Three things that are desirable after traipsing for 25 miserable minutes through near-apocalyptic rain on a Friday night: a big drink, a tasty meal, and having both of these delivered to your table by a member of staff who can smother their misanthropic urges long enough to throw a bedraggled customer a smile, a hello and a menu without being asked.
If you have the same unreasonably lofty expectations as me, then I suggest you give alleged gastropub Hectors in Stockbridge a very wide berth.
Things started badly from the off when, having dropped my X-ray glasses in a puddle outside, I was unable to read the giant invisible signs notifying customers that it was free seating in the restaurant. So it really was silly of me to ask the waiter whether there were any available tables, and he was right to arrange his face into an expression of sullen disdain and with a regal flick of hand inform me that I could “just sit anywhere”.
Having found a table - bedecked with the flotsam and jetsam of the previous occupant’s dinner, but a table nonetheless – I squelched into my seat and waited for my friend and a menu to arrive. Fifteen minutes later, Liz was in situ, but our menu remained mysteriously at large anywhere but our still-filthy table. With some reluctance after my earlier telling off, I approached the clutch of po-faced staff, suckered barnacle-style to one end of the bar, and requested a menu be brought to our table by the window. I should have known better than to leave empty-handed to put my socks under the hand dryer, because upon my return no menu was to be found.
It was a further 5 minutes before an unsmiling waitress flounced up and tossed a menu on the table with the words “well, you walked off before I could see where you were sitting.” Hungry, and not wishing to prolong our interminable preprandial song and dance any further, I chose not to point out that with the facts “by the window” and “no menu” it was hardly a stretch to work out where said menu was required. Our drinks order – two glasses of wine – took a further 10 minutes to emerge, and didn’t last long to say the least.
After this near-comatose start, our soggy evening started to look up a little. After placing our order at the bar, our food arrived promptly and was brought out by a quiet but perfectly sweet-tempered waitress, who even managed to wipe down the table before the meals were served, a mere 45 minutes after my ignominious self-seating. My starter of salt and pepper calamari was a solid A-, encased in a batter a touch too heavy for my liking, but the squid was tender, and complemented nicely by a beautifully-flavoured lime mayo.
Liz, passing on a starter, opted for the house burger, which was a pleasingly hefty discus of peppery, medium-rare meat, generously accessorised with an oozingly marbled slice of melting blue cheese and double layer of streaky bacon. She pronounced the accompanying pot of beetroot coleslaw a little inconsequential, but gave an unequivocal thumbs up to the earthy, skin-on thick-cut chips piled liberally on the side.
My choice of a diet-amended soul soother in the form of bangers and mash similarly looked promising, anointed liberally as it was with a mahogany-hued, conker-glossy balsamic vinegar gravy that was silky and fruitily tart. Sadly, this was to be the high point of an otherwise woeful effort from the Hectors kitchen. The roasted squash, parsnips and Savoy cabbage were a pleasantly imaginative low-carb alternative to mashed potato, but were dreadfully executed. The parsnips, cut far too small for roasting, were witchy, shrivelled fingers that tasted of nothing more than vegetable oil and oven, and the oversized lumps of butternut squash were fibrous and stringy, characteristics which would have been noted by any decent chef when it was being prepared.
Unimpressive but forgivable – maybe – if upon the veg hadn’t sat four unmistakeably burnt Cumberland sausages. Chunky and herb-flecked within, they actually had the hallmarks of a high-standard meat product, but any signs of quality were totally obliterated by an acrid taste of burnt fat reminiscent of an uncleaned George Foreman grill. I should have sent them back, but couldn’t muster the energy to beg for the attention of the surly waiting staff again.
At two courses for ten pounds, plus £4 for a large glass of wine, the only really positive thing I have to say about our washout meal is that it was mercifully cheap -
– although given the risible customer service and seriously hit-or-miss food, still a pretty high price to pay.
So a port in the storm? I’m afraid to say, Hectors is not.