Back in Mr Fueled by Beer’s youth The Sportsman was one of his locals: it was where people who knew you don’t pee in a bidet went for their Morlands cask ales. Across the street the Neanderthals were sinking their pints of Courage keg swill while performing amateur dentistry on one another. Today the Sportsman lives on while the Maidens site is boarded up awaiting demolition and redevelopment as a Sainsbury’s local supermarket.
This pub always had a homey feeling and it hasn’t lost it after all these years. The overall floorplan is open but arranged in an ‘L’ shape. The front of house – the foot of the ‘L’ – is reserved for over-18s. This is where the pool table, music and other diversions of interest to adults of child-bearing age are situated.
Around the corner of the wrap-around bar – the leg of the ‘L’ – it’s like grandma’s living room: booth seating around the edges, with clusters of tables separated by leather couches and free-standing partitions filling the open space. The decor has a yesteryear quality right down to the photos on the wall depicting late Victorian/Edwardian scenes from around Reading. As a history nut I enjoyed walking around and studying each photo in great detail.
During our visit the clientele was very mixed: some locals at the front being boisterous, yet good-natured. Back where we sat there was a mixed bag of older couples out for Sunday roast, some middle-aged men occupying booths while reading newspapers or working on a laptop. Notably absent were families with small children, something you have to endure at Hungry Horse in our experience.
Seated nearest us was an interesting foursome who I suspect had come from the University which, after all, isn’t far away. It looked like three International graduate students and a Professor sitting around a table eating Sunday dinner and discussing Oceanography. The older gent was an ‘old salt’ from Cornwall while the others were Swiss, French and Italian.
The Meet & Eat franchise clearly draws much from its managed counterpart, Hungry Horse, and at a similar price point. However, there are important differences, at least at The Sportsman, we’ll have to visit other sites to see if they follow suit. Anyway, the kitchen clearly has more leeway to depart from the standard menu: during our Sunday evening visit there was a daily specials offering in addition to the Sunday Roast option. Both Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer took advantage of this and we found the food well prepared and good value for money.
This more flexible approach was also evident at the bar where I was frankly surprised (and impressed) that this Greene King local had four casks on and only one was GK – and not even mainstream but Morland Original (makes sense knowing the pub’s history). The other three casks were from Brains, York Brewery, and Springhead – tried halves of each – all good.
Of the Greene King pubs we have visited so far The Sportsman is easily the nicest – at least according to our tastes. It is accessible by bus (Scarlet 9 route), it has a car park, and the outside seating area is nice at this time of year. Highly recommended 🙂 🙂