Saturday, 23 February 2008

Bill Blunt's Guide to Wetherspoons: No 3: Doncaster: The Gatehouse

Ever since its publication in serialised form in 1928, rumours have persisted that Michail Sholokhov penned the opening chapters of his seminal piece of fiction, And Quiet Flows The Don while sat in the snug of a pub somewhere in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

It's a seductive idea and, as any journalist worth his salt will tell you, you should never let the absence of any corroborating facts get in the way of a story. But that doesn’t mean we should believe everything the Doncaster Tourist Information Centre tells us in an attempt to lure visitors to the place.

As my loyal reader will know, I’m not a man who scorns the opportunity to travel - there’s not a lot of moss on Bill Blunt, I can tell you. So, when Reggie Mackeson, my old pal on the Doncaster Free Press, invited me across the Pennines for the weekend, I was quick to accept. He’s always eulogized about the place, so I was keen to sample its delights. Now, I don’t mind dark, Satanic mills – but when it comes to dark Satanic schools, dark Satanic churches and dark Satanic supermarkets, I can tell you: I’ve had my fill. In their obviously very finite wisdom, the city planners of Doncaster have elected to knock down a ghastly 1970’s-period shopping centre and replace it with a perfectly awful 21st century one.

I thought, however, I could take advantage of the trip to add another chapter to the Bill Blunt Guide to Wetherspoons, which is starting to take shape.

No one can be sure whether The Gatehouse was the very pub in which Sholokhov dashed out the first few lines of his epic Don masterwork. But the facts are clear that there has been an inn on the site since at least 1670. Messrs Wetherspoon didn’t get in on the act until early 2002, modernizing and transforming it into the pub it is today.

Early impressions are of a clean and spacious venue, if a tad on the dark side. Perhaps the fact that I was visiting for breakfast on a rather dull, Saturday morning in February had something to do with that, or maybe the lights were dimmed to protect the sensitivities of the dozen or so sterling men who, even at 9am, seemed to have no compunction in downing a pint (and more) of ale.

The staff at The Gatehouse are an exceptionally friendly and amiable bunch. Presentation-wise, the breakfast was a little lack-lustre, with the fried egg haphazardly thrown over the baked beans and bacon. But it was hot, tasty and greaseless – well-up to the usual Wetherspoon breakfast standard. And a bit more training on the coffee machine wouldn’t go amiss, if they are ever to master the art of serving up a decent cappuccino. However, since Reggie had a couple of vouchers he’d had delivered as part of a marketing campaign, the brekkie and coffee only cost us £1.99 each, so it would be churlish to complain too much.

I wasn’t able to test out the wi-fi signal at The Gatehouse, but Reggie assures me he’s never had much problem logging on there.

All in all, then, you won’t be disappointed by this one.

Decor: 8/10
Food Quality: 9/10
Value for money: 10/10 (using discount voucher)
Location: 6/10
Wifi Access: 9/10

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