lease of life as what its latest owners, Hall & Woodhouse, call a gastro-pub but which seemed to Mrs Freddie and me pretty much like a full-blown restaurant.
The story goes back to the Great Fire of Wareham in 1762, which destroyed all the buildings on the Quay. What is now the Old Granary was re-built soon after and had various owners, notably Oakley Bros, grain merchants of Poole, for most of the second half of the 19th century. Early in the 20th century its use changed and it began its career as a place of refreshment when a Miss Sydenham and a Miss Carter opened the Old Granary Tea Rooms.
Hall & Woodhouse have a generally good reputation for respecting the history of their premises when converting them and they appear to have done a good job at the Old Granary. The main central area is modern and well-lit with clean, light wooden furniture and a spacious feel about it. Leading off it into the house next door, which Hall & Woodhouse bought at the same time, is a series of small rooms (including Miss Sydenham’s Room and Miss Carter’s Room) which are more traditionally furnished and decorated. Perhaps the outstanding feature is the terrace overlooking the river, which has been extended up onto the roof as well; on a warm summer’s evening, it will be quite a special place to eat. Each part of the building is comfortable, and enlivened by interesting pictures of historic Wareham on the walls.
The menu with its dozen each of starters and mains, plus salads and pasta options, does not contain anything surprising or particularly adventurous, but many people prefer choices which are not too challenging and there is certainly something for every taste. I chose for my starter crayfish tails with an avocado salad and Marie Rose sauce. ‘Huh,’ said Mrs Freddie, ‘prawn cocktail by another name’ but for once she was wrong: the crayfish tails were more subtly flavoured than prawns and the sauce was unusually tangy. I certainly found it more interesting and enjoyable than most prawn cocktails I have eaten.
Mrs Freddie was meanwhile having eggs Benedict. She liked the prosciutto ham that took the place of the more usual bacon and her only regret about the Hollandaise sauce was that there wasn’t more of it. She followed up with tuna Nicoise, which was blue as she likes it, but chargrilled – ‘I do love the taste of chargrilled food,’ she said appreciatively. She enjoyed, too, the barlotti beans which are unusual in a salad Nicoise.
I opted for a rib-eye steak because although it is not wildly original, it is always a good test of a restaurant how it cooks a simple piece of meat. Plus I take a slightly wicked delight in asking for it to be cooked ‘just on the rare side of medium rare’ and seeing what the kitchen makes of it. I have to say that the Old Granary passed this rather unfair test with flying colours and the steak was exactly as I like it. The accompanying pepper sauce was good, too.
For pudding we chose a panettone and marmalade pudding for Mrs Freddie and a hot chocolate fondant for me. She described hers a ‘bread and butter pudding with a sophisticated twist’, while the richness of mine was well set off by a piece of caramelised orange. Both came with excellent Purbeck ice cream.
The wine list is surprisingly wide-ranging, the dozen each of white and red including some interesting choices alongside the safe old favourites. We enjoyed an excellent 2005 Corbières from the Domaine des Deux Anes: the estate of the two donkeys.
Although the feel of the place is that of a restaurant, I would describe the cuisine as top-of-the-range pub food. On that basis, our only criticism is that its prices seen on the high side. Our three-course meal cost £25 each, without wine – and that was after resisting the temptation of bread and butter at £4 for two or extra vegetables at £2 a throw. But the place has a lot going for it – its setting, its thoughtful conversion, friendly and efficient service, no piped music – and there was a good buzz on the night we were there. That buzz will surely continue as the Old Granary proves deservedly popular.