I'm all for good value and the sound of 2-for-1 with no voucher printing nonsense is music to my ears.
When this comes with a catch, however it can leave a bitter taste in your mouth and I'm not talking about one that comes in smooth pint form.
The Centurion in North Hykeham is a classic chain pub, a familiar well-lit and welcoming sight next to busy roads across the country. In case this isn't enough to entice you in, the pub has been offering a 2-for-1 deal on ten of its meals but the offer only runs from noon-5pm, Monday to Friday.
This is fantastic for what I'm guessing are the few people that can make the most of this but for the rest of us it definitely detracts from a menu that's already good value for money.
That aside, the establishment is billed as a 'home from home' with authentic British food and real ales, in a genuine local pub warmed by a cosy fire. It was far too neat and polished to feel like a genuine local pub but it did come with a five-star food hygiene rating which always deserves merit.
Walking in, the pub was welcoming and busy, always a promising sign. The bar looked well stocked and there was a great selection of cask ales. My friend enjoys his tipple and opted for the Magners but the wealth of choice stopped me in my tracks.
The selection of pale, dark, traditional, speciality and guest ales forced me to rest my elbows on the bar and furrow my brow, but I eventually chose a nice warming dark for the cold winter eve.
Since my visit I have learned about The Centurion's 'try before you buy' policy though – and I am using this review to inform the masses because as I found, the bar staff won't.
Now I don't know if this 'helpful local' was an undercover Ember Inns employee to make up for the half-hearted barmaid but when my question about the mixed grill left her perplexed the gentlemen standing next to me at the bar kindly stepped in.
We ordered and paid at the bar and, picking a table, we were impressed by the layout of the venue. The maze-like collection of tables, hidden in multi-level alcoves has an enchanting effect of making the place bustle with a warmth of distant conversations without making you feel on display.
Our order was simple – two pints and two main courses – and the food didn't take too long to arrive. My mixed grill ticked all the boxes, a nicely cooked selection of meats, some crisp chips, onion rings, mushroom, tomato, peas and a fried egg. I didn't order a sauce, just some English Mustard so I could test the flavour of the steak.
At first I thought the portions of meat seemed small but they actually proved an ample taste of each and the meal filled me.
The steak was juicy and well cooked – although I had used my experience of pub cooking to guess if I ordered a rare it would come medium.
The gammon and chicken were just as succulent and the sausage, whilst not Lincolnshire – a stark reminder The Centurion is a chain pub – was tasty enough.
My friend had chosen a steak and ale pie which came with a golden puff pastry top, mashed potato and mixed green vegetables in gravy.
Both dishes got the nod of approval but we decided a puff pastry on top is not a pie; it is, in fact, puff pastry on top of stew. This is what the menu described and it tasted very nice but I'm a traditionalist and you should be able to pick a pie up with your hands if needs be.
I've not talked that much about the food but that's because we all know what chain pub grub tastes like. The Centurion is more of a box ticker than a traditional English pub full of character.
I imagine a researcher went to a selection of British pubs, asked a focus group what they most liked about traditional pubs and recreated this 130 times over, which is the number of Ember Inns in the UK.
All this said, it did tick all of the boxes and we had a flavoursome, good value meal in a welcoming setting.
I do like what these pub chains offer and if it wasn't for them we may be teaching future generations about the great British pub in history lessons. But they do feel like Santa's grotto – if you pull back the stick on beard, they aren't the real deal.
At a glance...
Where: The Centurion, Newark Road, North Hykeham, Lincoln LN6 8LB 01522 509814
Parking: Large car park
The damage: British Steak and Doom Bar Ale Pie, £7.50; Mixed grill, £10.25; 1 pint Magners, £3.50; 1 pint Cask Ale, £2.85; Total: £24.10
Veggie friendly: Yes, plenty of options
Food hygiene rating: 5/5
Family friendly: Yes, even has a kid’s menu
Visit again: Yes
Good for: Great value food, plenty of choice and a welcoming atmosphere. Ideal for a well-priced meal with friends or a night out with the family to avoid cooking at home.