Gastropub

The Crown Inn, Hallow

It’s freezing on the late morning we set off for Hallow. Like teeth chattering cold, the kind of November day that sticks icicles on your testicles. Winter is here in full brutishness, taking away our drive and robbing us of sunlight. Not even the inside of the car can save us, my water starting to transition towards a more solid matter and my girlfriend’s hands too cold to handle my gearstick, or the one on the car. We need the comfort of comfort food. Of slow cooked meats and carbohydrates. I happen to know just the place.

I never saw The Crown Inn prior to the refurb, though I like what I see now. It has a mazy quality that reminds me of the adjoining rooms at The Hand and Flowers, with low wooden beams and walls with the girth of a building built to last. The pub has two wood burning stoves that sit both ends of the room like goals and we are positioned in front of one basking in its heat. I like it here. I also like the menu that speaks in a language I understand. It has a familiarity to it but also the ambition of a head chef that has come from the two star Le Champignon Sauvage. Amongst the pub food is game and souffles. We would order both.

Starters first. A croquette of breaded lamb shoulder is a dense bit of sheep made sprightly by a helping of vibrant salsa verde and a sharp redcurrant dressing. Little cubes of charred feta punch with saltiness, whilst the semi-dried tomato feels superfluous. It is a dish that works for its braveness, a potentially tightrope of various acidity and bold seasoning. It pays off. We mostly like a mammoth scotch egg, yolk just runny, breadcrumb coating crisp and golden. The ham hock filling is nice and piggy, though a little under seasoned and containing a few bits that should never have passed the picking process. Furthermore its too big. Generous to the point that this could easily feed one on its own.

It’s a this point that the cottage pie happens. Another gigantic portion, with braised and shredded beef shin at the core and crowned with potatoes that have had the right amount of fat introduced to them. And when I say the right amount I mean lots. There is a jug of thick gravy that delivers on its promise from the very moment it coats my finger. Carrots cooked in beef fat are the only accompaniment it needs and they too are wondrous things. It is a brilliant rethinking of a classic, pimped up and sent out looking as dandy as it tastes.

Our other main is pheasant. It’s a rustic plate of the good stuff, with roasted breasts just blushing pink positioned on on creamed cabbage, a buttery wedge of potato and onion labelled as a hash brown, and the filthiest of black pudding purèe’s. The dish is completed by black berries and a well sauce that has the back note of acidity needed to counteract the richness. It’s a lot of food for £17 and we tell them so. Apparently, there have been gripes that the portions here are small. I despair at those who clearly don’t know a good thing when it’s hit them in the face. And this pheasant is a very good thing indeed. Of the sides we try, roasted carrots and parsnips are glazed in maple, and potato gratin in gloriously cheesy with a back note of nutmeg. Only the chips could have done with a fraction longer in the fryer.

After a pre-dessert of lemon and mango which has perfectly judged levels of sweetness and acidity, before we share an apple soufflé to finish. The soufflé is textbook, proud in height with good apple flavour. The ice cream may be a little too subtle in salted caramel, but works well when we prise open the top of the soufflé and slide the ice cream in. I can only applaud any pub that not only shows the ambition to put this on the menu, but to also deliver it with aplomb.

There are petit fours but by now we’re both full to the point of bursting – I defy anyone to come here and eat three courses and not feel the same. The team here might be relatively new (the head chef, Chris Monk, has been in place for three months), but they are already showing considerable skill. It’s not perfect yet, though it is somewhere that I’ll be monitoring closely over the next year. It’s my style of food; clean and bold and still familiar. There is a clear market for taking traditional pub food and elevating it above the norm, and The Crown Inn are doing a great job at cracking it.

7/10

I was invited to dine at The Crown Inn

Advertisements

Lord Clyde, Bollington, Cheshire

I find myself in Macclesfield for the weekend, secretly shitting myself that I will make an idiot of myself in front of my prospective future in-laws.  I am on my best behaviour, something that I never knew existed, curbing my foul mouth, opening doors, and cooking meals badly.  It’s nice here, far nicer than others would have me believe.  It’s not even raining.  I know, I can’t believe it either.  We go for long walks in the Peak District that remind me of the beauty of the Lake District, only without the, err, lakes.  In the evening we are to dine at a pub in a nearby village where I will be grilled, possibly both in conversation and over flames should my answers not be correct.

The pub in question is the Lord Clyde, a quaint low ceilinged space in the village of Bollington, where the white washed walls jostle for attention with the darken wooden beams.  This week, and completely unbeknownst to us at the time, it reached the lofty heights of the 63rd best restaurant outside of London, which I believe makes it the 63rd best restaurant in the country without a God complex.  The menu is concise and well-formed, with starters topping out at eight quid, mains typically around mid teens.  It takes us some time to decide what to order.

IMG_0130

Whilst waiting for the starters to arrive we get a nibble of chicken liver parfait on a potato crisp, radish and a little dandelion.  The parfait is textbook; deep and full of offal flavour.  The rest works to play support to this, though the potato base is a little greasy and flimsy, as if the wet ingredients had been on it for too long at the pass.

IMG_0131

Three of the five starters are ordered.  We like the simplicity of the pork loin most, with it’s battered shallot rings, spinach, and black pudding puree that completes the dish once we have added a little more salt to it.  Asparagus with duck egg and hollandaise is a classic.  The sauce is correctly sharp, the addition of radish a clever one, but I would have personally have taken the woody stems of the asparagus a little higher.  Ham hock croquettes are properly crisp, with tussles of the pork lightly dressed in grain mustard.  Pickled red onion has enough inherent acidity to cut through it all, with a creamy aioli full of buttery garlic notes.  It’s rustic cooking in the best possible sense.

IMG_0134

IMG_0135

IMG_0136

I never order steak at a restaurant because I feel like I have a duty to write about more interesting stuff, but tonight I am that man.  I order it because the rib eye is aged for 50 days, a period of hanging that should only be reserved for bits of cow and all of Piers Morgan.  It’s accurately cooked to the medium rare I request, the thick pockets of milky white fat only just starting to melt.  It’s a very good bit of beef, a fraction under seasoned, but still deep in bovine flavour.  The peppercorn sauce is expertly made, as are the Jenga pile of chips that crack and fluff.

IMG_0138

The other two mains are a mixed bag.  The duck is genuinely lovely, crisp skin with a consistent baby pink meat.  There is another stellar sauce (sauces are an obvious high point here) with salty nuggets of pancetta that lift the seasoning across the plate.  Claire thinks that the gnocchi are not as good as the ones she made at Simpsons, but then she would say that.  I tried them and they were good.  It’s a very good plate of food.  The trout is more timid.  The lentils, samphire, and mussels are all coheshive, but it needs something else to get the dish going.

IMG_0140

IMG_0139

Portions here are on the Northern side of generous and we debate whether to order dessert at all.  In the end we order one portion of sticky toffee pudding with four spoons, using only two of them.  The pudding is lighter than it looks, the additions of honeycomb and a very good vanilla ice cream more than welcome.  What lifts it is the salt content in the sauce that gives further depth to the sweeter elements.  It is a technically accomplished and well thought out way to end the meal.

IMG_0141

The bill hits fifty quid a head between four with a two bottles of wine listed without vintage.  We all enjoyed Lord Clyde, which delivered attractive plates of food cooked without skill.  That said, it was not without fault, namely some erratic seasoning issues that need addressing.  It’s a handy place to stop for food and with the trips up North looking likely to increase, is a place that I can see myself giving frequent returns to.

7/10 

Lord Clyde Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The One Elm, Stratford 

One Elm 1

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.

One Elm 2

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.

IMG_9912

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.

IMG_9914

IMG_9913

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.

IMG_9915

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.

IMG_9916

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.

IMG_9917

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. 

8/10

My meal was complimentary

The Yew Tree Inn, Bunbury

The entrance to The Yew Tree Inn proudly lists the various awards they have won in recent years.  Rural Pub of the Year?  Check.  Cheshire Pub of the Year?  Double check.  Cheshire Dining Pub of the Year?  Double check again.  There’s more, too.  Prior to our visit they were recently awarded their first AA rosette, had another mention in the Michelin Guide, and secured a place in the Top 50 Gastropub list.  All of this points towards a rewarding lunch as we work our way back to Birmingham after a long weekend in Cheshire.  Yet I’m sceptical of these awards.  I know all too well that the best man doesn’t always win after losing out on a Food Bloggers award last year to a discount card that could be described as a blog if you took the boundaries, tied them to the back of a car, and drove them off a cliff.  I’m not saying that these awards are not important, because they clearly are, but what I am saying is that there are many factors other than the worthy winner, such as popularity and PR intervention.  And I say all of this fully expecting to win said award this summer.

img_8446 Now lets move away from my ego and back to the pub.  Is it worthy of all of these accolades?  No.  Not by a long shot, based on my visit last weekend.  It started well enough with chorizo croquettes from the snack section.  The outer was crisp, the filling full of the spicy sausage, with a chilli sauce that clings and heats.  These are worth four quid of anyone’s money.  A ham hock terrine starter was rustic and comforting, the meat chunky, with the occasional bite of carrot set within the aspic jelly.  It works well with a not overly pickled piccalilli.

img_8449img_8448We also like the wellington of roast vegetables, the ratatouille covered in an upturned field mushroom and lattice pastry.  It is the kind of vegetarian cooking I admire, a change from the usual half-arsed pasta offering, and enough to make an ex non-meat eater turn the protein down for a day.  And she was pleased, which is more than I have managed this year.

img_8452

And then it all falls to pieces.  A stone cold pie takes an age to return to the kitchen.  When it returns it is passable, but not much else.   The beef is a touch tough and considering that the word ‘pepper’ makes a third of its description, it is woefully under seasoned.  A hockey puck masquerading as a beef burger has an odd soggy texture throughout that breaks down the brioche bun it sits on.   It’s tough going, though we take solace in the bacon and fried egg being decent.  I bet they do a good breakfast here.  Chips on both dishes had the back note of fat and were far from crisp.

img_8453img_8450

We order a hot chocolate and salted caramel because the next tables reaction as it oozed across their plate merited one.  Ours was overcooked by several minutes and ended up more akin to a Rolo than the liquid dessert expected.  I assume that the wedge on top of this was honeycomb.  I assume this because my teeth would let me nowhere near it, in the same way they couldn’t crack the spun sugar decoration on top of a rhubarb and orange tart.  In that case the pastry was good, the filling bland.  We should have seen the signs and quit long ago.  We only have ourselves to blame.

img_8454

img_8456

Service was pleasant, though slow and there is no apology offered in any way for the cold pie.  The bill for the sits around £30 each, hardly a fortune, yet still disappointing given the expectations.  And there lies the problem; rightly or wrongly these accolades do come with expectation, expectation that they fell well short upon.  I could list a dozen pubs nearer to home more deserving in my opinion.  But that is all subjective.  What matters is we had a lunch that was littered with errors, where nobody left satisfied.  And that simply is not good enough.

5/10

The Physician, Edgbaston

If I spent much of last year eating in and around Edgbaston, I did it because it is the most exciting place in Birmingham right now. The leafy suburb has flourished in to an eating and drinking hub, all in and around the bottom part of Calthorpe Road which has housed Simpsons for the last decade and a half. Over the last month or so I’ve popped in to Blue Piano for that carrot cake, had lovely cocktails at both Rofuto and The Edgbaston, beers at The Highfield, and a spankingly good boozy luncheon at El Borracho De Oro. Oh, and I also went to The Physician on Boxing Day, though I’m trying desperately to forget about that.

No one can fault The Physician for trying to fit in. They have the white Georgian building, itself a maze of rooms, hard wooden floors, paintings and soft furnishings. They have a focus on ales, wines, and game. So far, so very Edgbaston. It just happens that whilst all around have their individual niche polished to a mirrored sheen, The Physician are far murkier in their delivery. To use the name of the establishment cheaply, they are in need a heart operation, not a boob job.

I enjoyed the first thing we ate, even if it was an exercise in shopping over cookery. A sharing board features some very good salami amongst the cured meats, a slightly grainy pate, good quality olives,  with bits of veg, pickled, stuffed, blended and deep fried.  As far as grazing goes, it works, and is fair value too at £17.00.  The only other starter was a wedge of brie, coated in a breadcrumb mixture devoid of seasoning and fried until the innards have given up.  The pickled cranberries are not sharp enough to balance out the cheese, whilst pecans are superfluous additions that add nothing other than taking up a third of the plate.

img_8182

img_8181

And then the bit that I’ve thought long and hard about including, now deciding that if its served to me, it should be mentioned.  Two hairs, long, dark, and way too thick to have ever resided on my bonce, nestled nicely in amongst the horseradish mash that came with an ox cheek Bourguignon.  It matters not that the cheek was meltingly tender, nor that the sauce was short of the depth of the flavour I would expect, they are hairs that are not mine.  The plate is taken away with an apology, an replacement is offered.  I am struck with a sudden loss of appetite and decline.  Instead I poke away at my girlfriends decent deep fried haddock and plunge limp chips into a well made tartare.  I try a bit of a game pie where the suet crust is lighter than expected and filling is full of bits of long braised rabbit and venison.  The long wedge of carrot is practically raw.  It sums up my day in one failed bit of detail.

img_8187

img_8185

img_8186

They take the hair and other contents of the plate off the bill and offer a complimentary dessert that transpires to be one of the better things we would eat.  A cheesecake with a delicate base, a punchy caramel mouse, topped with a layer of chocolate.  A raspberry sorbet has real depth and cuts through the richness.  There is hope here and it is to be found in the pastry department.

img_8188

We settle a bill that feels too high for what was served and head to 60 metres down the road to the Highfield.  Inside we enjoy well kept beers and, later on, a couple of snacks.  For once, I stop being such a self-opinionated bastard and seek the views of those in our party.  Was I letting the kitchen mishap ruin a potentially good meal?  No.  All agree that it was lack lustre and disappointing.  The Physician has all of the right ingredient’s to succeed and the wrong recipe to work with.  I simply cant see a reason why I would go back when there is so much more to found locally.

5/10

The Howard Arms, Ilmington

 

The Howard Arms looks like it belongs in a film. The kind that involves a murder in a sleepy village. Or Hot Fuzz. Or worse, one involving Hugh Grant and a tenuous love story. The pubs sit one side of the village green in Ilmington, itself perched on the northern borders of the Cotswolds. Its a building of character, externally traditional and quaint and inside where it takes a new warmth of flagstones, deep leather seating and a roaring open fire. Each wall and corner tells a story of yesteryear, with pictures of equine and serious looking folk. The evening is settling in when we arrive and the place is buzzing with locals. It exudes a warmth far beyond that roaring fire.

We drop the bags off in our room and head back down for food in the raised dining area. Here the room feels more grand, more attuned to the buildings 400 year history. We order a decent bottle of new world sauvignon blanc and peruse a menu that has a mixture of safer pub classics with flashes of more elaborate offerings, all of which begs to be eaten. A starter of goats cheese soufflé has been baked twice so that it stands on its own with ease, topped with candied walnuts that add a softened nuttiness. Its mild mannered and needs the sweet and sour piquancy of the Cumberland sauce to cut right through it. Koftas are meaty skewers of lamb and cumin, tightly packed and just cooked through. They are a delight when piled on to soft cushions of flatbread and lightly dressed with a spicy red pepper salsa and soothing tzatziki.

img_7633

img_7631

They do things the traditional way here; indeed, if there ever has been a sous-vide machine in the kitchen it has long been hidden in the storing cupboard. Pork fillet is rolled in parma ham and roasted gently so that the outer layers are crisp and the centre of the loin blushing pink. It comes with a comforting puree of sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, and crab apples that provide the much needed acidity. It demonstrates considerable skill in the kitchen, in particular the sticky jus that holds everything together in one big autumnal hug. Also equally tasty was a slab of gammon, smokey and tender, with a fried egg that oozed and coated the meat. As with the pork fillet and the soufflé before that, one eye was firmly kept on acidic element, this time from a piccalilli full of crunch and vibrancy. The only slip were chips, under salted and flimsy.

img_7635

img_7637

Desserts were genuinely top notch in taste. A white and dark chocolate cheesecake could have easily been too heavy, yet managed to balance the flavour with a light texture that ran down to the buttery base. A bakewell tart was simply delicious; the frangipane not too sweet, the pastry crisp and thin. It doesn’t need the kitsch presentation or the out of season strawberries, its perfect enough on its own.

img_7640

img_7641

With both starters and desserts creeping in at just over a fiver and only steaks over fifteen quid for the mains, The Howard Arms is exceptional value for money. It also happens to be a lovely place to stay, a gateway from the north in to the utterly charming Cotswolds. The following morning we drive fifteen minutes away to Broadway where we burned off the previous evenings calories by walking the steep incline up to the tower.  Its a simply beautiful part of the world with some of the countries best produce on its doorstep.  Those looking to make the most of their trip could do far worse than staying and eating at The Howard Arms.

8/10

I was invited to stay and dine at The Howard Arms by Shakespeare’s England, the official board of tourism for Warwickshire. For more information please see http://www.shakespeares-England.co.uk

 

The Almanack, Kenilworth

 

 

almanack_will_warr_edits-24

A deli board, being the first thing which we ate, seems an obvious place to start. A collection of meats; some cooked, others sourced, designed to share and graze.  To feed with variety.  All this food leaves the question of where to start.  We do by draping slithers of air dried ham over of toast.  The ham thinly sliced and almost opaque, with ribbons of fat that dissolve on the tongue.  We move on to slices of rare roast beef that come alive with the liberal application of a tart pickle and piping hot croquettes which ooze with cheese and tangles of ham hock.  Thick cuts of brioche are filled with pulled chicken and drizzled with sriracha sauce that instantly becomes the best sub that Subway never made.  There are leaves for those that seek reassurance in their diet, but this is a protein heavy board with comfort and delight at every twist and turn.

And so to The Almanack, Kenilworth’s arm of the mighty Peach Pubs empire.  I like this group, for they are equally individual and familiar.  At first glance menus look the same, though have subtle differences.  They source ingredients carefully and seasonally.  Meat is supplied from Aubrey Allen, which is a statement of intent in itself.  Whilst The Alamanack may not have the physical presence of The Highfield or Rose & Crown’s exterior frontage, it makes up with a luscious interior of deep blue booths, an imposing bar and a contemporary feel that suits the building.  Its a buzzy atmosphere with a more relaxed approach to service, which was fine with us.  We order a bottle of good Cote du Rhone and declare ourselves as in no rush.

A salad of scallops and monkish is given an Indian touch with deftly spiced brinjal potatoes, raita, and little poppadum’s for texture.  Slightly overcooked monkfish aside, everything was accurately seasoned and timed; the queenie scallops in particular with a lovely crust and only just cooked through.  A well dressed salad provided the required acidity to cut through the seafood.  Every bit as good was a lamb main ordered straight off the specials board.  The cannon cooked accurately to the requested medium with courgettes, tomatoes and aubergine which all add a freshness counteracted by a smokey puree of the aubergine at the base of the plate. Crisps of the aubergine work in the same way as the poppadoms on the fish main.  This is a kitchen which understands the need for touch as well as taste.

009

011

Desserts stayed on familiar territory.  A lemon posset leant nicely towards the sharper side of the spectrum, with stewed summers that added another profile of flavour and pistachio biscotti for the much needed crunch element.

017

013

The high note was a perfectly made treacle tart, dense and sticky and sweet, with ice cream that punched heavily with vanilla notes.  It has wobble in its filling and snap at the base.  It characterises everything that is right about The Almanack; dishes that you think you could muster at home, but could never execute this well.  It takes considerable skill to cook food to this level and still make it look simple on the plate.  With starters just over a fiver, that deli board fifteen quid, and mains in mid-teens, it’s a wise idea to put down the knife, book a table here and leave it to the professionals.

8/10

The Almanack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My meal at The Almanack was complimentary

Rose & Crown, Warwick

Warwick is a beautiful town built around the majestic castle which dominates the local skyline. I’d never been to the castle before, though it proved to be a great day which the weather threatened to ruin, but never managed more than a dribble of rain from the looming dark clouds.  We sat on the grass and ate ice cream in front of a bird of prey show, walked the towers and ramparts of the ancient walls, and delved deep into the laughably scary castle dungeons.  We had a great time; small part theme park, large part historical centrepiece of the midlands.  As clichéd as it is, I find it hard to believe that anyone would fail to enjoy a day there.

After all of this we walked through the medieval core of the town, with its monochrome fronted buildings of tipsy stature, and on to our base for the weekend. The Rose & Crown stands handsomely on the edge of the cobbled Market Square, making the most of the imposing frontage against the stark white walls.  It has pedigree, past being named Pub of the Year, amongst many more recent top ten entrees.  Inside it has the feel of somewhere used frequently and often.  Staff know the names of the locals and their pets, who seemingly perch at the same spot of the wood fronted bar several times a week and know exactly what they want to drink.  I would too, had my geographical location of home been kinder to me.  We drop our bags in off in our well-appointed room, head back downstairs and order something cold and fruity before meandering our way through the functioning pub and into the dining room, with its dark wooden floors and navy blue interior, offset by splashes of bright red.  The menu speaks of stuff I want in to eat and we struggle with our decisions.

R&C Front

Rooms

053

052

It takes all of two minutes to realise that we could have ordered anything and still have eaten well.  Here the heartiness which is central to pub food is underpinned by a precision with every motion in the kitchen and a confidence from the front of house team.  A salad of scallops and monkfish sees the queenie sized shellfish cooked to a perfect crust.  Whilst I admire the skill in accurately cooking fish, it is the nicoise salad that catches my attention, from the just cooked green beans to the wobbly quarters of soft boiled, each individually seasoned with cracks of black pepper.  We decide to share this, fighting over the last slithers of briny sardine and salty black olives.  We also halve the portion of croquettes, the crisp panko coating giving way to an oozy béchamel sauce stuffed full of ham hock and peas.  They don’t need the piccalilli mayonnaise though it is a welcome addition, the acidity and heat a natural foil to cut through the big piggy flavour.

054

055

A main of harissa lamb shoulder sees a generous lump of protein nestled neatly on a spicy stew of chickpeas with a dollop of calming yogurt for good measure.  As the cylinder of meat collapses into chunks with the smallest of pressure we fail to resist the temptation to pile the components into the pitta bread and build our own kebab.  It’s a wise move, with the soft pieces of ovine becoming more luscious in its surroundings, even if the large portion size defeats us.  A tranche of cod is accurately timed, its skin crisped, the fat flakes opaque.  The nuggets of cod cheek like the very best scampi matched up to teeny fondant potatoes, buttery and cooked through.  In the same way the lamb dish is an ode to a late night kebab, this wears its influence proudly:  It’s fish and chips without the grease.  Only the pea puree lets it down, flat and under seasoned, a surprise given just how accurate the use salt had been with everything else.

057

059

Desserts were bloody brilliant.  A parfait of clotted cream with a gelee of strawberry had impeccable balance, but what we loved most were the macerated strawberries and crunchy blowtorched Italian meringues made of brown sugar.  Best was the lemon tart recommended from the specials board, the sharp lemon filling giving way to a pastry so short it auditioned for the part of Tyrion Lannister.  The accompanying blackberry sorbet also packing plenty of whack, with a small quenelle of crème fraiche to bring everything back to earth.  Honestly, and I’m not just saying this because dinner was free, I’ve eaten worse lemon tarts in starred restaurants.  Its a keeper that deserves its place on the main menu.  We wash all of this down with a great Torrentes-Reisling from an impeccably chosen wine list and call it a night.

061

062

063

The morning sees one of us rise for breakfast where I take a potato and chorizo hash with homemade brown sauce and a fried egg.  Its more of that attention to detail; the fennel seeds inside the hash, the smattering of seasoning on top of the egg.  I scoff the entire plate in seconds.  It’s delicious – the perfect foil for my hazy hangover.  And with that we were off, wishing farewell to the team that looked after us so well and promising that we will return.  And we will, probably on a Sunday when we want to impress the mother-in-law, or maybe just us two on a Saturday when we want a pint or two and some good food.  We left our weekend to the capable hands of the Rose & Crown and they showed us an excellent time.  I implore you to do the same.

Our stay and meal at the Rose & Crown were complimentary.  Views remain honest.   www.roseandcrownwarwick.co.uk

For information on Warwick Castle and other local attractions please see http://shakespeares-england.co.uk/

 

 

 

The Star and Garter, Leamington Spa

Our first visit to The Star and Garter was born from necessity. We were thirty miles from home on a miserable Sunday afternoon, hungry, and with a newly acquired wine rack taking over the back two-thirds of the car . Its on these occasions that comfort is called for.  Long roasted meats with burnished veg and crisp potatoes are the needs of the day.  We choose the pub because it has good form; we use their sister pub, The Highfield, as our local go to stop when such needs occur closer to home.  There the plate is prettily stacked with carbs, protein, and topped with a fist sized Yorkshire pudding.  There are greens to share in a bowl and replacement spuds and Yorkshire puddings are offered.  Sundays at The Highfield have never let us down, meaning expectations at The Star and Garter are high.

It delivers as we hoped it would.  Meaty chipolata sausages and a silky sweet potato soup show an assured touch – the latter having a nice refrained hit of heat from harissa and a big pinch of ground pepper.  With a strong idea of what to expect, we make a concerted effort to save room for the roast which will more than justify the decision.  The meat, in this case pork from Jimmy Butler and a rump of beef from Aubrey Allen, are impeccably sourced and cooked with care, save for the crackling on the pig which threatens to increase my dental plan premium.  The presentation is a little more rustic than what we have come to expect, though the portions appear more generous.  This is a trade-off that we are happy to take, and it fits the environment which is more upmarket local than the 1920’s grandeur of The Highfield.  The roast potatoes are crisp, the root veg puree well seasoned, the Yorkshire pudding fist sized.  There is not much to fault with any of it.  We take the extra Yorkshire’s and dredge them through the last of the thick, glossy gravy whilst wishing that this were our local.  A generous portion of winter fruits crumble and a cheesecake, light on texture and big on orange flavour, sends us replete on our way.

024 025

026 029

027 033

We go back a week later, invited this time, to try the grill night. Its more of that impeccably sourced meat, cooked exactly how it should be.  Lamb kebabs are impaled chunks of pink rump, nestled upon couscous sharpened with lots of orange and dotted with studs of green pea.  My girlfriend doesn’t eat lamb.  She does now.  She also decides now would be a good time to eat pork, making the most of my excellent Iberico chop.  Triple cooked chips are the bane of my life (along with overuse of exclamation marks and emoticons!!!), though here they are just that; second only to The Hand & Flowers for the snap of the exterior and fluffy insides. Together the two of them are gammon and chips for grown-ups, the egg replaced with a harrissa butter that holds up the strong flavour from the black-footed pig.  We eat a perfectly rare slab of rump cap beef before remembering to take a picture.  It was that good.

007 009

We try the cheesecake again which doesn’t quite hit the same heights as a week back and take a baked Golden Cenarth which oozes cheesy goodness, despite apparently missing the advertised truffle honey.  These are just small niggles and we leave for the second time in 10 days full and without complaint.  The Star and Garter is not re-writing any books on gastronomy, but nor is it trying to.  They take prime ingredients and pay them the respect that they deserve.   Its a simple idea, and one that I wish would catch on more often.  Sunday lunches, grill nights, or otherwise intended.  Go give it a go, you’re in safe hands.

8/10

The first meal was paid for, the second not.  My view is honest and taken over both meals, the first of which they were unaware of whom I was.

The Star & Garter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

 

 

The White Swan, Edgbaston

For over one year now I have been assaulting your eyes with my dreadful photography skills and poorly punctuated sentences on this restaurant blog. That’s twelve months of self-confirmation for what a sanctimonious twat I can be, demonstrated repeatedly over forty-odd meals. Nothings changed, aside from the odd invitation to abuse a free bar from a PR company that have clearly never read my rumblings. I’m still always hungry. Still always grumpy. And I still haven’t managed to organise my life well enough to make bookings in advance. Its a miserable Sunday in July, pissing down with rain outside, and we are supposed to be going to going out for food in two hours. I am scrambling around trying to find anywhere that will still be serving a Sunday lunch at half four in the afternoon.  Everywhere is fully booked or closing.  Finally, a result:  The White Swan can fit us in.  We weigh up whether or not we should go – we have eaten here a couple of times; once was very good, another lunch on Christmas day was a disaster.  We go.  Of course we did, otherwise this post would be a low point, even by my standards.

Inside The White Swan looks exactly how a gastropub on the border of Edgbaston and Harborne should:  Its all soft furnishings, pale wood and neutral colours.  The staff, neatly uniformed, are standoffish and unobtrusive.  The menu is British, with the occasional nod to sunnier climes.  We start with one of these excursions, which would be the best thing that we ate all day.  A mezze with creamy tzatziki, a harrisa spiked hummus, and a smokey baba ghanoush, all mopped up with flat breads scented with garlic .  Best of all were slices of aubergine, coated in blitzed chickpeas and deep fried to a crisp, which begged to be dredged through the last of the tzatziki.

image

A confit duck leg would frustrate.  The meat, simmered in fat until falling away from the bone, could have only been improved by the skin being crisped up more after its lengthy cook.  Its accompaniments were a collection of ingredients that each work with duck, without any thought of them working together.  A waffle, some thick batons of sweet potato, unintentionally raw hispi cabbage, and a slice of pineapple.  Take any two of those with the poultry and you have a dish.  All four is just a mess.  A vegetarian nut roast was nothing more than a comforting dollop of parsnip and cranberry stuffing, served with a overcooked Yorkshire pudding and veg which veered from well made roasties to more of the raw cabbage.

image

image

If the mains failed to deliver, dessert very nearly salvaged it.  A well made sticky toffee pudding, to its credit much lighter than it looked, was beaten hands down by a salted caramel chocolate pot.  The ganache, bordering on a coffee flavour such was its depth, further soured by creme fraiche with the clever addition of candied lemon peel.  It would have been nice to dunk the advertised biscuits into this, though they materialised in the form of crumbs which remained firmly on the slate with a raspberry coulis that added very little other than presentation.

image

image

The pricing here is in line with its local competition – mains start early teens and rise to a tenner above – so consider around thirty quid a head for three courses before you start looking to a fairly priced wine list.  Its hard to consider this value based on what we ate, even more so when compared to what you can find for the same price close by.  And herein lies the problem with The White Swan; with The Plough half a mile down the road and The Highfield another half a mile the other way, competition could not be more fierce.  With those close by, we just cant see a time when we would ever bother risking it and going back.

6/10

Click to add a blog post for The White Swan on Zomato