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Desserts to die for - perfect for pudding lovers!
beautiful puddings, good choice for meat - eaters, fair prices, excellent children's play area
barely anything for vegetarians at all, wait times can be very long
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Standard of Menu
Standard of Service
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*Placing travel reviews at the top as it's summer holidays - hope this is helpful.*
As I’m currently on a diet and don’t dare go there, I thought I would reminisce about my mum’s favourite pub restaurant which we have visited on numerous occasions including at the end of the summer holidays. Applewood Farm is part of a family franchise started by Colin and Pauline Moore, originally at Lymewood Farm just up the A580 at Haydock. It’s not a farm at all but built on ex-farmland, situated near the A580 Manchester to Liverpool road (follow the sign for Astley Industrial Estate, then you’ll see it on your right). This popular pub restaurant only opened earlier this year and is already packed out on a daily basis. Let me explain why.
~*~ WHAT AN ATMOSPHERE ~*~
Applewood Farm is equally suitable for couples, families with or without children, and groups of business colleagues. This is because it is split into two areas, one geared specifically at adult customers and one for families with children – so adult visitors are not disturbed by the inevitable noise children make, and parents are not made to feel like their children are showing them up! Conference facilities are also available upstairs but I cannot comment on these as there is no public access. The décor is typical of a family pub, with deep-coloured upholstery and carpets and comfortable wooden furniture including tables for four, larger parties and American diner-style booths for four to five. Large windows let in plenty of light though the view – of the main thoroughfare into Astley and the pub car park – is nothing special.
Customers are greeted at the door by staff, the majority of whom are pleasant and friendly. They advise on waiting times and show you to your seats or give you a choice of seats if possible. They will also offer high-chairs with or without their own tabletop to families with babies, and are well-stocked and very unlikely to run out. There is a very small family waiting area and picnic tables outside ideal for a drink after dinner on a sunny day. We feel very “at home” when we visit. Two sets of toilets are clean and pleasantly decorated, with a disabled toilet near the entrance, though I will say that there isn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre in the regular ladies’ toilets. Apparently wi-fi is available for business users in the upstairs conference rooms, though as I have not used this I cannot comment on how good it is.
~*~ MAKE A PLAY DATE ~*~
One of the main draws for families is the indoor play area which includes sections for babies and toddlers, younger and older children. Babies and toddlers have a selection of soft toys to play with. Younger children have the best range including an interactive treehouse, educational computer games (my son’s favourite), a TV constantly screening Charlie and Lola, puzzles including mazes, counting frames and bead tables, a moving Peppa Pig car, and a selection of books. For older children there are several console games, a grab-a-toy machine, a machine vending tattoos and stickers, and a pinball machine. There is plenty for children to do and staff are quite relaxed about different ages of children mingling as long as they are being kind, polite and considerate. It can be quite noisy sitting in this area but there are areas in the family section which are further away for families with older children who can be left to their own devices: personally I like to sit near the play area keeping a close eye on my son as he has social communication difficulties.
My only pet peeve about the play area is that one or two of the toys, such as the Peppa Pig car and the grab-a-toy machine, require money – it’s annoying to have things like that in a play area which is advertised as free on the website, though in the interests of balance, the grab-a-toy is at least a “prize every time” affair and children can play it until they win. The nicest thing about the area is that the ceiling and walls are decorated with colourful cuckoo clocks, letters and numbers, and oodles of cuddly toys – from CBeebies characters to every animal under the sun. Even when children seated in the area are eating, they have plenty to look at, and my son enjoys spotting something new on every visit. I’ve never seen such a nicely presented children’s play area that genuinely captures their interest at any other eating establishment.
~*~ TRY SOMETHING NEW TODAY ~*~
I can heartily recommend the food and drink at Applewood Farm. The bar is well-stocked with a good choice of mainstream beers, more spirits than you can shake a stick at and quite a few choices of soft drinks for children – though they do seem to experience technical difficulties at times with the draught pumps and I’ve seen them pouring Coke into my mum’s vodka from a bottle before. For two spirit drinks and a child’s drink a round tends to come in at around £8 which I think is fairly competitive if not the cheapest I’ve ever encountered. Service at the bar is quick and efficient and even when the pub is busy it’s rare to have to queue, so the pub is definitely well-staffed.
The carvery offers a substantial roast dinner – it comes in at around £7.50 for an adult portion at weekends, and a discounted rate on weekdays. This includes two meats from ham, turkey and beef (and plenty of them), a medium-sized Yorkshire pudding, and you can pile your plate as high as you like with stuffing, new potatoes, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots and swede, sprouts, peas, onions, gravy and a large range of chutneys. The meat is always well-cooked and all the food is served piping hot and very tasty. Children’s portions are about half the price and it’s important to say that more elderly relatives who can only manage small meals have found a child’s portion perfectly adequate. When budgeting, do be aware that the prices quoted on specials boards and in the menu include V.A.T. so there are no annoying hidden charges.
The menu also has plenty of choice for meat-eaters, including pastas, salad dishes, chicken, fish and steak dishes, sausage and mash, curries, fish or scampi and chips, burgers, sticky ribs and wings, and a whole host of sides such as ridiculously tasty garlic bread and hearty farmhouse-style chips. The children’s menu includes staples like chicken nuggets and chips (which my son usually has if not having carvery – he has a very limited diet) but including small portions of more exotic dishes like the curries to encourage children to try something new. Food is fairly priced at between £5-£9 or thereabouts per dish, depending on its content. Everything we have tried has been tasty – we would particularly recommend the sticky ribs and wings, but only if you have a huge appetite!
I do have two slight moans about the food. One is that it can take a long time to arrive, especially when the place gets busy – the longest we have waited was just over an hour, which given that you supposedly have a time limit of two hours on your table we found a bit ridiculous. However this may be partly down to teething problems as it happened when the pub was new. The second is that there really isn’t much at all for vegetarians. I am a vegetarian who will allow myself an occasional meat fix, mostly for health reasons as I’m prone to anaemia, so I tend to have my meat fix when I go to Applewood Farm. However most vegetarians are 100% strict and I feel that this pub restaurant does not cater well for them at all. There are just a few pasta and vegetable dishes listed on the menu, and most of them involve cheese - which I can’t eat a lot of as it triggers my IBS. On one visit, I had had meat fairly recently so wanted to stick with a vegetarian choice, and really the only thing I could see on the menu that was suitable was a tomato and garlic pasta – which was then served with great big chunks of parmesan cheese on top of which the menu gave no clue. Being a parmesan hater I did not enjoy that meal at all. (Yes, I took it off, but with parmesan you can still smell and taste it on the food afterwards).
~*~ AND NOW FOR THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE - LITERALLY! ~*~
Up to now this has probably sounded like a fairly standard pub restaurant who are particularly family friendly but not so hot on catering for vegetarians. However, the franchise truly is innovative and different to anywhere else I have eaten for one big reason: its puddings. “Colin and Pauline’s BIG Pudding Menu” is roughly the same size as the main meals menu! It mostly consists of creamy gateaus, cheesecakes and ice-creams in a multitude of ingenious permeatations. I can’t have cream at all and can only have cheesecake or ice-cream occasionally – which is torture because I love them both - but these are honestly worth waiting for!
Some of the cheesecakes I have tried have been toffee waffle cheesecake (the best of the best so far, with caramel oozing over the waffle and crunchy biscuit base), Twix cheesecake (which really does taste of Twix), strawberry shortcake cheesecake (which included ultra-fresh strawberries and a stick of shortbread) and chocolate fudge cheesecake (the phrase “died and gone to heaven” takes on new meaning with this one). The cheesecake itself tastes light and creamy with vanilla echoes. I’m looking forward to trying the chocolate orange one – sometime in the future when I’ve reached my target weight, as I’m sure the calorie count on these is horrendous! I have also tried the chocolate orange ice-cream, which is absolutely divine, and the pina colada ice-cream, which is the only one I haven’t been impressed with. “Mars Attacks”, a layered chocolate gateau with crispy, crunchy and caramelly bits, chocolate mousse including white and milk chocolate layers, and apple pie and custard are also popular with my mum and son. If I haven’t mentioned anything you fancy, believe me, there’s much more on the menu, and you can drool over the full range in the chiller fridge by the counter where you can see the cakes and ice-creams beautified in all their glory with edible decorations. Eye candy indeed!
The best thing about the pudding menu is that the cheesecakes, ice-creams, and some of the other cakes – not hot puddings – are available for “cake-away”! If you don’t have room for a dessert, don’t miss out! Simply ask for a “cake-away” and have your choice presented to you in a plastic tub (or paper tub for the ice-cream) with a pot of pouring cream if you want it (we take it even though we can’t eat it since something in our garden – possibly a neighbouring cat – drinks it). You can even just pop in for one without dining – I have done this before! Most puddings are £4.25 – a few are cheaper – and for the size of portion you get this is excellent value. There’s plenty to share between two – or I usually just eat mine over 2 days!
~*~ WAITING AROUND ~*~
Other than the lack of vegetarian options, the one thing Applewood Farm has really got wrong – and it’s such a shame – is that they have completely underestimated their popularity. While it’s a large pub restaurant with a large car park, every day of the week by 12.30pm at lunchtime and by approximately 5.30pm at dinnertime the place is packed out. People park on grass verges on the road and it’s possible to have to wait for a table for up to an hour. There’s not much waiting space inside, and if you leave the pub you lose your place in the queue since they won’t come outside to find you on the picnic tables. This could be tricky particularly with hungry, fractious children in tow. They really should have planned to cater for larger numbers of folk – perhaps something went wrong with the market research, or perhaps they’re too busy trying to be all things to all people, instead of aiming at one particular audience.
It would be a shame to let this put you off as it’s such a pleasant dining experience otherwise, but if you do intend to come to Applewood Farm in Astley, especially for your impression-forming first experience, I would advise you to eat outside normal eating times, or turn up in the first hour of service at lunchtime (11am-12noon), or be an early bird at dinnertime (get seated around 3pm-4pm). It may calm down when it’s been around longer, but at the moment the credit crunch really hasn’t put people off eating there at all! Of course, if you’re faced with a wait and would rather not you can always get a cake-away to experience the best this pub restaurant has to offer – its delectable desserts – and get your main meal elsewhere.
I would go as far as to say I would recommend that everyone try a Colin and Pauline’s dessert at least once in their lives! So do come on over if you're ever in the area. Applewood Farm offers particularly high quality pub fayre at standard pub fayre prices, alongside a friendly welcome for you and yours, no matter how young or old. I have had to take a star away for the thorough lack of consideration towards vegetarians (which also explains the "average" rating for the menu), but that’s not to take anything away from Applewood Farm overall. If you plan your visit time carefully, this is a perfect venue for pudding-lovers and pretty much every member of the community – providing you’re not on a diet!
The website contains details of opening times, special events (such as Christmas booking) and recruitment as well as information on the aspects covered in this review. http://www.applewoodfarmpub.co.uk/index.htm