REVIEW: The Golden Cross, Ardens Grafton

In the interest of honesty, I am compelled to admit that The Golden Cross in Ardens Grafton holds a special place in my heart, although it has done since many a year prior to its most recent change of management at the end of 2016. My late great grandmother used to work behind the bar in the 1950’s and then, in 2008, I had the good fortune of celebrating my wedding there with a delicious, informal hot buffet meal. Clearly, much time has lapsed since then and I was keen to find out how the new 2019 menu fared in comparison to other local pubs.

Shortly after the current owners took it on, The Golden Cross underwent a huge makeover with up to date decor, very sympathetic to the character of the building. The restaurant area – what I would class as a “smart casual” section of the pub – is a cosy affair, and it was here that my husband and I enjoyed our meal one chilly evening in January. We were given the option of sitting in the main pub area, but it was difficult to resist the call of the crackling log fire in the dining room, so it was there that we settled, our tummies eagerly anticipating the culinary possibilities that lay ahead.
Feeling tired and subdued, and certainly looking softer around the edges after festive feasting, our dining choices should perhaps have included the poached salmon or one of the tempting salad options (I was very nearly swayed by the grilled halloumi salad, or “squeaky cheese” as my 4 year old calls it), but the call to good, old fashioned, comforting pub grub was too strong in our fatigued hour of need.

Our server for the evening was lovely – friendly, attentive, not at all pushy, and she knew the names of all the gins they had behind the bar, helping me to decide on one with lovely peppery notes, which was clearly the most important job of the evening.
Once drinks orders were dealt with (my husband plumped for a pint of Estrella), we began with the whitebait and calamari starters, which arrived at our tables, piping hot and satisfyingly crispy – clearly freshly deep fried. Each served alongside a garnish of dressed salad leaves and a dipping bowl of tartare sauce for the whitebait; mayonnaise for the calamari.
If I were to dine here for a light lunch, I think I could have been sated with whitebait and a larger side salad. The servings were generous – something that carried through to the main course.

My “need” for something comforting led to being served with a hot plate laden with the “Golden Cross Famous Faggots”, some mashed potato and, continuing in the theme of dreamy nursery textures, mushy peas. All glistening with mouth-smackingly tasty “proper beef gravy”. My intentions to sample and review 3 courses suddenly seemed too large a challenge as I wasn’t certain quite how to conquer the behemoth-like feast laid before me.
My husband’s plate of gammon, egg, chips, pineapple and mushy peas was also a sight for sore eyes. Veganuary followers, look away now. The fat on the gammon was a delicious dark caramel colour and it had been grilled to perfection. Slightly charred and still juicy. No tough meat here!

I so very nearly called it a day after our mains. My husband certainly couldn’t manage another bite. But I’ve never been a defeatist so, with eyes far bigger than my belly, I selected a cherry frangipane tart from the menu, served with a scoop of Bennett’s vanilla ice cream. Not an easy decision with classic Great British options including fruit crumble, bread & butter pudding, chocolate brownie and sticky toffee pudding.

The tart was a lovely end to the meal. A few bites too far for my already-full stomach, but tasty with crisp and buttery pastry. The tart cherries went well with the ice cream and satisfied my sweet tooth.

I do believe I could have fallen asleep after the faggots: pleasantly full at that point, in a warm and cosy booth, fire blazing across from us and nothing too much trouble for our server. And this really seems to be the typical atmosphere at The Golden Cross. There’s no pretence here. No over-priced menu that says more about expensive decor instead of real, honest food. No ‘style over substance’. This isn’t fussy fine dining. It’s a home from home (albeit a home that’s much tidier and better looking than my child-dominated quarters!). This is well-cooked pub grub served by down-to-earth hosts who know the menus and the bar offerings well. There isn’t an abundance of choice, which for me speaks of quality. Who really wants an endless list of mass-produced, cooked-from-frozen fayre? Here, you can rest assured that what you do order will be cooked well and not leave you wanting, which makes it a fantastic option for those wanting to dine on a budget. The fixed price menu, served Monday to Saturday (12-9pm on Mondays, 12-6pm Tuesday to Saturday) means you can enjoy one course for £7. And, believe me, one course could be plenty if you weren’t as big a piggy as I am. But two courses for £10 or three for £13 could be considered very reasonable options, given the quality of the food and the portion sizes.

Why Visit? Welcoming, cosy, relaxed and easy on the bank balance. No nonsense pub classics with vegetarian options available.
Any Particular Occasion? From a quick pint with snacks in the bar to a slap up meal for a special occasion in the restaurant area. I’d be more than happy to celebrate an informal wedding here… again! I am yet to sample a Sunday roast at The Golden Cross, so couldn’t pass comment on this, but with 3 courses for £17.95, it’s a very wallet-friendly option.
Pricing? Great value for money compared to other “foodie pubs” in the area. You certainly wouldn’t get any nasty surprises when the bill arrives at the end of the meal. On a Monday evening, as part of their fixed price menu, you could enjoy 3 courses and a couple of drinks for approximately £20 per person.

As a side note and from a parent’s perspective, I would have no qualms in bringing my 4 and 6 year old along to enjoy macaroni cheese or one of the other dishes specially chosen for small, fussy eaters. I’ve already mentioned that this is not a pretentious venue and I can’t imagine being subjected to eyerolling or tutting from the staff if the behaviour of my mini-me’s was anything less than perfect. Plus, in the summer time, there’s a fantastic outdoor space for them to potter about and burn off a little energy.

To make a reservation at The Golden Cross, call 01789 772420.
Bookings now being taken for Valentine’s day & Mothering Sunday.