Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

Category: Reviews

Trentham Bakehouse launches afternoon tea

We first met Curtis at Trentham Bakehouse back in February 2020, when he explained why he went from being a professional chef in high end restaurants to opening a bakery…

We first met Curtis at Trentham Bakehouse back in February 2020, when he explained why he went from being a professional chef in high end restaurants to opening a bakery in Stoke. In case you missed it, you can read our interview here.

Today we’re here to talk about the fact that Trentham Bakehouse are launching a range of very special afternoon teas, which we were lucky enough to try. Curtis and the team are offering three different options, each of which is presented in a beautiful picnic hamper complete with plates and cutlery. You have the choice of afternoon tea only, the sparkling afternoon tea with a bottle of Freixenet prosecco, or a luxury hamper which includes a bottle of yellow label Veuve Clicquot.

Picnic hamper with prosecco

Add a set of beautiful linen napkins, a big blanket and some glasses and you’ve got everything you need to head off to your favourite secluded spot and enjoy an al fresco feast this summer.  While everything comes in neatly arranged pairs, the hamper would easily be enough for a family of four or two couples to share. Unless you’re not into sharing, which would be totally understandable given the level of deliciousness we’re dealing with here, in which case you’re set for the next couple days!

Look away now if you don’t want to feast your eyes on a blow-by-blow account of this epic afternoon tea…

Let’s start with the quiche. In my experience opinions can be divided here, but this one’s oozy filling, rich with cheese and ham, could convince even the most quiche-sceptical. It has a puff pastry casing that reminds me of pastéis de nata. The sausage roll is another textbook case of perfect puff – light and flaky without being greasy – and it’s generously filled with tasty sausage meat seasoned with fresh herbs.

Picnic basket with quiche and scone

Possibly my favourite item in the whole hamper is the savoury scone. Crumbly and short, topped with an umami hit of cheese and shot through with onion seeds, it’s filled with chunky, moreishly salty bacon jam.

Out come the sandwiches next, and I would say they are more typical picnic fare than the dainty finger sandwiches you would associate with high tea – which is fine by me! The fillings in our basket are New York Deli, salmon and cream cheese, ham salad, and egg with lettuce, all served on the bakery’s own soft, floury white baps. They’re fresh and tasty with just the right filling-to-bread ratio.

Ham salad and New York Deli

It’s hard to know which sweet to tackle first, but the pineapple and passionfruit pavlova looks like a worthy contender. The only component of the afternoon tea that actually requires cutlery, it’s a kind of pastry-less twist on lemon meringue with a slice of lightly charred juicy pineapple, a squiggle of vanilla crème pâtissière and a scattering of super-tart, bright orange amazingness across the top.

Pineapple and passionfruit pavlova

The sweet scone is everything you want a scone to be: crumbly texture, strawberry jam and a vanilla crème pât, juicy raisins and a dusting of icing sugar.

Stick with me here because the rich, fudgy brownie has been turned on its head, pretty literally, and piped with a white chocolate frosting, then a chocolate sauce, then a sprinkle of even more delicious brownie crumbs. And the white chocolate and honeycomb flapjack is not like any flapjack you’ve ever had before, I promise. Then there’s a big, satisfying slice of millionaire’s shortbread with a smooth dulce de leche filling and short, crumbly base, topped off with creamy chocolate.

Flapjack, brownie, millionaire's shortbread

Last but not least is the alluringly shiny dark chocolate eclair, scattered with fudge pieces and filled with a thick, toffee flavoured cream. The choux pastry has texture and bite to it, with very little resemblance to the sad, chewy excuses for an eclair that you’ll find in the supermarket. Absolute heaven and definitely in the running for favourite item. 

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know there’s another very important part of afternoon tea that I’ve not mentioned yet. But there’s no need to worry, because Curtis and the team have got that covered too, with a selection of two different Teapigs teas included in the package. Maybe bring your flask?

Trentham Bakehouse picnic

This is an indulgent treat of an afternoon tea that takes as much care with the savoury elements as with the sweet. It would make the perfect centrepiece for a birthday or a special date (if this was the accompaniment to a wedding proposal, I can’t think of anyone who would say no), especially with the addition of the lovely chilled bottle of prosecco or champagne.

Add your own finishing touches to make it personal and the Trentham Bakehouse afternoon tea hamper will be a stunning experience that I’m willing to bet you’ll be talking about for months to come. Get it booked in!

Prices start at £40. Call, email or message Trentham Bakehouse on Facebook or Instagram to place your order with at least 48 hours notice.

Trentham Bakehouse
8 Atherstone Road, Trentham, ST4 8JY
facebook.com/Trenthambakehouse
01782 657812

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Dining in: Sauce Supper Club Dine at Home

When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, Beth and Jon Toovey at Sauce Supper Club started delivering fresh fruit and veg boxes locally in Lichfield and the surrounding area. It was…

When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, Beth and Jon Toovey at Sauce Supper Club started delivering fresh fruit and veg boxes locally in Lichfield and the surrounding area. It was on 1 May that they delivered their first Dine at Home boxes in partnership with Tom Shepherd. The former head chef at one Michelin starred Adam’s Restaurant in Birmingham is planning to open his own restaurant in Lichfield later this year.

Each weekend there’s a different fine dining menu for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home, with minimal effort required. This week, Sauce Supper Club’s Dine at Home box is reviewed for us by passionate Stoke-on-Trent-based foodie, Mike Lawton. Mike shares his thoughts on the food and considers whether it’s truly possible to recreate the restaurant experience at home.

The menu

Milk bread with marmite butter
.
Pulled barbecue pork fritter, wholegrain mustard mayonnaise, sweet pickled apricots, watercress
.
Slow roasted lamb shoulder, tenderstem broccoli, toasted couscous, cumin yoghurt, imam bayildi, pomegranate, lamb jus
.
Chilled coconut rice pudding, Alfonso mango salsa, coconut crumble, lemongrass and lime leaf sabayon
.
Chocolate fudge

In any business environment, it’s the innovators who survive; those who make the most of the situation and are able to adapt to changes in a way that suits their skillset. I think the emergence of ‘Dine at Home’ experiences plays very well into that; opening up new channels for consumers to create experiences in their own homes is a perfect example of innovation and will no doubt be a feature of the industry in the future.

When we first spoke about doing this review, I’d already had a couple of these types of experiences, from WOOD Manchester and from Peels on Wheels at Hampton Manor. To do the same with Sauce Supper Club and Tom was a great opportunity to compare the offers of three very credible contenders.

The experience began on Friday morning at 7:30am when the package was delivered to our door. Just to receive it was intriguing: excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm delivered in a cardboard box – that doesn’t happen every day!

The first thing I have to applaud the team on is the packaging. Today it’s really important to think about sustainability and how we respect the planet’s resources. The product packaging was genuinely thoughtful, not just in terms of what was in it, but in the way it was presented, including the use of fully recyclable WoolCool insulation.

Dine at Home box constituents

At the forefront of your mind when ordering a meal like this is, can you create a restaurant experience in your own home? What can it deliver? Is it going to be the same? How authentically can an amateur re-create the skills of a chef at home? There is an inferred responsibility – you want to perform well for yourself but also to represent the chef and their team’s hard work in preparing the food.

Inside the box is the skill, the enthusiasm, the knowledge and dedication of the chef in the product. It then comes down to you to engineer that into your own experience, using your knowledge of where you’ve eaten, what you’ve observed, what you like and what you dislike.

Of course, the end result is not the same, but I would argue it can be better because you’re able to apply your own influences to that of the chef – you can give your own care, attention and creativity. When expressed in these terms this is in no way a degraded experience – it’s a different experience influenced by you. It’s a fusion of chef and customer that presents a blend of skill and experience on each plate – it’s a chance to express your personality in the solid knowledge that the food quality will be assured.  

We received the box on the Friday and decided not to cook it until the Saturday. It was unpacked and we stored it in the fridge. It kept beautifully for 24 hours – plenty of time to plan, no need to rush. Adding to the experience was that every time I opened the fridge there was a thrill of anticipation, thinking ‘Ohh, look what’s coming!’ – it played an unexpected role in making the dinner special. 

Then Saturday night came and my wife and I laid everything out in the containers. It was very clear what to do because each of the courses had a colour-coded dot. The instructions were well-presented, very clear and concise, and enabled you to plan ahead. We switched on the oven and the fun began.

The first step was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done; I warmed up the bread. The difference – and this is where the value of this experience lies for me – is the skill you find in the detail. Although the bread was of course delicious, it was the marmite butter that created an incredible depth of flavour and taste – unbelievable to be able to create that in something so usually “ordinary”. That was a fitting precursor for what was to come. 

Milk bread with marmite butter

Whilst we were enjoying the bread, the pork fritters went into the oven and we laid out the mustard mayonnaise, sweet pickled apricots and watercress. Each element when tasted individually was well-prepared and delicate – together it was genuinely tremendous. The fritter was very easy to warm up. I used my Thermapen to check the temperature was right inside, and it came out crisp on the outside with great flavour and depth on the inside. Paired with the little apricots and mustard mayonnaise, we didn’t want it to end. I’m sure Tom would laugh at my basic plating skills, but the dish was a great mix of textures and flavours and we both really enjoyed it. We enjoyed a white Côtes du Rhône which paired beautifully with the construction of the dish.  

The lamb was a benchmark main course in terms of the combination of flavours and textures. The North African inspiration was clear to taste and smell; it came with couscous and imam bayildi, which I hadn’t heard of before, but is a Turkish aubergine dish. It was fantastic. The smell coming from the kitchen was like walking through a souk on a warm summer evening; with aromas of spices wafting through the warm confined streets. The lamb was beautifully prepared, compressed and rolled, perfectly ready for simply placing on a baking sheet and waiting for the magic to happen.

As ever, the winning part was in the detail, in the lamb jus. Wow. That’s the bit that you can’t create at home. It was truly phenomenal. All the science, the skill, the experience, and the professionalism of the chef comes in those little pots. This was a stand-out dish for me, not only because of the construction and the ease of bringing it together, but also because it demonstrated a complexity and depth in food that I could never have made myself.

Lamb, couscous, imam bayildi, broccoli

The dessert was spectacular. It was everything I want a dessert to be: rich, sweet, a beautiful texture. I’ve eaten at Adam’s a couple of times and had this dessert in the dining room there. The rice pudding was fantastic, the vanilla judged perfectly, the mango was delicious, and then there was the sweetness of the sabayon sauce… Just a beautiful balance. For me to have created that would have taken hours and hours of work and it wouldn’t have tasted anywhere close to that good. It was an absolute pleasure to serve it up, and it wasn’t difficult! All I needed was a plate and a spoon. I can’t speak highly enough of this dessert.

Throughout the lockdown I’ve tried to make the weekends special by trying to cook something a bit special – to make Saturdays different. These experiences really cater to that, they inspire you to be creative in the safe knowledge that if anything goes awry the food will carry the evening. If you’re in the house and you can’t get out, whether for lack of childcare or other commitments, you can be sure that this is definitely not second best. What you miss in the restaurant experience, you make up for with your own enthusiasm and dedication. It’s a perfect blend of creativity; yours and the chef’s.

I genuinely think these experiences should continue to be available once the hospitality industry returns to normal. Not only because it’s a revenue stream for restaurants, but also because it extends the restaurant or chef’s brand to new audiences who may never have found it accessible before. It’s a good introduction to bring people into fine dining, and a great way to involve the whole family in preparing food. The preparation and the plating became a talking point for my wife and I, creating possibly an even more engaging experience than eating in a restaurant.

It does make you appreciate the work that goes on behind the scenes in a restaurant and understand what you’re paying for, but at the same time this model allows consumers to enjoy and be inspired by this level of cooking. I was certainly inspired. I would do it again, and I would recommend it to anybody.

Ordering & delivery
Sauce Supper Club’s Dine at Home box is available for Friday and Saturday delivery, with prices starting from £37.50pp. Delivery is free to Lichfield and the surrounding area, with nationwide delivery now available at a charge of £24.

Order via saucesupperclub.co.uk.

 

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Dining in: Gallagher’s Home Kitchen

Jessica and Chris Gallagher, based in Cheddleton in the Staffordshire Moorlands, set up Gallagher’s Home Kitchen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Having both been due to…

Jessica and Chris Gallagher, based in Cheddleton in the Staffordshire Moorlands, set up Gallagher’s Home Kitchen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Having both been due to start new jobs in the hospitality industry at the end of that month, their plans were put on indefinite pause and they wanted to use their skills to offer fantastic quality food for home delivery. 

The couple met while they were both working at The Duncombe Arms in Ellastone. With Jessica’s background in hotel, event and restaurant management and Chris’ culinary expertise, they decided to fill their time during lockdown creating a homemade food service. 

Sauce jumped at the chance to try Gallagher’s Home Kitchen last week, coinciding with the launch of their new lamb baharat and falafel dishes. 

Ordering & delivery

Chris and Jessica’s menu is available to view on their social channels. There’s a different main on the menu for each day they’re open, from the lamb baharat and veggie-friendly falafel on Wednesday through to a traditional Sunday lunch with all the trimmings. You also have the option to add dessert, which changes every month. All you have to do is direct message them on Facebook to place your order, and pay via BACS transfer. Then Jessica will deliver to your door if you’re lucky enough to live within a 9 mile radius of Cheddleton.

Packaging

The food arrives in a large paper bag for the mains and a smaller one for the dessert, with a sweet little printed message from the Gallaghers. The majority is in foil cartons and there’s minimal plastic, which is always a plus. It seems Chris and Jessica have really thought about how the dishes on their menu will travel, because everything is pristine when it arrives on the doorstep with a smile and a wave! The elements of the main course are packaged separately so you can taste them individually, sharing out and plating how you like. The main was warm rather than hot on arrival, but the temperature was fine for us and you could easily heat up the lamb, falafel and couscous if you wanted to. 

Lam and couscous from Gallaghers Home KitchenAppearance

The slices of slow-cooked spiced lamb and the portion of falafel were nestled inside freshly baked pitta bread, while other containers yielded a rainbow of salad (crunchy lettuce, delicate ribbons of cucumber, julienne carrot and red cabbage) and bright, beautiful couscous with lemon and coriander. You also get little containers of thick Greek yoghurt and mango chutney. We could hardly wait to get stuck in!

You wouldn’t think a panna cotta would fare very well in takeaway form, but they are nothing short of immaculate when we come to lift the lids on dessert. We didn’t attempt to lift these onto our plates but I’m fairly sure they were firm enough to have held their shape if we’d tried. 

Taste 

The lamb baharat was rich and smoky with spices. ‘Baharat’ is the name of a traditional spice blend used throughout the Arab world, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, but there are many regional variations. The falafel were tasty and well-seasoned too. The couscous was fragrant and delicious, with plenty of herbs, lemon, apricot, pepper and toasted flaked almonds making your taste buds do a happy little dance. The salad was super-fresh and the mango chutney was lush – tangy and sharply sweet with black onion seeds through it. 

And the dessert? Oh. My. Goodness. 

Greek yoghurt panna cotta from Gallaghers Home Kitchen

Texture

The falafel were made up of a nice mix of whole and ground chickpeas, with a great crispy exterior. The slow-cooked lamb was ridiculously tender, like butter in your mouth, but not cloyingly fatty as lamb sometimes can be. The pitta was a perfect match for both – soft and chewy with a satisfying bit of crunch at the edges. 

This dessert has every element you could wish for: unctuous and decadent salted chocolate ganache (I could eat this by the bowlful), creamy and slightly sour yoghurt panna cotta with the most beautiful of wobbles, tart and sticky apricot jam, and the sweet crunch of honey and oat granola cut through with fragrant rosemary. This really ups the delivery game when it comes to pudding.  

Experience

Overall, the food was fantastic quality and the whole experience felt special. The panna cotta dessert in particular was most definitely restaurant standard. At £10 each for the main and £5 each for dessert, with free delivery, we thought it was good value. It was super-easy to order, delivery was timely and safe, and the service was really friendly. What more can I say? 

Look out for our interview with Jessica and Chris coming soon, and get your orders in over on their socials.

Gallagher’s Home Kitchen
facebook.com/GallaghersHomeKitchen

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To Infinitii, and beyond British-Indian food

On 11 February, a new restaurant and gin bar opened its doors in the picturesque Staffordshire village of Abbots Bromley. Sauce were invited along to sample the modern Indian cuisine…

On 11 February, a new restaurant and gin bar opened its doors in the picturesque Staffordshire village of Abbots Bromley. Sauce were invited along to sample the modern Indian cuisine and fabulous paired gin cocktails at The Infinitii.

The former Royal Ruchi has been transformed by owner Mustafa Chowdhury and his team into a contemporary restaurant, with teal walls set off by burnished gold metalwork and comfortable furnishings.

With menus that embrace both veganism and the health conscious (the kitchen uses olive oil for cooking and steers clear of deep frying, so poppadoms are out), Infinitii is also committed to reducing its environmental impact by sourcing organic, local ingredients and producing net zero plastic waste.

General manager Jacobo Gonzalez Jaspe and award-winning chef Mamrej Khan are at the helm. In a career already spanning 25 years, Khan has worked in restaurants across the world including the 5 star Taj Hotel in Chennai, The Rose Garden in the Maldives and the Deluxe Palace Hotel in Bahrain. Since coming to the UK, he’s been head chef at the Lasan group in Birmingham and The Mint Room in the southwest, as well as being a mentor to celebrity chef Aktar Islam, of Michelin-starred Opheem.

On arrival we’re presented with some of the cocktails that have been created in partnership with nearby Nelson’s Gin – a Basil Smash made with their London dry, lemon and basil, and a peppercorn and chilli-infused cocktail with Nelson’s Timur gin.

For starters, we’re served the smoky lamb tikka – cinnamon smoked lamb fillet cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection in the tandoor, which is available as a starter or main course. The dish is covered with a glass cloche so you can experience those smokey aromas at the table as it’s revealed.

And there’s a modern take on classic Mumbai street food in the form of bhel puri. A mind-blowing combination of textures and tastes, bhel puri pairs tangy tamarind paste with crispy puffed rice and lightly spiced potatoes. This is a dish that would easily be overlooked on the menu, but we highly recommended giving it a try.

Next, chef has prepared South Indian inspired Malabar sea bass – a panfried fillet cooked in coconut milk, tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and served with spiced sauté spinach. The creaminess of the coconut complements the sea bass, as does the fragrant saffron rice that’s paired with both main courses by the chef.

infinitii food

For the editor, its duck Lucknowi, an Awadhi speciality of seared Barbary dusk breast in a caramelised onion, tomato, yoghurt and cashew nut sauce. We also tuck into a side of daal makhani, made with the black lentils so common in Indian cuisine. These are rarely used elsewhere than India because they are difficult to prepare and cook compared to other varieties. There’s also traditional clay oven baked naan, shot through with smoky Applewood cheese.

We’re also treated to a sample of each of the desserts on offer: from a light chocolate and cinnamon mousse decorated with a beautiful painted chocolate leaf, to traditional carrot halwa, a sweet pudding served with sour apple and strawberry coulis. The gulab jamun, India’s answer to the doughnut, is also served with sour apple and a mango coulis to cut through the sticky sweetness.

The Infinitii is putting an unpretentious and modern twist on authentic Indian food, showcasing regional techniques and placing the tandoor at the heart of the kitchen. We certainly enjoyed our trip beyond the boundaries of ‘British-Indian food’, and we look forward to seeing what they do next.

The Infinitii
Bagot Street, Abbots Bromley, WS15 3DB
theinfinitii.co.uk

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The Littleton Arms

The Littleton Arms is an independent restaurant, pub and 10-bed boutique hotel right in the centre of the busy market town of Penkridge. Food is served from the busy kitchen…

The Littleton Arms is an independent restaurant, pub and 10-bed boutique hotel right in the centre of the busy market town of Penkridge.

Food is served from the busy kitchen seven days a week, from 7:00 on weekdays and 8:00 at weekends, so there’s a menu for every occasion: breakfast, brunch, lunch, bar bites, and dinner.

The imposing whitewashed building dominates the crossroads at the heart of the town. Inside, the rustic character of the 17th century inn has been retained with painted panelling, exposed wooden beams and nods to its heritage, including a wall half-covered in horseshoes. There’s plenty of cosy leather and richly patinaed furniture to create a comfortable haven from the chill of the outdoors.

Sea bass with Thai red curryYou’re invited to take a tall seat in the bar area or wait to be seated in one of the dining spaces. It takes a short while, but the welcome from the staff is warm, and they’re attentive and swift to take our orders once we’ve settled at the table.

Our visit coincides with the release of the new autumn menu, devised by The Littleton Arms’ head chef Will Dean. Many of the dishes show evidence of the close working partnership between the venue and quality local suppliers. So, for example, you can enjoy a 10oz pork tomahawk steak from Perry’s Butchers in Eccleshall, which is served with mustard and spring onion mash, fine beans, bramley apple sauce and melting cheddar with a cider gravy.

Other tempting autumnal dishes on the menu include pheasant breast with streaky bacon, a leg meat and potato croquette, cauliflower cheese purée, honey roasted parsnips, quince jelly and a red wine jus. For hearty appetites there’s also the game mixed grill – a decadent combination of seared venison loin, wild boar sausage, wrapped rabbit loins, seared pigeon breast, creamed savoy cabbage, garlic mash and baby carrot, also with red wine jus.

As it’s lunchtime when we visit, delicious as these dishes sound, we lean towards slightly lighter options. The seared seabass is a generous two fillets rather than the standard single piece of fish, and it sits atop a fragrant coconut and jasmine rice in a mild Thai red curry. The sweet mango salsa with tangy charred lime cuts through the creamy sauce well to produce a satisfying plate of  food.

Goat's cheese and sundried tomato linguineMeanwhile the sundried tomato and vegan mozzarella linguine harks back to the flavours of summer, with a fresh vegan pesto coating the well-cooked pasta. It is one of the vegan options, but is listed on the main menu rather than the separate vegan menu, perhaps to give you the chance to add crispy goat’s cheese, which we gladly do, or crispy calamari. The same goes for the Persian lentil and wholegrain rice risotto with pine nuts, saffron and toasted walnuts, to which you’re invited to add chicken supreme or duck ragù.

Whether you’re drinking or not there’s no shortage of options here, from Iron & Fire coffee and low or non-alcohol beers, to rotating ales on tap. There’s also an extensive cocktail menu and a range of premium spirits behind the bar, including Sun Bear’s naturally flavoured vodka and gin, as well as other local favourites like Hearts Distillery’s London dry gin.

All in all, this is a lovely Staffordshire pub where you can have a happy encounter with some traditional, delicious and filling fare this autumn.

The Littleton Arms
St Michael’s Square, Penkridge, ST19 5AL
thelittletonarms.com

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The Meynell Ingram Arms

We traversed the country lanes of rural East Staffordshire to find a friendly welcome in Hoar Cross at The Meynell Ingram. The historic Staffordshire pub had been closed for over…

We traversed the country lanes of rural East Staffordshire to find a friendly welcome in Hoar Cross at The Meynell Ingram.

The historic Staffordshire pub had been closed for over five years, reopening on 10 May. The building has been cleverly reconfigured by Berkeley Inns, who acquired it in November 2018. Now there are a series of distinct spaces around a central courtyard complete with parasols, heaters and a ‘living wall’ of plants.

Main restaurant Meynell IngramThe traditional country pub remains very much at its heart, but beyond that there’s a modern and elegant restaurant dining area, complete with immense bifold doors which let light stream in from the courtyard. There’s space for private dining in the Mirror Room. On the third side of the courtyard, Sam’s Bar is a relaxed space with flatscreens showing sports, a second bar, and a pizza oven. The outdoor space here will really come into its own this summer, with not only the enclosed courtyard to enjoy, but beautifully planted gardens and patios to the side and rear of the pub.

Tom Cross has moved over from The Cow at Dalbury to take up the position of general manager at The Meynell, where he leads a team of professional and personable front of house staff clad in red and black plaid. Behind the scenes in the kitchen, the brigade is headed up by Colin Ansell, who joins the Meynell from a 10 year stint as head chef at Pascal’s at The Old Vicarage.

The bistro-style à la carte menu caters to many different tastes, featuring pub classics with a fine dining twist to Mediterranean inspired dishes. There are nibbles and sharing platters if you’re looking for something lighter, and freshly baked pizza for those long summer evenings.

To start, we opt for the steak tartare made with Staffordshire beef, which holds its own comfortably, and the heritage tomato with goat’s cheese, prosciutto, avocado and sourdough croutons – perfectly balanced in terms of acidity, creaminess and crunch.

Steak tartare

In the spirit of adapting with the seasons, we order the Thai beef salad bowl and ras el hanout spiced chump of lamb for the main course. The salad is packed with fresh veg – bean sprouts, spring onions, shallots, cucumber – and fresh flavours from the basil, mint, coriander, lime and soy-sesame dressing. It’s a thoroughly satisfying dish that’s still light and summery. The tender pink lamb has a delicious spicy crust and the couscous is laced with tiny pieces of sweet apricot and flavoursome herbs. The zingy tzatziki lifts the rich meat with its sourness.

If it’s sumptuous desserts you’re into, you won’t be disappointed here. The raspberry crème brûlée, served with the pastry chef’s beautifully short shortbread, is a delight, but we’re slightly over-faced by the decadent Meynell Mess – a bowl of ice cream, fudge, brownie, seasonal fruit, coulis and marshmallow that is definitely made for sharing!

Berkeley Inns Ltd currently operate four other rural and semi-rural pubs in Derbyshire. This is the group’s first foray into Staffordshire, and if our experience is anything to go by it looks set to be a fantastic success.

The Meynell Ingram Arms
Abbots Bromley Road, Hoar Cross, DE13 8RB
meynellingram.co.uk

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Pascal at the Old Vicarage

Just south of Burton-upon-Trent, sandwiched between the canal, the railway, the A38 and the River Trent, sits Branston. The village, with its origins in medieval times, is home to Pascal…

Just south of Burton-upon-Trent, sandwiched between the canal, the railway, the A38 and the River Trent, sits Branston. The village, with its origins in medieval times, is home to Pascal at the Old Vicarage.

The Old Vicarage has been on the Staffordshire dining scene since Karen and Pascal Arnoux took ownership in 1999, so we thought it only fitting that we pay a visit. Over the last two decades the restaurant has established a reputation for excellent food and built up a loyal following, so it’s definitely advisable to book your table. To illustrate this point, we decided to pay a visit on a Sunday and the only time available was 3pm.

As we walked into the entrance we were greeted by Pascal himself. He is no stranger to the international restaurant trade, having trained in Dijon and worked both in Paris and Amsterdam. He welcomed us and showed us through to a comfortable seating area, where we could enjoy a drink while perusing the menu.

Having looked through the drinks menu, which has a wide selection including Champagne cocktails and impressive Old and New World wine lists, Karen proceeded to take our refreshment order. The room was full of guests waiting to go through to the dining room or enjoying coffee and petits fours. Our drinks arrived quickly and were accompanied by salmon, dill and mayonnaise canapés and chilli flavoured olives; if these were anything to go by then we thought we must be in for a treat.

Pascal himself attended to us and explained the specials on offer. À la carte is available, but we plumped for the table d’hôte menu which comprises a three course meal for £25.95 per person. On the day we were there the menu choices were excellent, with six starters and seven mains to agonise over. The table d’hôte menu is revised on a monthly basis to keep the food seasonal and interesting for both customers and staff.

Having made our selections, we finished the canapés and Pascal saw us through to our table, which offered lovely views of the beautifully tended garden. Leigh the restaurant manager introduced himself with the wine list and presented us with a good selection of fresh breads.

We didn’t have long to wait for the starters to arrive. I had chosen the confit of duck terrine which came on a bed of oriental vegetables including pak choi and daikon radish with a hoisin and plum dressing. I was intrigued by this dish and it didn’t disappoint; it proved a very grown-up version of duck pancakes. The generous portion of flavourful duck terrine paired beautifully with the vegetables, particularly the daikon radish, which provided a mild, sweet taste. Meanwhile the hoisin held all of these wonderful tastes and textures together.

Our plates were removed by the attentive but unobtrusive staff, a credit to Leigh who, as the Old Vicarage’s website mentions, prides himself on his levels of customer service.

For the main, although the roast sirloin of English beef looked beautiful (the table next to us had all ordered it), I opted for the roast rump of lamb, served pink, with gratin dauphinois and a red wine reduction. The dish was plated beautifully with great attention to detail from Pascal’s chef Colin Ansell. This is a man who clearly takes great pride in his work. Leigh offered us a choice of condiments, including mint sauce which complemented the perfectly cooked lamb.

The dauphinoise potato stack had a good balance of flavours, with the milk and garlic carefully calculated so as not to overpower the delicate lamb. The lamb itself was a beautiful cut with no fat on it at all. Pascal and the team at the Old Vicarage work closely with local producers and you can taste that this is clearly paying off.

At this point my appetite had been sated, but I vowed to battle on to the end of the three course menu. Leigh delivered the dessert menu to the table and again we found a wide selection of seven different dishes, ranging from bread and butter pudding (far too heavy for me at this point) to apple and blackberry crumble to locally made Needwood Ice Cream. Looking for something that was light on the palate I opted for the iced lemon parfait with meringue, raspberries and biscuit crumb. Yet again this was a beautifully presented dish set off to perfection by the use of a black plate.

I was glad that I had convinced myself to have a dessert as this was a lovely way to finish the meal. From the fresh local raspberries to the meringue presented two ways and, of course, the refreshing iced lemon parfait, this was a charming dessert – and this coming from someone who would never describe themselves as a sweet person!

Overall, what Pascal at the Old Vicarage offers is fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. Great care is taken to present immaculately plated, carefully constructed dishes and the pride that the whole team – from Pascal and Karen to Colin and Leigh – so obviously take in their work translates into a wonderful dining experience. They will undoubtedly be seeing more of us.

Pascal at the Old Vicarage
2 Main Street, Branston, Burton-upon-Trent, DE14 3EX
Tel. 01283 533222
www.pascalattheoldvicarage.co.uk

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Red Brick Café

Red Brick Café is just the sort of place where you could picture yourself holed up on a blustery afternoon when the leaves are flying around outside, with a cup…

Red Brick Café is just the sort of place where you could picture yourself holed up on a blustery afternoon when the leaves are flying around outside, with a cup of coffee and a beautiful piece of home-baked cake.

The end terrace that houses the café is on a small private road in the centre of Blythe Bridge, and indeed it feels like you might have strayed into someone’s dining room when you settle in. Joe and Anna and their friendly team make you feel right at home, with the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel you could easily strike up a conversation with the next table but also where you’ll be left to your Full English and your own devices if that’s what you want. With around 20 covers, you won’t feel crowded even if the room is full.

Flooded by light from the large front window, the café certainly lives up to its name with a glorious wall of red brick, and artwork celebrating the local area. At least one of the bricks in the café – proudly on display – came from the Five Oaks works, which is recorded as operating in this area as far back as the 1870s. The eponymous red brick is complemented by forest green walls and blackboards spelling out enticing daily specials and offers. Breakfast is served until midday, but at lunchtime a special of chicken and halloumi skewers with couscous and herb salad is tempting, especially at a very reasonable £8.

Red Brick Cafe cakes

However, you can’t go far wrong with a generous and warming bowl of freshly made soup. Pea, mint and watercress was delicious in the summer, but the menu moves with the seasons. It’s accompanied by a doorstop of seeded granary bread from local bakery Bengry’s or a sandwich for an extra £3.

The toasties are an ever popular option; proper ham and Staffordshire Cheese cheddar with caramelised onion chutney goes down a treat and is accompanied by crunchy house coleslaw and salad with a basil oil dressing.

Pride in the area’s heritage and support for other local businesses is not only limited to the food offering. Expect your coffee in a Steelite cup and your meal on blue and white Spode. It’s great to see independent businesses in Staffordshire proving that the traditional and the contemporary can work so well together, feeling clean and modern but rooted in the past of the place.

The cake looked too good to pass up, so we didn’t and were very glad! The dark chocolate Guinness cake is as rich, dense and velvety as you would imagine, with a cream cheese icing to provide the perfect contrast. We also tried a slice of the gluten free vanilla and ginger cake, beautifully decorated with edible flowers, which was excellent as long as you like ginger. Crystallised ginger in syrup sits in the base and the moist cake is complemented by a light, creamy layer of frosting on top.

Takeaway service is also available – cheaper than sitting in – but I certainly don’t think you will regret taking a pew. Red Brick Café is clearly deserving of all the love it gets on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google Reviews as well as from those lucky locals who are in the know.

Red Brick Café
1 Wesley St, Blythe Bridge, Stoke-on-Trent, ST11 9QB
facebook.com/redbrickcafesot

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Larder: Fine dining in our cathedral city

Chef Ryan Shilton is raising the bar for fine dining in the heart of Lichfield with the opening of his new restaurant, Larder, this week. Sauce were invited along to…

Chef Ryan Shilton is raising the bar for fine dining in the heart of Lichfield with the opening of his new restaurant, Larder, this week.

Sauce were invited along to a preview evening at the freshly renovated premises, which sits next door to Bore Street Bakery. On the ground floor there’s a bar exclusively for restaurant guests where we’re served a biscuity Hattingley Valley sparkling wine from Hampshire alongside two snacks – a goat’s cheese and basil tartlet and venison tartare with pear – which set the tone for the evening’s rich gastronomic offering.

There’s an extensive list of Old and New World wines to choose from, as well as a good selection of beers (including locally brewed Freedom lager), spirits and liqueurs. We order before being shown upstairs, where the intimate dining room takes up the first floor.

With comfortable chairs upholstered in teal and grey, dark wood, plush carpet and gold accented accessories, it feels suitably sumptuous without being over the top. Which is a description you could equally apply to the food – like the bite of pork belly with apple and ginger purée that appears promptly on our table, skewered on chef’s plating tweezers.

We are treated first to monkfish, lettuce and tartare sauce, followed by barbecued wagyu brisket with a smoky black garlic purée and enoki mushrooms. Next up is celeriac three ways – baked, pickled and raw – with oregano and a delicious Lincolnshire Poacher sauce. Everything is served on bespoke handmade ceramics from a potter friend of Ryan’s, and it’s obvious that care and attention has gone into every detail, such as the unusual Portuguese cutlery.

The menu’s crescendo is perfectly pink Creedy Carver duck with onion, peppercorn sauce and a silky mousse that Ryan explains is made from roast potatoes and duck fat. The palate cleansing pre-dessert is probably the most tastebud-challenging – lime curd with the texture of avocado served with bitter curried caramel, meringue and a very hoppy IPA jelly. Dessert would satisfy any sweet tooth, however, consisting of chocolate ganache, hazelnut ice cream and a maple vinegar jam.

Afterwards we head upstairs for a peek at the very calm and collected second floor, where guests will soon be able to enjoy a chef’s table experience sitting in the kitchen itself. The apparently unflappable Ryan recently left his position at the three-rosette Four Seasons at Swinfen Hall Hotel to open Larder, where he has freedom to showcase the best seasonal British produce on his own terms. When it opens later this week, the restaurant will offer lunch Thursday to Saturday, with five and seven course tasting menus on offer during evening service, and a three course Sunday lunch. Choice and vegetarian menus will also be available.

With exceptional food, a relaxed atmosphere and attentive but unobtrusive service, Larder is sure to become a popular fine dining destination for lucky Lichfield locals and no doubt will attract attention from further afield.

Larder
17 Bore Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 6LZ
www.larderlichfield.com 

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Stone welcomes BEAR

The latest exciting addition to Stone’s thriving food and drink scene is BEAR’s new branch on the High Street. Sauce was invited to one of the pre-launch events to get…

The latest exciting addition to Stone’s thriving food and drink scene is BEAR’s new branch on the High Street.

Sauce was invited to one of the pre-launch events to get a taste of what’s going to be on offer when the store opens to the public on Thursday 1 November.

The first striking feature when you walk through the heavy, draught-fighting curtain, is the beautiful decor. Craig and Michael, the local duo behind BEAR, have kept the original parquet floor while making the most of the old bank’s fantastic high ceiling by installing a mezzanine with comfortable seating. With huge windows making the most of the natural light on even the grimmest of days, it manages to be light and airy but also cosy, with a palette of deep blues, greens and pinks complemented by modern furniture and lots of greenery.

First and foremost, this is a speciality coffee house. You can choose between the chocolatey house coffee from Myanmar, the current guest – a fruity Ethiopian coffee – and there’s also the option of a citrusy Peruvian decaf. If coffee isn’t your bag, there are plenty of teas and soft drinks to choose from too.

Although great coffee is at BEAR’s core, you can’t miss the fact that it’s also a kitchen and bar. As we went along to the brunch event we were able to sample the delicious food, but even on a Friday it was a bit too early for gin, cocktails or craft beer (served from 10am in case you’re interested). In addition, there’s a retail section where you can buy coffee brewing essentials like Chemix and Aeropress or keep cups if you need to take your drink away.

There is no shortage of knowledgable, friendly staff who are able to talk you confidently through the menu. We went for the smashed avocado toast with eggs and the baked eggs with feta, served with flatbread. You can see right into the kitchen, filled with the smiling faces of the team that will prepare you some fresh, super-tasty food – including perfectly poached eggs.

There’s an ‘All Day’ menu that takes over from breakfast, with some brunch items and a small but thoughtfully formed list of sandwiches, salads and mains. In the evening the food offering switches up with a focus on the social. There’s a selection of small plates and pizzas designed for sharing, with a very Mediterranean feel – you’ll find sampadori olives, caprese salad and chorizo on there, to name just a few.

As far as we can see, the team behind BEAR certainly seem to have found their recipe for success with speciality coffee, fuss-free dining and a relaxed atmosphere. Check it out for yourself from next week and let us know what you think.

BEAR Coffee House, Kitchen & Bar
57 High Street, Stone, ST15 8AH
www.bearcoffeecompany.com

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