2012-02-23 / Cuisine

Lively atmosphere draws fans to English Pub

The English Pub has been pouring ale and dishing up fish and chips in Naples since 1969, which is practically another epoch of time when it comes to the history of Southwest Florida.

When a restaurant has been in business for 43 years, it must be doing something right, and changing locations might seem to be a risky business move. Well, it appears that The English Pub’s fans have moved right along with their watering hole from Linwood Avenue to a spot off the East Trail about three miles south.

The dining room was rocking on a Wednesday night, with seniors busting moves to tunes from the 1950s to today provided by a one-man karaoke act. (The pub also is known for booking musical acts that pay tribute to the likes of Rod Stewart, ABBA and Neil Diamond.)

Entertainment and camaraderie seem to be the main attractions, based on our sampling of the food. There are pleasures to be found in bar food if it’s executed with some attention to quality, consistency and flavor. A Scottish egg, a shepherd’s pie, even fish and chips, can be quite satisfying with quality ingredients and skillful preparation.

Above:Af Fish and chips are classic British pub fare. Above:Af Fish and chips are classic British pub fare. That just didn’t seem to be the case at The English Pub, where the food and service came across as indifferent and uninspired.

Nevertheless, a steady flow of patrons kept tables turning in a dining room where every corner is utilized. The booth we were seated at was a very tight fit; we had to swing the table back and forth justt to be able to shimmy into the pewlike - armed benches one at a time.e. Obviously, no one on the staff hasas tried to sit at this table; otherwise, they’d realize how uncomfortable it is.

The low-ceilinged room has the feel of a neighborhood pub. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth shares wall space with beer signs and flat-screen TV monitors showing English “footie” and other sports. Between the too-close tables and cave-like scale, the room can feel a bit claustrophobic. Better, perhaps, to ask for a table on the open-air patio.

Left:L — A basket of mini sausages — b “bangers” in Britain — seems bottomless. Left:L — A basket of mini sausages — b “bangers” in Britain — seems bottomless. Our unenthusiastic waitress recited the draft beer list, which is unimpressive for an English tavern: the usual Guinness, Newcastle, Stella Artois on tap. My companion’s black-and-tan wasn’t poured properly; the ale and stout mixed together rather than remaining distinctly separate. Service on the whole technically was fine but not overly cordial; drinks were refilled and plates were cleared in a timely fashion.

For appetizers, we decided on a house specialty of kettle-fried potato chips and a “tankard of bangers.” (I apologize for not including prices here; the pub’s website doesn’t include them, and my credit card bill wasn’t itemized. Our tab, sans gratuity,wasa reasonable

Below:B Sticky toffee pudding is served withw vanilla ice cream. Below:B Sticky toffee pudding is served withw vanilla ice cream. $54.)

Advertised as freshly fried, the chips were not hot. On the positive side, they were made from thick slices of potato, which gave them a heft that that we liked, and tthey sst were liberally salted so they had some flavor to them. The chips were supposed to be served with a chipotle dip, which we might have liked, but came with boring ranch dressing. A mismissed opportunity to do something difdifferent there.

The bangers — mini pork sausages

— were served not in a mug but in a cone-shaped basket, and a nearly bobottomless one at that. We repeatedly ed reached in with forks, expecting in to come up empty, but instead sspearing wpr yet another tasty link. They were served with a silken brown dipping sauce that was nondescript and really not essential; the bangers were addictive enough without it.

Moving on to the main course, the choices closely adhere to traditional tavern comfort food — cottage pie, liver and onions, pork chops — with a few more interesting options such as a curry dish and braised lamb shank.

The fish and chips were decent, though in a British restaurant I’d expect plankstyle potatoes rather than the French fries served here. The thick fillet of white fish was encased in a crunchy batter that sealed in the fish’s natural juices. Well done, and the aforementioned fries were crisp and fluffy — even if they weren’t quite what was expected.

A chicken and almond potpie was less impressive. While we liked the thick chunks of moist breast meat tucked into the dish along with peas and carrots, the bland sauce underneath the puff pastry lid desperately wanted seasoning. A dash of salt and pepper improved it considerably. The savory pie was paired with a pile of green beans that also needed seasoning. At least they weren’t overcooked.

For dessert we shared a serving of sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. This is a sponge cake that is supposed to be drenched in a buttery brown sugar sauce, but both slices were exceedingly dry. There was a thin layer of syrupy moisture at the bottom of the cake wedges, but there was no escaping the fact that this was not an ideal representation of the classic British dessert.

Has something been lost in translation during the restaurant’s move? Hard to say without having recently dined at the old location.

Clearly, this long-lived, well-loved establishment has its fans, whether they come for the food or the fun. ¦

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