The menu at Stratford-upon-Avon’s The One Elm makes me recall the late and very great AA Gills words on The Wolseley, where he lays claim that the very best menu’s are designed by restauranteurs who know their clientele, not by the chefs in the kitchens. Whilst I don’t agree entirely with Gill – I firmly believe that the finest of dining should be an expression of the kitchen – I do see his point. Not all kitchens reach for the stars; some are more than content with reaching for the top shelf pans and focusing on feeding the paying, and it’s at these places the work of a chef is to cook, not curate. Within the grand white walls that home The One Elm the ambition is firmly rooted to the happy customer, one that enters hungry and leaves heavier in the stomach and lighter in the wallet.
And back to that menu. We struggled as a two to decide between us what to order. We toy with the idea of chicken and tarragon croquettes, consider crab with blini’s as starters, or beef dandy ribs for mains. It’s the kind of place you could eat in every week and not get bored, but I guess that is entirely the point.
We opt for two starters that sit both sides of the spectrum. The concept of a summer vegetable bubble and squeak is admirable; take the leftovers to Funky Town with a rich black pudding sauce and then pulls it back into the sunlight with a fried egg. Unfortunately the ratio of sauce is all wrong and everything becomes a little lost in a vast puddle of spiced pigs blood. Whilst that bubble and squeak dish could have been eaten at any point time of the year, the other starter was only ever intended for the sunshine. A risotto with Carnaroli rice tasted of time spent in quality vegetable stock, with semi-dried tomatoes and red peppers amongst the evenly cooked grains. On top are plump scallops and a small fillet of monkfish, both of which are cooked are cooked precisely and well seasoned. It all makes for a serious bit of food, one that you’d like to find on the menu of your local but seldom do.
A seabass main was pretty much faultless in concept and delivery. The fish had been shown heat on one side only, a more technical approach that crisps the skin and gild’s one half of the fillet with a golden crust. The pairing of chorizo, new potatoes, and green beans give light and shade, whilst chive crème fraiche binds it all together.
Our other main of lamb hits similar levels. Yes, I would have liked my lamb a little pinker, but the meat had been properly rested and offered very little in the way of chew. What impresses most about this dish is the balance; the crushed peas are boldly seasoned, the salsa verde bright in high notes. There are unexpected tangles of caramelised onion in amongst the potatoes that make me reminisce the Boulangere style of cooking. These are the best bits.
Dessert is a Pavlova which we share amongst the two of us. It’s a pretty thing; the meringue holding cream and summer berries. It’s too sweet for me but not for her, who quickly finishes it. It’s a lovely fresh note to finish on.
We drink healthily from a wine list that offers value and plenty of options by the glass, all whilst sitting in a courtyard with the sun beating down on us. On the day that we visit the place is full with locals, perhaps a perk of its location ten minutes walk from the tourist hotspots on the Avon river. It all makes for a rather lovely lunch, affordable, refined Gastropub grub. The One Elm knows exactly the kind of place it wants to be, and it’s absolutely nailed the execution.
My meal was complimentary