Please be upstanding...,” shouts the enthused compere, “for the bread and butter pudding”.

There is an intense rattle of spoons against table tops as a gathering of excitable diners clamber from their seats to cheer in a parade of steaming beauties.

And then the bizarre catwalk of mouth-watering delights begins.

Waitresses and some lucky fellow guests get to hold aloft giant pudding bowls of sugary loveliness which are greeted with cheers and rounds of applause from an excitable crowd.

“We have.... summer pudding!” calls experienced host Stephen Milnes, waving about a giant wooden spoon and sporting a novelty tie with a picture of a pudding and dripping custard on the front.

“And.. sticky toffee and date pudding,” he shouts, which provokes the loudest cheers of the night.

Once all seven puddings are paraded through the room they are positioned on a large central table.

To the sides there are long tables lined with 70 diners, who have come to Three Ways House Hotel in the Cotswolds for the weekly Pudding Club.

The infamous event has been running since 1985 at the hotel in Mickleton, Gloucestershire, and guests are invited to taste the seven desserts on offer and then give each one a score.

“Sticky toffee pudding is often one of the favourites,” explains Jill Coombe, who has been running the hotel with her husband Simon for the past 18 years.

“We wouldn’t have things like banoffee pie,” she adds, screwing her nose up at the idea, “but occasionally a cheesecake will slip in due to demand.”

Instead the focus is very much on the steamed puds of childhood, imagine jam roly poly, spotted dick, sticky toffee pudding, all washed down with lashings of custard.

Each week pudding queen Sheila Vincent is stirring away in the hotel kitchen creating the seven desserts, along with seven gallons of custard.

The Pudding Club runs at the Three Ways House Hotel
The Pudding Club runs at the Three Ways House Hotel

Then Jill takes it in turns with manager Stephen to host the pudding nights.

“I have never been able to manage more than three at once,” she confesses.

However some guests have managed remarkably more than that – the record being a young rugby player who managed 23 servings.

The Pudding Club was established at the hotel by its former owners Keith and Jean Turner in 1985 as a backlash against what they saw was a lack of traditional puddings being served up at restaurants.

They were keen to wheel away the sweet trolley, which was often the home of the black forest gateau, trifles and cheesecakes, and champion something much more exciting and homely.

Jill and Simon were eager to keep the club going when they bought the hotel from the Turners in 1995 and its continued success has taken them to some interesting parts of the world.

“We have a strong following overseas. People who come to the UK for a holiday come here because they say they have heard all about the Pudding Club,” says Jill.

Indeed interest for the event has grown so much that Visit England listed The Pudding Club as number seven on its 101 Things To Do Before You Go Abroad list this year.

The love of traditional British puds has also taken off in the most unlikely places.

“We have a strong following in Japan,” explains Jill.

“In Japan people love British puddings and they have a real love of afternoon tea.”

That interest has seen Jill and husband Simon visit the country on numerous occasions, most recently in April for a tour which saw them host a number of cookery demonstrations.

“We hope we can export our puddings over there, there is definitely a market for the Pudding Club,” says Jill.

Jill Coombe who runs the Pudding Club with husband Simon at their hotel the Three Ways House Hotel
Jill Coombe who runs the Pudding Club with husband Simon at their hotel the Three Ways House Hotel

The couple have also had the foresight to protect this remarkable event and to stop others from cashing in on the name by setting up similar nights across the country.

“We own the trademark. Every now and again we do a search to check who is using the name and occasionally we have had to get solicitors involved,” says Jill.

The success of their brand saw the hotel create Pudding Club puds for some Waitrose stores in 2009 and at their peak they were producing 500,000 desserts a year for 145 stores as well as for some local shops. They are currently not selling to the supermarket but hope there will be an opening to do so in the future.

More recently they produced their first recipe book, featuring 120 of some of the most delightful puddings you could ever taste.

But tonight the proof of the pudding is in the eating and so I am keen to embrace this rather wonderful English eccentric occasion, where you can eat as much dessert as your stomach allows.

Stephen, 57, is the experienced host of the evening, regaling tales of past pudding greats and pulling a suitably derisory face when regaling the club’s original intentions to fight back against the sombre sweet trolley of the 1970s and 80s.

“There was the fruit salad, the Black Forest gateau and you might have been really lucky and got a rum baba,” he says to eagerly awaiting diners as they sip an introductory glass of elderflower presse.

“The rules of the pudding club is to make sure you have an empty bowl when you come up to the table,” Stephen explains.

“The most important thing is you can only have one pudding in a bowl at one time.

“You don’t appreciate the flavours if you put all the puddings into one.”

As we sit at our table there is a buzz of excitement about the place as everyone ploughs through a modest main course in anticipation of the headline act.

We talk strategy. A Welsh couple, who booked after seeing the event featured on World’s Weirdest Restaurants on some satelite TV channel, get over their excitement of not having to pay for plastic bags at the local supermarket to discuss their first choice dessert.

Perhaps start off with something light and build your way up to the sticky toffee?

A passion fruit charlotte on offer at The Pudding Club at Three Ways House Hotel.
A passion fruit charlotte on offer at The Pudding Club at Three Ways House Hotel.
 

The pair dash off to choose a passion fruit roulade. It seems the sensible choice. But as I step up to the hot plate I am dazzled by the bounty before me and walk away with a heavyweight bread and butter pudding topped with a dollop of custard – doh!

Despite fearing I will never wade through to number seven, I plough into the pud and it is heavenly. A surprising light and buttery dessert which marries well with the custard. There is lots of cooing over the selection as our table pick different first choices, pens poised to give them a mark out of 10 on our pudding sheets.

Some opt for the light but slightly disappointing summer pudding (too many seeds to get stuck in the teeth) or the delightfully sunny flavour of raspberry charlotte. I have to say I like the hard core flavours of squidgy chocolate and nut pudding or the beautiful suetiness of the apple and apricot layer pudding.

By dessert number three, the volume in the room has risen to a loud crescendo, an excited gabbling coming from each table. It was clear we are all experiencing a sugar rush, which perhaps provokes a competitive streak and the naive perceptions that we could gobble up all seven delights in no time at all.

By pudding five and six, however, the decibels start to wane as stomachs begin to bear the brunt of our earlier optimism.

A grinning Stephen parades around the tables encouraging everyone up for more helpings.

“I went to Weight Watchers last week,” he whispers. “I lost two and a half pound – but then I wasn’t doing the pudding club last week.”

To keep the weight off Stephen made a recent decision not to taste all of the seven puddings each week, but instead choosing to sample a particular
pudding if it doesn’t win many votes.

At dessert number six – the delightful sticky toffee and date pudding – I throw in the towel, but there are a few who sprint up for second helpings long after the seventh sweet is consumed.

And as puddings are polished off and bowls wiped clean, it is time for the judging. Stephen shouts out the list of desserts, counting the show of hands for each one.

I wave my hands in the air for the apple and apricot layer pudding but it is a surprise to see the passion fruit roulade pips even the sticky toffee to the post with a convincing win.

And after much celebration, the bloated diners retreat, our taste of the Pudding Club over for the night. But one that we (and our waistlines) will savour for some time to come.

* For more information visit: www.puddingclub.com or www.threewayshousehotel.com