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? The Boat, Erbistock; TASTE TEST by Thalia Thompson.

THE Boat in Erbistock enjoys an idyllic location, with its red sandstone buildings sprawling alongside the River Dee, a stone's throw from the water.

Dating back as far as the 13th century, the pub's name is derived from the hand-operated chain ferry that once crossed the river at this point - there's plans to one day restore it to working order.

A traditional free house supporting local cask ales, if you've got a licence you can fish for salmon on the river. Plus there's reportedly a family of otters living opposite. You can park up and go for a walk before your meal, or even camp overnight.

It seemed the perfect place for an early evening meal on a sunny Saturday. However, we weren't the only ones to think so. The unseasonably warm weather had definitely brought the punters in. I'd tried to book but been told that they only take bookings for six or more. I was assured that getting a table shouldn't be a problem though - indeed its newsletter states "tables are always guaranteed for five or less".

Perhaps this is a bit of an optimistic guarantee. When we arrived a very busy waitress told us that there weren't any tables. We were on the point of leaving when the barman found us one last spot in the conservatory. A little later I heard the same waitress telling would-be diners that they faced over an hour's wait.

In fact tables did clear more quickly - I think the staff were genuinely just caught out by how exceptionally busy the evening was. And after this rather shaky start, the rest of the evening was pretty faultless.

The menu looks great. It's not cheap, but is keenly priced for the quality of the cooking. There's a choice of seven starters at around pounds 6-7, with 12 main courses mostly at pounds 10-12 and eight puddings at pounds 5. Two of the starters are designed for sharing and you can order smaller (and cheaper) portions of four of the main courses.

We chose one of the sharing starters - a homemade scotch egg plus a side salad. The enormous well-seasoned ball of sausagemeat was served sliced in two, to display the perfectly cooked white and deliciously runny yolk of the egg nestled inside.

The main courses were the real show stoppers. My plaice arrived surrounded by a creamy sauce, topped with pink prawns and garlanded with bright green pea shoots and golden roasted new potatoes. The prettiness of the dish matched its delicate fresh flavour.

My husband's slow roasted belly pork was meltingly tender and topped with a thick layer of glossy amber crackling. It sat on a generous bed of mashed potato studded with bacon and spring onion with a plate-lickingly good gravy.

I chose best for pudding, a lemon crme brle, with curls of lemon zest giving zing to the lusciously rich cream beneath a crisp carapace of golden caramel. My husband's chocolate pudding had a good dark flavour but was a little dry and chewy - it needed the accompanying butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Service was very good. Given how busy it was, I had been concerned that there'd be long delays between courses. The staff were rushing back and forth to the kitchen but the service was unfailingly friendly and efficient, and all the food came with just the right length of pause between courses.

This is a great place to visit.

There's very good, restaurant quality cooking plus tempting pub classics on the menu.

I particularly liked the look of the plates of battered cod, fat chips and mushy peas that many customers were ordering. I'd be very happy to go back and try out the rest of the menu - although I'd be even happier if I could book a table.

the bill big scotch egg pounds 5.50 house salad pounds 2.75 plaice pounds 13.95 belly pork pounds 11.95 lemon brle pounds 5 chocolate pudding pounds 5 large sauvignon blanc pounds 3.95 plassey bitter pounds 1.50 total pounds 49.60 the facts open monday to saturday noon-10pm, sunday noon-9 pm parking large car park disabled access steps between floor levels service busy but still pleasant and efficient overall really good food in a lovely setting PAST TASTE TESTS TO TRY 5SHARED OLIVE, HAWARDEN Quality at decent price (01244 530053, CAFFI CEGIN, CAERNARFON Quirky and colourful ( YR HEN LECHAN, Y FELINHELIhidden gem (01248 671720, WOODLANDS, ERBISTOCK great food, lovely setting (01978 711949) DOUBLETREE AT HILTON, HOOLE, CHESTER Steak heaven (01244 408830,
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 14, 2012
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