On a quiet, rainy Sunday night, when you need something hearty to warm you up and a sneaky ale to pretend it’s not back to the working week the next day, what else is there to do but go to the nearest pub?
The Criterion Hotel is, quite literally, your corner pub. Perched in the sleepy back streets of Carrington, it’s one for the locals and those who have made the effort to find it. It gets pretty busy through the week however, and on a quiet, rainy Sunday night, it’s no different. The pub and restaurant has a constant flow of families, groups and solos coming in.
Bought by serial pub owners Mick and Deb Potts in June 2014, they’ve given it a makeover, so now the carpets aren’t so sticky and it feels like it belongs to everyone. But don’t fear, the pub still looks and feels like a pub, not one of those homogenised updates that were rampant in the mid-2000s.
The kitchen didn’t get its engines going until October 2014, with Mick and Deb putting an onus on great pub food for great value. And they’ve pretty much nailed the brief.
Take one look at the menu and you can see they aren’t punching above their weight - the kitchen is playing to its strengths. Chef James Miller is English, and this also comes through in the offerings. It's classic pub grub but with a few more complicated dishes thrown in for good measure.
The very English ploughman’s board is a great way to begin. All the staples are covered: bread; pickles – relish, onions and cornichons; a delicious creamy cheddar; a ham hock terrine (although they have run out tonight and we get deli ham in its place); fresh greens and a Scotch egg that still runs gooey on the inside. It’s great for picking away at while chatting.
In fact, we pick away at the board for so long that we are told our mains are ready before we finish it. I suppose I was talking a lot.
A plate of Murray Valley pork belly comes with the best crackling I’ve heard in a long time. There’s big fluffy scoops of mash, pumpkin puree, sweet broccolini and roasted apple to keep it company. It all works well together and nothing is missing – portions are generous across the board.
The Sunday roast is beef. It’s piled high with roast pumpkin and potatoes, carrots, cauliflower bake, Yorkshire pudding, peas and gravy, it still warms in this drizzly autumn night.
The beef and Yorkshire pudding are both a bit chewy, possibly from waiting in the warmer while we finish our entrees.
A Cumberland pork sausage (one of those spiral affairs) is perched on top of buttery mash, with crispy and sweet onion rings on top again. A little more gravy is needed to match the starch, but overall it satisfies. The pie of the day is a huge beef, bacon and mushroom number. It’s meaty, it’s flaky and it’s tasty. Choose it with chips and salad or mash and vegetables and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Beers include your stock-standard regulars: Toohey’s New, VB, Toohey’s Old, XXXX Gold, Carlton Draught, Cooper’s Pale Ale, alongside Asahi and 4 Pines Kolsch. The wine list is small but competent; a Haha NZ Pinot Noir feels just fine with the pie of the day.
The location of the hotel means that you can watch the big ships glide by as though the scenery was changing behind the action on a stage, and with plenty of seating outside, this would be a lovely spot to while away a sunny afternoon.
The food here isn’t pretentious – it’s honest and straightforward, comforting and fun, just like the venue. Isn’t that why you go to the pub in the first place?