This week we’re just slightly outside Reading, at The Pack Saddle, on the road to Oxford. But which one is the Pack Saddle, and which one is the Pack Horse? Is it the first pub or the second pub? Have a guess. Because I’m willing to bet it’s 50:50 whether or not you get it right.
Answer: it’s the first one. In our house we have a handy way of remembering it. Every time you need to remember, imagine you are watching Catchphrase. Mr. Chip has just revealed a picture of a cart. And the cart is before a horse. And contestant number 1 (Gavin from Reading) buzzes in excitedly and yells “PUTTING THE SADDLE BEFORE THE HORSE”. Roy Walker smiles kindly, shakes his head and reminds them to just say what you see. But now you will always remember – The Pack Saddle comes before the Pack Horse.
Anyway, the Pack Saddle is a lovely country pub, with a nice beer garden for the summer – lots of tables outside, and a kids’ play area. It’s on the main road, but the garden is shielded enough that it doesn’t matter. Of course, being a country pub means that you need to find a way to get there – either a designated driver, or the X39 and X40 busses stop almost outside it.
For a remote pub, they have a surprisingly good range of beer. Often country pubs can’t put on more than 2 or 3 bitters. It had Banks’s Sunbeam, Ringwood Razor Back, Loddon Hoppit, and Shipyard America Pale Ale. Good Old Boy had just gone off when I arrived, and it was just being replaced by Marston’s Lancaster Bomber as I was leaving – which I wish I’d been able to try. I did try the Sunbeam though. A bit disappointing – sour tasting, and perhaps at the end of it’s life. I switched to the Shipyard, and that was delicious – very hoppy, and nice and fresh. I went back a week later to double check, and had a Mr. Swifts Pale Ale. It also tasted a bit old. That’s the curse of country pubs – it’s hard to shift the volume, so the beer on pumps is sometimes better than others. Ask them what is freshest at the moment if you want to be safe.
For snacks they have four flavours of pork scratchings, kettle chips, and nuts in a jar. The pub does pride itself on its food too. I went off eating there a few years ago when I ordered a pigeon salad which didn’t agree with me (I was feeling too adventurous). Since then they have a new chef and a much better menu. As a country pub, they do depend on food to make a living though, so about half of the pub is given over to the dining room. There are plenty of tables outside the restaurant area too though – you generally won’t struggle to find a table.
Atmosphere in the pub is convivial. At lunch time there is a wide range of people stopping in for something to eat. The evenings it tends to have an older set of customers – I think that the average age was probably mid 60s. That’s probably due to South Oxfordshire countryside dwellers being older than people who live in town on average. Everyone seemed to be having a great time though – most people having come out for dinner and a few pints, and enjoying both very much. Quiet music in the background seemed designed to span generations (Rolling Stones, Bowie).
The other group of people that the pub is popular with is dog walkers. The pub has a jar of free dog biscuits on the bar for your dog, or perhaps for any passing students who are in desperate need of some free food*. As a result there were a few dogs wandering round the bar and the garden (but no wandering students that I could see). Mind you, if there were any students persuading mum and dad to drive them out to a nice pub in the country for Sunday lunch, they would find the prices perfectly reasonable. I paid £4.20 for the Mr. Swifts Pale Ale.
* Mrs. Quaff informs me that while I might have been a penny pinching student (and some might say that nothing has changed), my stereotype is years out of date. So I apologise to any students who are offended by my lazy type casting. Not enough to take it out though.
|Beer Quality||A bit of a let down. None of the beer was awful, but some of it could have been fresher.|
|Beer Selection||A nice selection of beer – clearly someone has put effort in to sourcing some interesting beers from different locations.|
|Drink vs Food||It’s half restaurant, and most people are eating. Plenty of space to just have a drink too.|
|Music||Quiet music in the background – unobtrusive and inoffensive to anyone.|
|Snacks||Not a bad selection, but I’d prefer to see more crisps, and nuts in bags, not jars.|
|Atmosphere||Lots of people sitting round having a pleasant chat.|
|Price||Pretty good – just over £4 a pint.|
|Space||Lots of the pub is restaurant, but there are perhaps 8-10 tables in the bar, and lots of space outside.|
If you are looking for a nice pub in the country to spend a sunny afternoon in, you won’t be disappointed if you pick the Pack Saddle. Go for lunch or dinner, and sit in the beer garden trying out their different beers.