Detailed review by koshkha
Northampton, United Kingdom
In my last company, the team I used to work with was a small one and even on the rare occasion we were all around at the same time, we only added up to 8 people. Shortly before I left for my new job, we decided to grab the chance to go out for lunch together. It was a day when the forecasters were predicting snow and I thought that if I was going to get stuck on my way home, I might as well make sure I had a good meal inside me before I set off. Our department secretary, Joyce, had lined up the group to go for lunch earlier in the week for her birthday but had gone down with something nasty and called in sick. And so an impromptu birthday/why not lunch was set up.
We worked within spitting distance of Manchester Airport. Head in one direction and you'd better raid your piggy bank if you want to dine with the Merry Wives of Wilmslow. Head in another direction towards Wythenshawe and you might want to count your hubcaps before and after your meal. So our lunch venue of choice was The Griffin in Heald Green.
The Griffin sits on the corner of two roads - Finney Lane and Wilmslow Road. If you find yourself heading for the big John Lewis and Sainsbury's at Cheadle and can't face paying the ludicrous prices in their in-house cafeteria, then consider a detour to the Griffin for better value and larger portions. There's a good-sized car park which is certainly plenty big enough at lunch-time.
The Griffin is part of the Joseph Holt pub chain which has 127 pubs within a 25 mile radius of Greater Manchester. As a brewery, Joseph Holt's has been one of relatively few family breweries to survive the industrialisation and consolidation of breweries that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. They've been brewing since 1849 and the company is now owned by the fourth generation of the same family. Their website describes the company as 'unashamedly old fashioned' so you might suppose then that their pubs will be of the 'old man and dog with a box of dominoes and a weekend folk concert' genre. But the Griffin couldn't be further from that image. If you are interested in brewing and breweries, a look at their website will tell you loads about what they do at www.joseph-holt.com/ourbe ers.asp - but as we go at lunchtimes and never quaff anything stronger than a diet coke or a cup of cappuccino, I think further brewery-talk would be out of place in this review.
So if the Griffin isn't a 'dogs and dominoes' pub what is it like? Well to my mind it's a quite surprisingly light and stylish place. Once you've fought your way through the desperate smokers who are huddled by the door, you find that there's a large drinking and dining area to your right, a long light-wood bar in front of you and a dining area to the left. We always sit to the left. The décor is a mix of fabrics, patterns and textures - it always makes me think I've gone to eat in a giant IKEA or B&Q show-room where someone's trying to display as many different wallpapers and fabrics as they can in a relatively restricted area. The windows are large and there's lots of natural light, the tables and chairs are arranged in different groupings to give tables that should be pretty much ideal for any group from two to eight people or more if you do a bit of removal work. The chairs and benches are upholstered in a wide range of fabrics including what seemed to me some pretty stupid ones for a bar/restaurant - would YOU upholster a dining bench in beige suedette for example?
So on this occasion we found a table for 6 and settled down to mull over the menu. If you check out the website all the food is there but not with prices - perhaps the individual pubs have some autonomy to adjust the prices or maybe they don't want to have to keep updating the website. Each day there are some specials on blackboards but there's so much in the printed menu that I've never needed to go 'off-piste' to find something I like the look of. Each table has a little note pad where you can write down what you want - a section for drinks and another for food - so after everyone had plenty of time to make their choices I took down what they wanted and went off (with the table number written down because you ALWAYS forget, don't you) and ordered for all of us.
The menu is enormous. There's a section for starters and a choice of different salads - apparently they are so big you have to decide whether to eat them or climb them. The main courses are divided into some very traditional English dishes (such as sausage and mash and beef and ale pie), a few fish dishes, a 'grill' menu and a 'dishes of the world' selection (with the Kashmiri lamb, lasagne, chicken tikka masala and chilli con carne - a real 'cartoon' food world). There are a few vegetarian main courses too. Then there's the extensive 'sandwich' menu and baked potatoes and finally some puddings. Everything is substantial and makes up for the lack of sophistication by being consistently well prepared and presented.
Joyce is on a diet at the moment I think so she went for some vegetable soup. Nazli was off to Leeds that night and needed a good meal to keep her going so she opted for the Kashmir Lamb, Marina who is French ordered liver and mash (mad or brave - you decide) and Bjoern and I went for sandwiches - in his case a ciabatta with bacon, cheese and onions and in mine the 'Harvester' with peppers, mushrooms, onions, cheese and salsa. For all five meals plus a soft drink each, the bill came to £36. I went back to the table and within a few minutes the waitress brought our drinks over.
During the 10-15 minutes between ordering and getting the food, I played banker and sorted out everyone's bills - never volunteer to be the banker on a team lunch unless you have lots of change.
The food arrived. Bjoern and I were more than happy with our ciabattas - you can order most of the fillings as ciabattas, baguettes or wraps and I usually have the wraps but had worked out that the wrap leaves you feeling a bit short-changed relative to the other bread options. You also get a nice heap of chips and a sprinkling of salad to make you feel less guilty about the chips which are - quite possibly - the best chips in the North West. Marina's liver was apparently delicious but as a non-meat eater, I have to take her word for that. Joyce's soup was in quite a large bowl and came with a roll and Nazli's Kashmir lamb was the star performer. It came with a karahi-type metal bowl of spicy lamb stew, accompanied by a large portion of both chips and rice and a naan bread as well - what a carbohydrate overload!
And so it came to pass that about 45 minutes after arriving, we'd had a drink, a leisurely lunch and still had time to hop in the car and get back to the office in time for Joyce to take over the switchboard. Nazli is our appointed social-secretary and spends lots of time trying to organise nights out but 90% of them get cancelled because we all live in different directions. I think our ad hoc lunchtime trip cheered us all up, probably all the more so because it wasn't planned in advance.If you find yourself near Heald Green I definitely recommend the Griffin for a lunch-time treat at a price that won't break the bank and in a setting that's the match of many a gastro-pub that would charge at least double.