Lunch@The Red Lion, East Chisenbury 2017

Last time we were at the Red Lion, earlier this year, Rock had a migraine and we had to leave before we had even started our lunch…just one of those things.  The time before that we left disappointed because, after having so many fabulous meals here, we had a lunch that fell short of our very high expectations.  Now we are back wanting to have our faith in this great place fully restored!

I get into the mood for lunch with a seasonal beer.  That Old Chestnut is a dark brown smooth bitter both malty and hoppy from the Ramsbury Brewery.  Perfect for the winter.   Rock has an organic apple juice from Luscombe with soda. Now we are ready for another Red Lion food adventure!

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My adventure starts with the scallop & black pudding tortellono with swede purée, pickled pears and chicken jus.  The tortellono is made with wafer thin fresh pasta and deeply filled with a mixture of scallop and black pudding.  The swede purée is silky smooth, slices of piquant pear, herbs, baby onions, chicken jus plus additional cubes of black pudding and balls of pear all combine to make this heaven on a plate.  Wow!

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Scallop & black pudding tortellono with swede purée, pickled pears and chicken jus

No starter for Rock – she is saving plenty of space for dessert.  Her main course is pan-fried halibut with celeriac purée, poached Cox’s apples, Burbage shiitakes and a Noilly Prat beurre blanc.  The halibut is perfectly cooked, the purée and the beurre blanc bring a riot of flavours that beautifully complement the fish and the apple brings a tart, refreshing zing to the dish.  The combination of celeriac, celery, celery leaves, poached and fresh apple work incredibly well with the halibut.  She is loving it.

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Pan-fried halibut with celeriac purée, poached Cox’s apples, Burbage shiitakes and a Noilly Prat beurre blanc

I have the roast partridge with cromesqui (a small savoury croquette), potato millefeuille, parsnips, prunes, quince and sauce poivrade ( a lightly peppered game sauce).  The partridge is succulent, the potato millefeuille is one of the best potato things I have ever tasted, parsnip purée and shavings of parsnip add different textures, the prunes add sweetness and the quince its own delicate flavour.  Plus the rich depth of savoury cromesqui is a delight. If we were not in a public place we would pick up our plates and lick them clean! Omg.

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Roast partridge with cromesqui, potato millefeuille, parsnips, prunes, quince and sauce poivrade

The Red Lion has held a Michelin star since 2013 and this is due to the skill of Guy and Brittany Manning.  Guy runs the kitchen and Brittany moves effortlessly between front of house and dessert creation.  We have loved Guy’s starter and main courses, we have talked to Brittany as she dashes between tables, now we will find out if the Brittany inspired desserts live up to the exceptional standard that Guy’s dishes have set.

We decide to share the Red Lion Café Gourmand – a modest portion of five different desserts.  Served on a large piece of slate we have: a chocolate creméux; a citrus Genoese sponge with apple & créme fraîche; home-made granola with a rum punch sorbet; poached pear with a hazelnut praline ice cream; and a chocolate bark with salt, chilli, pumpkin & sunflower seeds. Rich, indulgent chocolate, incredible sorbet and flavours that are both surprising and wonderful.  Have I said wow enough times already….I don’t care.  Wow!

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Chocolate bark, poached pear with a hazelnut praline ice cream, home-made granola with a rum punch sorbet, chocolate creméux and a citrus Genoese sponge with apple & créme fraîche

As ever, the service here has been wonderful.  We were mostly looked after by Ruth who was efficient, friendly and helpful.  On our way out we stopped at the entrance to the kitchen to thank Guy & Brittany for lunch and they happily took time to chat to us about some of our recent food adventures.

To summarise our experiences of the food at The Red lion….occasionally good, regularly great, often extraordinary.  This time round…absolutely extraordinary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lunch@Greys Brasserie, Easton Grey

We are celebrating an anniversary today – so we want to go somewhere special.  Grey’s Brasserie at Whatley Manor has a great write up in the Good Food Guide and the kitchen is staffed by the same people who produce the dishes for the Michelin starred Dining Room at Whatley Manor.  This should be a safe bet!

The place is almost deserted when we arrive and the hard floor of the restaurant gives it an almost clinical feel.  Rock enjoys a glass of the Côtes du Rhônes Visan, a rich and fruity red. I have pint of Easton Ale from Arkells Brewery – unfortunately, I find it rather flat and uninteresting.  Thankfully, other diners have started to arrive and they create some atmosphere.

I have the baked crayfish and macaroni thermidor to start.  The dish has plenty of seafood, the macaroni is soft and the sauce is packed with flavour.  A decent start though maybe lacking in the sort of culinary subtlety that I was hoping for.  Rock has the whiting goujons with tartare sauce which are crisp and tasty.

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Next Rock has the crispy duck leg with roasted pumpkin, date puree and charred onion ….except the duck leg is not crispy and the dish seems to be totally uninspiring.  I have the glazed ox cheek with spiced red cabbage, parsnip and kale.  The red cabbage and the crispy kale are really good.  However, the ox cheek is the most tasteless piece of cooked meat that I have put in my mouth for a very long time and the parsnips taste as though they were cooked several days ago and then reheated for today’s lunch.  Both main courses are taken off the bill by Marco the restaurant manager.

For dessert I take one last gamble on the brioche bread and butter pudding with plum ice cream.  It is pretty good though the plum ice cream is a slightly bizarre flavour to use with bread and butter pudding and doesn’t really work.

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This is really nothing like the experience we were hoping for…..all bets are off!

Lunch@The Star Inn, Sparsholt

The search for great pub food in 2017 continues and it’s time to return to another old favourite – The Star Inn at Sparsholt.  We are meeting Jem and Sassy, a couple of our regular dining chums, for lunch.  Sparsholt is a small Oxfordshire village just west of Wantage.

The menu here is always interesting with a mix of traditional pub dishes and then some that are clearly adventures into gastropub territory.  A pint of Prospect from the Shotover Brewing Company puts me in the right frame of mind for lunch, it is a pale bitter with decent body and a pleasing amount of flavour.

Sassy has the pumpkin soup served with almonds, coriander and curry oil.  Rock and Jem both have the smoked & curried chicken terrine with pickled raisins, salted cashews and a rosemary mayonnaise.  I have the Cornish mackerel with Vietnamese quinoa, pineapple chutney, coriander and sriracha (a type of chilli sauce) sorbet.  We all love our starters – a smooth and fully flavoured soup, a great chicken terrine and my mackerel is superb. The accompaniments are inventive and they work well.

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Cornish mackerel with Vietnamese quinoa, pineapple chutney, coriander and sriracha sorbet

Jem and I both move on to the roast partridge breasts served with a leg and apple sausage (presumably a partridge leg), salt baked celeriac, braised red cabbage & cider gravy.  The partridge is tender and is complemented by the perfectly cooked vegetables and the rich cider gravy. Sassy has the roasted walnut gnocchi with wild mushrooms, celeriac, turnip, cauliflower and spinach cream.  She likes the taste and the vibrant yellow of the cauliflower and the bright green spinach cream make the dish look amazing.

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Roasted walnut gnocchi with wild mushrooms, celeriac, turnip, cauliflower and spinach cream

Rock has the Kentucky fried cod cheek burger with hand cut chips, pickled cucumber and roasted garlic coleslaw.  It is well presented but she find’s the cod cheek quite firm – almost like monkfish. Also, she can’t taste any of the promised Kentucky spices. Disappointing.

Jem has the dark chocolate financier with praline mousse and mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  I have the orange tart with dark chocolate sorbet and candied almonds.  Sassy has a selection of home-made vanilla ice cream and orange and autumn fruit sorbets. Rock simply has a coffee served with home made fudge.

Apart from Rock’s cod dish, the quality of the food has been really good.  The service from Toby has been helpful and efficient throughout.  This is certainly one of the better pub meals we’ve had during 2017.

Lunch@King William, Bath

Our search for high quality pub food is taking us to King William in Bath.  In the latest Good Food Guide, King William is described as a local gem that serves seasonal, robust modern British cooking – let’s see how bright this gem can shine!

The beers on tap look suitably interesting.  Rock tries the Funky Monkey – a fruity English pale ale with hints of citrus from the Milk St Brewery of Frome.  I’m in the mood for something dark and the Plotline dry stout fits the bill perfectly.  Brewed by Kettlesmith in Bradford-on-Avon it successfully manages to combine chocolate and fruit flavours but it is not as full-bodied as I normally like in a stout.

Knowing that she has the appetite of a small child, Rock asks for two dishes from the children’s menu.  The first is a version of the King William tasting board.  Chicken popcorn, croquette of Bath chaps, spiced beef brisket, juniper cured salmon, basil pesto and Bertinet bread.

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King William tasting board

I have the spiced beef brisket with red cabbage jam and shallot.  The beef is beautiful and the rich red cabbage jam brings the whole dish alive.  Time for another beer and I move on to pub’s own King William ale – not sure who brews this for them but it is a good malty bitter.

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Spiced beef brisket, red cabbage jam and shallot

Rock’s next dish is battered fish with crushed peas and chips.  It is a suitably modest portion but the best things often come in small packages.  The fish is fresh, perfectly cooked and wrapped in a crisp batter.  The crushed peas and the chips are of the highest quality! Although a staple dish on many pub menus, most pubs deliver a very average fish and chips – but here it is fantastic. I have the pan roasted hake with crushed turnips and Bromham carrots.  Another perfectly cooked fish with firm flaky white flesh and crispy skin.

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Battered fish, crushed peas and chips
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Pan roasted hake

Finally, we  share a cinnamon and pumpkin creme diplomat with golden syrup ice cream and candied pecan nuts.  The diplomat is very creamy, the ice cream is not too sweet and the whole dessert is enhanced by the textures of the biscuit and the pecans.  Excellent.

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Cinnamon and pumpkin creme diplomat with golden syrup ice cream and candied pecan nuts

We’ve had fabulous food and great, friendly and helpful service.  The pub has not been too busy, which is a shame because this really is a local gem… some of the people of Bath and some of the visitors to Bath are clearly missing out!

Lunch@Carters, 2017

We are with our good friend Douglas and returning to another of our favourite places – Carters in Moseley.  This is a place where you are almost guaranteed to find eating experiences that you have never had before!

There is another new beer for me to try, the Heathen Pale Ale from the Northern Monk Brewery, it is a bold and fruity IPA with tropical notes that will probably work well with the wide variety of flavours that are about to hit my palate.  It is a set lunch menu here with alternatives only provided for those with particular dietary requirements.  We begin with a variety of snacks: chicken liver cereal; Porthilly oyster cooked in beef fat; house charcuterie; and a kohlrabi, pine and salad burnet.

The chicken liver cereal is fantastic – the light chicken liver paté works beautifully with a variety of toasted cereal.  The oyster is interesting.  There is far too much fat on the house charcuterie for any of us to really enjoy it.  And the kohlrabi peaks with salad burnet are an interesting palate cleanser.  Rock, who will not put an oyster in her mouth, is given an Evesham salad as an alternative and a pair of agricultural scissors to eat it with.  The salad appears to be a pot of cress.  She trims off a few stems, it is actually a pot of micro herbs… but it is a little bizarre!

The next course is pine mushroom porridge with Moliterno al Tartufo.  Moliterno is a hard Italian, truffle laden sheep’s cheese served with a small wooden spoon (which we all found to be distracting).  The dish is essentially a highly flavoured mushroom risotto.  It is very good.

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Pine mushroom porridge with Moliterno al Tartufo

The fish course is Cornish monkfish with artichoke, kale and smoked bacon fat.  My  monkfish is firm but Rock and Douglas both think their fish has been overcooked.  The artichoke puree is very smooth, the kale gives texture and the bacon fat gives flavour.

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Cornish monkfish with artichoke, kale and smoked bacon fat

Next we have highland grouse with beetroot and elderberries.  The dish is vibrant in colour and flavour.  The beetroot and elderberries make the soft breast purple and the breast is complemented by the crisp texture of the confit leg.

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Highland grouse with beetroot and elderberries

Dessert is a fig leaf ice cream (the second fig leaf ice cream we’ve had in two weeks – see The Woodspeen) with cobnuts from the Augernik Fruit Farm.  The sliced cobnuts sit on a crisp caramel that covers the ice cream.

Coffee is served with a strong, dark and delicious chocolate ganache, spiced salt and water mint.

Overall, we’ve enjoyed our third visit. The setting is serene and the service is excellent.  However, we much preferred Carters when the menu gave diners some element of choice – as on our first visit.  On our second visit, we enjoyed the food but found the coffee making process a little pretentious.  This time round, the food seems to be heading in the same direction as the coffee!

 

Lunch@The Woodspeen (take 5)

The Woodspeen is currently our favourite place to eat.  It is rare to find a place that is relaxed and informal yet consistently delivers food, drinks and service of the highest quality.  We are here for our fifth visit with great confidence that lunch will be outstanding.

Sitting in the bar, Rock orders a Raspberry Crush made by Luscombe, served with a cocktail stick of fresh berries.  I have a Cavalier Golden Ale from the Two Cocks Brewery. These are served with a bowl of home-made crisps.  The crush, the ale and the crisps are all top notch.

We move into the restaurant for our starter of quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree. We are sharing the starter and, one of the things we love about The Woodspeen is that, when you share a dish, they don’t just give you one plate and two sets of cutlery.  They carefully divide the food onto two small plates and dress it – so you receive a proper but smaller version of the original dish.  The quail is superb.

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Quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree

Next I have the roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree.  The fish is perfectly cooked, the pancetta and cavolo nero bring texture and flavour and all the other elements of the dish work together – it tastes fantastic. Rock has the pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato. Another perfectly cooked piece of fish, another fabulous dish.

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Roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree
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Pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato

Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet is Rock’s choice for dessert.  I have the tarte of fig and hazelnut with fig leaf ice cream.  Both desserts are sublime.  This is followed by great coffee and petit fours.

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Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet

The whole experience has been as outstanding as we had hoped.  The food has been extraordinary, the service from restaurant manager André and his team has been exceptional.  This consistency of quality is remarkable – every time we come here they manage to wow us!

 

Lunch@The Queens, Belbroughton

For us, with a few notable exceptions, 2017 has not been a good year for dining in pubs.  So, we are heading to The Queens at Belbroughton, which has had some rave reviews on social media, with high hopes rather than high expectations.

I have a very pleasant pint of Forty Niner from the Ringwood Brewery.  It is a full-bodied, malty golden brown ale.  I order the Queens Curry – marinated lamb, tomato, sweet pepper & onion sauce served with poppadums, onion bhaji and homemade naan bread.  It is perfectly ok but in no way exciting.  The bhaji and the naan bread are actually very ordinary.

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Rock orders the confit leg of Gressingham duck  with bean cassoulet, creamy mash & red cabbage.  When it is served there is no bean cassoulet – the duck leg and mash are served with green beans and carrots.  When queried, the staff member checks with the kitchen and comes back with an apology but no explanation or any other form of compensation.  Moreover, the skin of a confit duck leg should be crisp – this skin is best described as soggy.

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Our high hopes have been dashed.  Really standard pub grub and sometimes you don’t even receive what the menu promises!