Eating out in Nailsea and nearby
The Battleaxes, Wraxall March 2018
This review has been a long time coming but after the re-launch party last November I wanted to go ‘incognito’ to eat at The Battleaxes to ensure an honest assessment of its food.
The opportunity came this week when a party of eight of us booked for Mother’s Day.
Despite being packed to the rafters and buzzing – I am told they served more than 400 covers – it didn’t feel overcrowded and the young staff were professional and friendly.
Mothers got a free glass of bubbly on arrival, but I just helped myself as this didn’t happen but other than that mishap everything went smoothly.
My husband Rob, a good beer connoisseur, ordered himself a naturally cloudy pint of So'Hop which was the guest ale for that week.
He said: "It was fruity with a taste of apples and lemons."
There were lots of fine wines and beers to chose from at the well-stocked bar.
The ambience of The Battleaxes is for me perfect – Gothic shabby chic best describes the décor – and it is spotlessly clean.
Call me Howard Hughes but I get fed-up going to restaurants and having to get out my wet wipes to remove the sticky crumbs of previous diners.
The long wooden tables and bench seating add to the banquet-style dining but there are cosy corners for the loved-up couples.
The chef had prepared an ambitious Mother’s Day menu and I plumped for the beetroot cured salmon, apple, fennel, sour cream and roe on crisp rye bread as an entrée.
Oh, it was so pretty with what I thought was pomegranate seeds dotted around the plate but now I am not so sure mixed with dollops of sour cream and tiny squares of crisps hidden under the modern art creation which whetted the appetite.
Also, on offer for starters was onion soup, pigeon on a vegetable salad with Brighton Blue cow’s cheese or roasted butter squash with goat’s cheese on a sage flavoured salad.
The main course was ‘mainly’ traditional roasts and I have to say the helpings are huge and all topped by individual Yorkshire puddings – again mountainous.
I pondered about the size of the poultry in the chicken run as I am sure I had half a capon and a hundred vegetables on my dinner plate plus the cauliflower au graten came as a side.
The daughters plumped for the cashew, lentil, lemon and quinoa (spinach) loaf – and loaf it was not a mere slice.
Everything was delicious and the young people who chose mac’n’cheese with peas and sweetcorn and the child’s portion of roast chicken on the bone, were equally stuffed…metaphorically speaking.
Three of the adults chose apple cinnamon compote with nutty crumble top for pudding and the custard served in a small jug.
And the others went for a vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb compote with sesame seed tulle.
The children unsurprisingly chose the chocolate and hazelnut brownies with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.
As we went to the late 6.30pm sitting there was a £5 discount on the £19.95 for two course and £24.95 for three course charge with the children’s meals at £5-6.95 though pudding was extra.
This was an exciting menu and whether the Flatcappers freehouse expected to be fully booked I don’t know but it was admirable service with a smile.
I went home happy clutching my Mother’s Day free gift of daffodils and we will certainly return – and soon.
The newly introduced daily menu has grazing nibbles and main meals offering everything from curries to steaks and burgers to fish pie and main meal prices range from £9.50-22.50.
However, I must add a note of caution as previous meals at the Battleaxes have been hit or miss and my advice is don’t go on the chef’s night off however that is easier said than done unless you have the kitchen rota!
To book a table call 01275 857473.
Another 'aside': Boss Tori Hill tells me that they had so many people booked they ran out of plates and had to resort to using an old service stored in the back of the cupboard since the refit! And with five permanent chefs now on staff including Dan Jenkins who devised the brilliant Mother's Day menu past kitchen problems are just that, she added.
Grand designs part 2
In late 2017 The Battleaxes in Wraxall underwent a further refurbishment.
It closed for five weeks and when it was shipshape and Bristol fashion they threw a big party and invited all the movers, shakers and neighbours to a taster evening.
Pictured in the slide show are some of the invited guests from town and parish councils, sport clubs and local schools.
Flatcappers Ltd, which is under new ownership, this time spent £300K transforming the pub and restaurant into a fine dining place.
The refit added custom made furniture, leather sofas, cocktail armchairs and bespoke fabrics matching specially commissioned wallpaper with a nod to the building’s arts and craft heritage.
Attention was paid to the lighting where statement pendants hang next to chandeliers and French moulded glass ceiling fitments.
The walls are full of local artwork, vintage oil paintings, portraits and taxidermy.
The menu has also been revamped with new grazing dishes such as Wookey Hole Cheddar and leek croquette with sun blushed ketchup, honey and mustard glazed mini sausages and bacon and salt’n’pepper squid with pepperonata dip.
Mains include aubergine, squash and chickpea tagine with couscous, lemon, coriander and chilli, fish pie with monkfish, cod and king prawns with a potato and breadcrumb top, and a spectacular 12-hour cider braised pork belly, creamed potato, savoy cabbage, crisp pancetta with caramelised apple and cider jus.
Flatcappers operations manager Tori Hill said at the time: “We’re delighted to show off the brand new Battleaxes, regulars and new comers are in for a real treat.
"We’ve sympathetically transformed the entire interior referencing its arts and crafts architecture, enhancing some beautiful features.
"The new menu is fresh and contemporary with a good mix of a few surprises alongside classic favourites.”
The Battleaxes is split into three areas – the main lounge and bar, the club room - which is licensed for weddings and civil ceremonies - and the lower ground floor vaulted Shindig bar area available for private hire.
Plans are afoot to landscape the rear garden in time for spring 2018.
The pub also has six guest bedrooms which all enjoyed a luxurious refurbishment earlier this year.
Brief history of The Battleaxes, Wraxall
The Battleaxes became part of The Flatcappers group which also owns The Castle Inn at Bradford on Avon and reopened with a small fanfare in September 2010.
With the new management came a complete refit with thousands of pounds spent on the property which is on the B3130 Nailsea to Bristol road.
The decor is still shabby chic and the furniture and fittings which were mostly bought on eBay include gaudy red and purple stripped Biba-style lamp shades.
The interior design is reminiscent of being somewhere between an American whorehouse and an old English hunting lodge!
The newly restored Battleaxes has a playful eccentricity described as ‘Cluedo country house meets traditional country pub'.
The walls are decorated with taxidermy and old gents club paintings and the rooms sport scrub top tables and comfortable, worn club chairs.
The floors are a combination of reclaimed pine boards and Indian flag and the loos are lovely – modern plumbing meets old-fashioned stately home elegance.
It is certainly very homely and gives a warm and welcoming feel from the old flat caps hung on the hall stand to the Country Life periodicals left on the entrance table.
The Battleaxes took on 17 staff, 10 front-of-house and seven hands-on in the kitchen, and in total £400k was been spent on the restoration.
The building is one four levels:
Upstairs there are the letting bedrooms some with fabulous rural views;
On an oak paneled mezzanine floor is the club room which can seat 70, main kitchen, a door leading to the garden and baby changing area;
On the ground floor is a dining room for 60 diners and comfy lounge bar; and
The Shindig is on the lower floor with conservatory room, glass skylights and French reproduction artwork.
The club room can be used for a variety of functions from wedding breakfasts to private parties.
It has played host to a sell-out performance of The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Wraxall Primary School PTA.
And the Battleaxes is easy to get to – minutes from the city and nearest town.
It is approximately a 10-min drive from Bristol and the Nailsea X9 bus stops outside.
The Battleaxes is Grade II-I listed building which was once part of the Tyntesfield estate.
It was built as a Temperance house by the benevolent Matilda Blanche Gibbs, widow of wealthy merchant William Gibbs, in 1881.
She wanted the Victorian building as somewhere for estate workers to meet without drinking alcohol.
But at the outbreak of World War I the Temperance House was leased to Georges Brewery, later Courage Brewery, and then we presume the beer and cider flowed.
In World War II land girls and the walking wounded from the American hospital used to socialise at the pub.
Its name refers to the Tyntesfield coat-of-arms which is three battle axes.
When Courage’s gave back the lease to the late Lord Wraxall (Richard Gibbs) in the 1960s he promptly sold the building.
It isn’t on public record of how much Matilda’s great grandson got from Courage tenant Mr A Bird for the freehold in 1962 but the average UK house price at the time was £2,950 and a new Ford Cortina cost £591.