The Kings Head, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
Ladies Doing Lunch, a Beef Sandwich, and Virginia Woolf
A few minutes before I went into the King’s Head, I bought a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries from a charity shop just a few yards away.
The Kings Head is at the top of the town and is an inn with a history stretching back to the 14th Century. With its wood paneling and open fire places, it is not difficult to imagine Cavaliers, red coated officers of the 17th century army and Regency dandies coming in, as I did, out of the rain for something to eat or drink.
I ordered my beef sandwich at the bar and sat down in the library. Not so much "sat down" as sunk down into a padded leather armchair near a window. In the opposite corner were three ladies who were "doing lunch." From the sounds of the conversation, they had not seen one another for a while and had got together for a good catchup over a lunch.
They discussed their various ailments. Who was in and out of favour with their families? What they were going to do about their respective estates. And for some reason, the Inland Revenue was mentioned repeatedly.
My beef sandwich arrived. It was generous slices of salmon-pink roast beef with horseradish between two slices of homemade bread, along with a green salad and some coleslaw. The rare beef was tender. The horseradish had a bit of a kick. The coleslaw was laced with Dijon mustard and the green salad had a sheen of vinaigrette dressing.
In all honesty, there is not really a lot anyone can do to make a roast beef sandwich spectacular, and this one was exactly as described on the menu.
What made my lunch interesting beyond the qualities of a sandwich was the banter and conversation the three ladies carried on while they were enjoying their mussels and fries. Over their main courses, they talked about one of their mutual friends.
"Good God! That is his fifth marriage."
"Last time I saw him he looked very ill."
"I am not surprised. Every time he gets married, he seems to lose a body part. First it was a kidney, then part of a lung, and did you hear the latest?"
A muffled gasp went around their table.
"He lost part of his foot in that car accident not so long ago."
I pretended to be disinterested in their conversation, but there was no escape. Even with the shield of a book in front of me, their words got all my attention. They weren’t loud or coarse. They were all well spoken and were just having a normal conversation over lunch.
There was a break in their conversation while they dealt with the slightly messy issue of eating mussels. There is no easy way and each mollusk will not release its prize without full concentration by the diner. When they finished the mussels, they restarted their conversation while they finished off the fries and side salads.
I made my visit to the Kings Head on March 12, 2019, and it was during the conversation break that I leafed through the pages of my book to find out what Virginia Woolf did on any of the 12ths of March there were entries for. 100 years ago, to the day, she dined with a friend in London, which as she said, "Did not much interest me as a show." Despite not mentioning what she ate, the bulk of her entry for that day revolved around "a woman of doubtful character" who threw her glass on the floor, rattled the cutlery, and stormed out of the restaurant, which did interest her "as a show" enough to write about in her diary.
Quite often, I find that it is not the food that makes a meal out exceptional. It is the environment and atmosphere generated by the venue, the staff, and the customers. So much so, that the food takes a supporting role. It is a ticket to watch part of the theatre of life going on around you.
One beef sandwich, Becks Blue beer, and a coffee—just under £10.
Would I go there again? Yes.
Would I recommend it to friends and strangers? Yes.
P.S. The Kings Head has rooms as well, and all of them are imbued with charm and character. Check the website for availability and rates.