If your dining-out days go back to the 80s, you’ll remember the sweet trolley; always full of promise but so often a bitter disappointment. Restaurateurs copped out of adding daily delights to the menu and instead delivered a gilded trolley to your table creaking with exotic names – most straight from the freezer. New York Cheesecake, Tiramisu, Black Forest Gateau, Mississippi Mud Pie, fruit salad and those awful stringy oranges swimming in a brandy-flavoured soup. I blame the sweet trolley for my dislike of all those puds, which I am sure taste wonderful in Manhattan or Milan.
What the sweet trolley had done was to run the traditional English pud out of town. And when Keith and Jean Turner, who ran the Three Ways House Hotel at Mickleton in the Cotswolds, realised what was happening they started something that was to become a world-wide phenomenon. In the winter of 1985, they held the inaugural meeting of the Pudding Club. Thirty passionate and pioneering pudding eaters enjoyed a light main course, no starter and no bread, and then feasted on no less than seven fine traditional puds such as Jam Roly Poly, Syrup Sponge, Spotted Dick and Bread and Butter Pudding.
Over the years that followed, the Pudding Club gained some local notoriety but it wasn’t until Jill and Simon Coombe took over the hotel nearly 17 years ago, that they began to spread the word (and the custard) with missionary zeal – taking the Pudding Club to the four corners of the world. They travelled to Japan and the Americas, published pudding recipes and even campaigned for Spotted Dick when Tesco tried to change the name to Richard. No surprise they attracted comments – “Like making love in a thunderstorm”, “It’s like a medieval banquet with custard”. It has even been described as “The eighth wonder of the world”.
Today the award-winning Three Ways House Hotel hosts a Pudding Club Meeting every Friday night (and sometimes on a Saturday too.) Self appointed Chief Pudding Taster, Simon describes these occasions as “fun, relaxed but indulgent evenings”. The format remains the same as in 1985. No starter, a light main course and seven glorious puddings washed down with lashings of syrup and custard. At the end of the evening the members vote for their “Pudding of the Night”.
And, to continue the pudding theme, if too much Roly Poly has made you a trifle lethargic, you could always book into one of their famous and exquisitely decorated pudding rooms – Sticky Toffee, Oriental Ginger, Syrup Sponge, Summer Pudding, Lord Randall’s, The Chocolate Suite or Spotted Dick and Custard.
Just in case you’re wondering if we have gone off our sweet trolley, the reason I mention Jill, Simon and the Pudding Club is that they, of course, use a Rational oven, which is serviced and maintained on contract with AC Services and has been since it was installed four years ago.
The oven is a ten grid Self Cooking Center and lies at the heart of their kitchen. The majority of the puddings are steamed in a traditional way, but most of the other dishes from the a la carte and brasserie menus are cooked in the Rational oven – breakfast, lunch and dinner. With 48 bedrooms, and up to 100 residents, the hotel may serve up to 150 covers on a busy night across its main restaurant, the Randalls Bar Brasserie and the Pudding Club itself.
“We need to use the latest technology to improve our service, drive down our costs and make working conditions as good as we can for our 60 staff,” said Simon.
“The oven is part of our investment behind the scenes of the hotel. It was an expensive piece of equipment that is used very heavily and we don’t want it standing idle because of some failure that could have been avoided. It made absolute sense to take out a Gold Maintenance Contract with AC Services. They have good engineers and we have had no major issues considering the use it gets.”