We’ve never ordered a la carte at a Toby, or drunk a bottomless soft drink (it’s nice to have your own teeth!), but the main course carvery, always at an amazing price (generally around £6), is a wholesome offering that can be relied upon. Mam was happy to choose a portion of food that didn’t overwhelm someone of her generation, and we were happy eating a variety of freshly-cooked vegetables with our gammon/turkey/pork or beef. There’s always a tasty and imaginative vegetarian alternative too.
It’s still a good deal, at a great price, a real boon for school groups out on trips, where it’s good to offer the kids something other than pizza, burger, chicken nuggets etc. (though a bone of contention, for me, is above-mentioned bottomless drinks - not great for anyone’s health, let alone our children’s). Whenever travelling in the UK, for pleasure or work, I tend to look up the nearest available Toby. If you’re not sure what time you’re arriving, or how much time you will have to eat, it’s really convenient to know you’ll get a decent meal without having to hang around. Recently, venturing North, I located one in Bolton near my accommodation. They usually seem to be housed in 20th century pubs, so I was knocked out when I drew up in front of a stunning Gothic building in Crompton Way - wowsers!
The waitress told me that in earlier incarnations the house had been a pub, an old people’s home, and was used as a military hospital during the World Wars, at one time specialising in the care of pilots with horrific burns, among other casualties. Between wars, in 1937, it had served as a hostel for refugee Basque children evacuated from Bilbao during the Spanish Civil War. I understand that local people did their very best to make the children feel supported and cared for, and funds were raised by colleges, schools and universities to help them.
Finally - here’s my other Toby collection! Two were modelled on my father James Hayter playing Friar Tuck, but my favourite is the hand-painted Kelsboro Ware version of him as Mr Pickwick, which I also think carries a better resemblance.