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@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@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!

Lunch@The Pot Kiln, Frilsham

At first glance The Pot Kiln may appear to be a traditional English pub in the West Berkshire countryside but it’s approach to food is quite different to most other pubs. Named as one of the Top 100 restaurants in the UK 2017 by The Sunday Times, the menu has a strong focus on game including venison from locally culled wild deer.

The Pot Kiln was also the original home of the West Berkshire Brewery but no single brewery has a monopoly on the beer on sale today as now it is a free house. This means there should be some great ales for me to try and I start with the Brick Kiln Bitter – created specially for this place by the West Berkshire brewers. It is a dark amber, earthy bitter – perfectly fine but not my favourite from this brewery.

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Rock chooses to kick off with the beetroot cured gravadlax with beetroot in counter and dice shapes, horseradish cream and pickled cucumber. The quality of the dish is outstanding and she is very happy with her choice. I go for the wood pigeon salad served with bacon, black pudding, mushrooms and darts of balsamic glaze. The wood pigeon is quite rare but it is also tender and works fantastically with the black pudding. So far, so very good.

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Beetroot cured gravadlax, beetroot, horseradish cream & pickled cucumber
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Wood pigeon salad, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms & balsamic glaze

I need a second beer and I want to try another West Berkshire ale that I’ve not had before. Mister Swift’s is a light, fruity pale ale, I really like it and it gets a high mark on my personal beer scorecard.

We both feel that the best next move is to choose venison for our main course. I have the grilled pavé of fallow served with pomme purée, cavolo nero, game stuffing and a pool of red wine gravy. The pomme purée could have been creamier but, I’m really nitpicking, overall the dish is fabulous. Rock has the venison burger served with incredible crispy potato wedges stacked like dominoes (I sneak some of them onto my plate), a rich home-made tomato sauce and their own coleslaw. Wow, that’s a real winner!

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Grilled pavé of fallow served with pomme purée, cavolo nero, game stuffing & red wine gravy
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Venison burger, crispy potato wedges, home-made tomato sauce & coleslaw

We have really enjoyed decent beer, fantastic food and fabulous service from Claudia. If you are looking to find a great place to eat game – don’t take up some sort of trivial pursuit – the Pot Kiln is the only game in town!

Lunch@The Fox & Hounds, Wroughton

Today I’m meeting Cali, Xena & Antonio for lunch at the Fox & Hounds in Wroughton. This is an old haunt for all of us but there have been some changes here – the place was completely refurbished in 2015 and the menu has been refurbished too!

Antonio and I are first to arrive and we both have a pint of Wiltshire Gold. Xena soon joins us and, as we all anticipated, Cali arrives in her own time. At this point we are sitting in the garden and we can watch Cali – hoping that she does not re-enact the infamous car parking incident which is part of our collective history.

Xena enjoys the fresh smoked chicken Caesar salad which is full of quite strong flavours. Antonio has the interesting variation on paella made with chicken and Chorizo. I’ve been drawn to the marinated pork chop with garlic, fried noodles, pak choi and a soya dipping sauce. It is enjoyable though possibly a touch too sweet for me. Cali has the leek and feta cheese tart served with a tomato and bean salad. She likes the fact that the tarts have been freshly cooked but finds the leeks a little strange.

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Chicken & Chorizo paella
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Marinated pork chop with fried noodles & pak choi
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Leek & feta cheese tarts

Conversation flows about the past, the present and the future and we are all really enjoying ourselves. From my perspective, this is a small but perfectly formed group of former workmates…and we really need to meet up more often. The refurbished Fox & Hounds is much improved and the food is better too!

Lunch@The Bell, West Overton (2)

We first visited The Bell in West Overton in 2016. We really enjoyed the food and so we are going back for a second time to meet Jem & Sassy for lunch. The Bell is run by Hannah & Andrew McNaughton. Hannah leads the front of house team while Andrew, who has cooked at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and at the Oxo Tower, leads the kitchen team.

I begin by revisiting the beer I had last time – Moles Best from the Moles Brewery in Melksham. It is a malty copper coloured bitter with a hint of floral hops. No one else at our table is drinking alcohol but, without the need for liquor, they are still all in good spirits.

Curried smoked haddock & prawn fishcakes served with lime pickle and coriander are brought to the table for Jem & Sassy. They have a crisp coating, are generously filled and taste fantastic. I have the duck liver parfait with onion confit and toast. Smooth, highly flavoured parfait. Rock has the warm potato pancake with hot smoked salmon, watercress and crème fraiche.  Well balanced and delicious. All good choices – what a great start!

Another beer but this time I’m going to try something new. Birdman is from the Flying Monk Brewery in Malmesbury. It is a refreshing full-bodied pale golden bitter – a nice contrast to the Moles Best. Jem & Sassy not only have the same starter but the same main course. It is some sort of gentle conspiracy to give me less to write about. Their pan fried fillet of sea bream comes with roasted cauliflower, chorizo, sautéed potatoes, almonds and tomato.

I have the slow braised venison with beetroot, mushrooms and sauté potato gnocchi. The venison arrives looking like a small haggis but it is absolutely superb its rich flavour is complemented by the beetroot and mushrooms. The light and delicate gnocchi is also very good. Rock enjoys a tasty local rabbit ragu with tagliatelle, peas and basil.

A good measure of how much we like the food at any place is whether we have dessert when we don’t really need to. Rock and I share the basil pannacotta with basil wine and fresh raspberries. An unusual and very nicely flavoured pannacotta that fully passed the ‘wobble’ test. Jem has the vanilla cheesecake with blueberry confit and Sassy the warm treacle tart with clotted cream. The desserts are every bit as good as the starters and the main courses.

The second visit to The Bell has been even better than the first – partly because we shared the experience with Jem & Sassy. A third visit is definitely on the cards for us and a second for Jem and Sassy!