“We’re ‘nuts’ about the Rugby World Cup”, says a flyer on our table inside Truro’s Old Ale House.
What do nuts have to do with rugby? After a couple of hours sheltering from the wind and rain at the back of the pub in question, I get the reference. And it’s nothing to do with sport.
See, while some pubs have sawdust underfoot, the slatted wooden floor in the Old Ale House is covered with empty peanut shells, most of which are thrown there by the pub’s bar staff as they clear the tables. It’s gimmicky, but strangely comforting.
Not that this place needs any gimmicks. Housed in a Victorian building designed by the same Dutch architect who designed Newquay’s famous Headland Hotel, the pub takes up two floors. Downstairs is the pub proper. Upstairs is a more formal space with table service, the “Hop Store Bar”.
Skinner’s brewery, which is a short stumble away on the banks of the Truro River, leases the building. Essentially, the pub is the brewery’s tap room, showcasing the growing range of Skinner’s ales along with ciders from Cornwall Cider Co, also based in Truro.
There’s food upstairs and down, with local ingredients playing a key role in the dishes.
On arrival, we brushed past a couple of people sheltering from a squally rain shower in the porch and took a table at the far end of the downstairs bar. We passed a barrel lid of complimentary “monkey nut” peanuts – the source of the shells that adorn the floor – on our way through.
The back of the pub, dim and dark and suitably cosy, had the feel of the belly of an old ship. The distant blazing light of the large windows at the front of the pub created the illusion of daylight streaming through an open hatch out onto the deck. Appropriate really, seeing as we were in a county famous for its smuggling past. I almost expected to see cases of contraband rum stacked up in the corner next to where Tilly had made herself at home on the floor.
However, it was ale, not rum, we were here for. We headed to the bar.
There were six Skinner’s ales available today. Happily, similar to The Stroud Ale House and The Stable in Winchester, the pub offers third-of-a-pint measures so that you can sample much of what’s on offer. The plastic flagons hanging from the top of the bar alongside the handled tankards signalled that the pub also provides takeaway beer.
First up, I went for a third each of “Cornish Trawler” (3.8%), “Heligan Honey” (4%) and “Porthleven” (4.8%). I decided against sampling Skinner’s flagship beer, “Betty Stoggs”, as I’d tried it a few times in the past. Grandad did have a half of “Betty” though, while Tiff had the designated driver’s lemonade. The barman was particularly polite as he poured our drinks, I thought. He seemed genuinely grateful that we were drinking in his pub.
We hadn’t planned on eating in the Old Ale House this lunchtime. But we soon changed our mind when we saw the menu. Pub classics like pork belly and fish finger sandwiches sit alongside more exotic creations such as Indian-spiced lamb skewers. We decided on two sharing boards – the fish board and the meat board (both £12.50) – and a round of potato wedges (£2.50) between the three of us.
The waitress thoughtfully brought the wedges out first as the platters were taking longer to prepare than expected. They were chunky and delicious, especially when dipped in the accompanying aioli. I thought that they could have been hotter, but Tiff thought they were perfect.
A short while after we’d polished off the wedges, our sharing boards arrived. The meat one came with pulled pork croquettes, ham hock terrine and sticky chilli chicken wings. The fish board consisted of smoked mackerel fillets, calamari and crab croquettes. Both boards came with mayo dips and pea shoot leaves.
At first, I thought the boards could have done with some bread as well. But it was nice to be able to taste all the meats and fish without too much stodge taking over the show. The calamari, which consisted of squid and baby octopus, was particularly memorable and easily on a par with the calamari tapas we had on holiday in Valencia earlier this year.
For the other two third-pints, I went for a couple more paler ales – the “River Cottage EPA” (4%) and the “Lushingtons” (4.2%). After tasting these, the Cornish Trawler still came out on top overall.
Info: The Old Ale House is at 7 Quay Street, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 2HD. The Skinner’s Brewery, which has a shop and does brewery tours, is at Riverside, Newham Road, Truro, TR1 2DP.