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There is something louche about Marlborough in Wiltshire. Not in a sleazy West End backstreet strip club sort of way. But as a place that feels purposefully relaxed, making it a good stepping off point between where we live in Ringwood and wherever we are going in the west of England.
We have had a couple of bad experiences at another place on the other side of the street with bad food, bad service, and wobbly tables. Variables which put us off returning there, despite its excellent reputation. At least we gave it a chance. The second visit took us to the edge of madness by trying the same thing again after being disappointed, but hoping for a different outcome.
When we arrived at the town, the sun was shining and the fates treated us kindly. There was a parking space waiting for us in the middle of the main street. Nearly in front of was the "The Royal Oak,"—a familiar frontage as we have been there a few times before and never been disappointed.
We found a spare table, which was not too difficult at 12:30. It was overshadowed by a television broadcasting football coverage from the weekend. The sound was off fortunately. Next to us was a table of four that was occupied by two couples who were having a fun time waiting for their lunch. We ordered our food at the bar and waited for it to be served.
Next to us, the conversation bounced along. On the TV screen, there was a replay of a particularly nasty incident of a member of the audience physically assaulting a player on the pitch. Quite nasty really. A pundit said that something has to be done to change attitudes so that the audience at football matches respect the players. In the next clip on the TV, it showed the assaulted player scoring the winning goal, jumping into the crowd in celebration, and having to be rescued by the stewards.
"Look at that… talk about winding the crowd up… they should do something about the player's behaviour," said one of the men next to us.
Aside from the TV screens, the walls were adorned with posters and pictures from the racecourse from a bygone era of top hats and big cigars. I was tempted to say to the man that that sort of behaviour would never happen on the racecourse, but sadly, there have been a few incidents of crowd violence over the last year at some major race meetings. But with the Cheltenham Festival starting the next day, I restrained myself for fear of tempting fate.
Our lunch arrived. I had an open chicken and bacon sandwich while my wife had an open falafel sandwich. Both served on sourdough bread and with a single side order of fries. The chicken and bacon that I had was generous. I think a seismic examination of the layers would show four distinct strata: 30 percent chicken; 30 percent bacon; then 15 percent each for the salad and bread. The falafel open sandwich was about 50 percent falafel and 25 five percent each for the salad and the bread.
While we worked through our lunch, the conversation next to us rambled on. From football violence to food. Roast dinners with gravy, roast potatoes, and cauliflower cheese. One lady regaled her friends about how she poached eggs. A pan of boiling water, a pinch of salt, some vinegar, and then whisk the water into a frenzied whirlpool before cracking the egg into the cauldron. The subject of quail eggs popped up. One of the ladies had bought some as a Christmas treat, but as she said, they looked too attractive to eat. Eventually, they had to be eaten as their "best by" date loomed. Only taking four minutes to boil, with the hardest part before eating being peeling the shells off before serving. Very fiddly without breaking any.
The menu at the Royal Oak ranges from light bites, sandwiches, and paninis through to full steak meals. They also serve one of the signature dishes of England—the full English breakfast, which let’s face it, goes down well at any time of the day.
Ever since we have been stopping here over the last four years, the food has been good value for money. The welcome is effortlessly welcoming, and the service is good. I hope by the time you visit that football violence will be a thing of the past, and that you have worked out the best method of peeling and enjoying them.
Two open sandwiches and two soft drinks—£15. This was on a "special" where any soft drinks were free with the sandwiches.