RE-OPENED by the community a year ago this month, The Wheel Inn at Bowling Green Pennington has been completely refurbished, and is once again a thriving local pub, writes Chris Chester.
As there is with any refurbishment project, there are a multitude of skills needed to complete the task successfully and supporters of the project have shown themselves not only to be multi-talented but also very generous with their donations of time and resources.
Many of the new fixtures and fittings have been donated by the community shareholders; where expertise has been needed to complete work, while local tradesmen have given their time and skills for free.
The pub has now really taken shape, freshly painted with spruced-up furniture inside. The garden has been tided and trimmed and there are new beds of plants and herbs; many of which are used for table décor and in the recipes coming from the recently installed new kitchen.
Food from the new menu has been served at the pub since last June. Experienced Italian chef Enrico and his team produce fresh cooked traditional pub classics and some tasty Italian dishes.
On Enrico’s days off, cooking is done by pub manager Phil Beckett, who has over 30 years’ experience in the trade and has worked around the world, including on the QE2.
The pub has a very friendly and warm feel; not least because of the welcome from staff and the locals or the log fire in the snug. Many of the staff are volunteers and give up their time to work at The Wheel. The volunteers are well-trained and management ensures that they undertake relevant courses at Brockenhurst College, including health and safety and food hygiene modules for those who are inexperienced.
There is a very committed ethos toward staff training and investing in the production and development of expertise and opportunity.
The Wheel is a dog friendly pub too, and on the evening we went for a meal, we took our Spinone, Ponti, with us; he loved the all attention and treats, particularly from Kate behind the bar, who also offers a full dog sitting and walking service.
Other regulars also put their hobbies and passions to good use for the pub too. One of the locals, Alan, grows vegetables for the pot and salads.
Most of his produce is seasonal, but if it’s not being grown or available at the moment and either Enrico or Phil let him know what they want, Alan will put his green fingers and polytunnels to work and plant what they ask for; great for the pub, great for the community and great for the environment too! The Wheel Inn is very conscious about its carbon footprint.
My choice of meal was easy, I decided on calamari to start and the ricotta and spinach ravioli as a main. My dining partner, being half Italian, found his choices much more difficult to make, but in the end decided to stay closest to his roots and went for a trio of bruschetta to start and the frutti di mare (seafood) risotto for his main.
My calamari was delicious, the squid rings were very tender and the light batter, more of a tempura really, was beautifully crisp; Ponti loved them too and would have happily had more than the one I gave him, but that was all I was going to spare him!
My ravioli was well seasoned and very tasty, thin light pasta with a deep filling and creamy sauce; a generous portion, but I couldn’t finish the wedges of garlic bread that came with the dish.
My partner loved his bruschetta starter, in particular, he thought that the black olive pate was delicious. He also said his seafood risotto really tasted of the sea and was very pleasantly surprised by the depth of flavour it had and commented that, in his opinion, the fish stock used to cook the rice in “really packed a punch”.
At this point Phil popped across for a chat and told us some more about their use of locally sourced produce. Just the day before one of the local fishermen had delivered – on his bike – a good sized locally caught seatrout, and he also mentioned that the bones and carcass had been used in the fish stock preparation.
Perhaps that helped to explain the depth of flavour my dining partner noticed in his risotto.
Although there was a very tempting selection of traditional and Italian speciality puddings and ice creams, both my partner and I were full and decided not to indulge in anything else.
During our evening I chose a G&T, one from a good selection including local gins, and my partner had one each of the guest real ales that were on offer during the week. Real ales feature weekly at The Wheel, as well as local beers from the Vibrant brewery.
There is also a good selection of real cider, the local brew (Myners) is even sometimes being delivered by steam engine from Hordle! Wines are also sourced locally from Priory wines, just up the road in Lymington.
Being a true community pub, you’d expect community events. The Wheel has regular quizzes, open mic nights, and themed events (more information can be found at www.thewheelinnatbowlinggreen.co.uk) and there’s even a weekly meat draw!
Look out for the upcoming music festival and family day on May 24th, spring bank holiday weekend.
And a final word from manager Phil: “A village pub is an institution, you either use it or lose it”.