Today we decided to go out for lunch (as we often do on a Sunday) and we drove in beautiful sunshine back to the village I was born in.
I only lived here until I was 6, but it holds many happy memories for me, even though the village - in common with so many small English places - has changed from being the vibrant little community with shops & post office that I remember to a purely residential place...the butcher and hairdresser now estate agents, the chemist, grocers and newsagents all private homes. But my first little school still stands on the village green, the pond is the same one I used to 'fish' in with a bamboo pole & piece of useless hanging string, and if I close my eyes I can almost see 2 tiny girls, their newborn sister in a pram, running over the harebells to play on the common by the church.
Before I drowned Paul in all this nostalgia, we stopped for lunch at a gastropub we've been to before. It's part of a small chain, we know & like the others but this one has been disappointing before so we thought we'd give it another try to see if it's changed. Sadly not. It's a beautiful, ancient building that has been renovated and decorated beautifully and sympathetically....authentic low beams, flagstoned floors, mismatched chairs, tapestry rugs and muted colours on the walls. The staff are young, efficient and friendly, there are newspapers to read and dogs are welcome (they have their own jar of biscuits on the bar) What's the problem, you may ask. In short, the most important thing....the food, of course! The menu looks and reads wonderfully (almost the most frustrating thing, it promises so much!) All the right things : Local ham hock terrine with home made piccallilli, locally reared roast pork, Organic smoked salmon with caper berries and horseradish creme fraiche....mmm. But everything was slightly wrong. I ordered 2 starters (something I often do at lunchtime) homemade hummus and pumpkin seed flatbread for my first dish, poached pear, walnut & blue cheese salad with wholegrain mustard dressing to follow., with a side order of unusual beetroot fritters with horseradish.Perfect.
The flatbread was certainly homemade, looked good (chargrilled in stripes, a nice touch) but SO oversalted - and I'm someone who loves salt - that it was almost inedible. And the hummus. My friend Rami
would have had a fit of apoplexy! I don't think there was much tahini in it, no garlic, minimal lemon juice and a strange, bitty texture....almost separated. I've thought long and hard about the taste and what was wrong. I honestly think that they hadn't cooked the chickpeas.....soaked, yes, but if they'd seen boiling water I'd be very surprised. So weird. I'm just hoping (3 hours on) that there will be no toxic effects - although I obviously didn't eat much.
Salad next....really just an assembly dish, no real skills involved. Pear, blue cheese & walnuts with watercress and mustard dressing. No walnuts. Anywhere. I called the waiter over. "I think they may have forgotten to add the walnuts to my salad?" "yup, highly likely" he laughed and went to the kitchen, returning with a small bowl of nuts fresh out of the packet. Somehow the magic was lost! The beetroot fritters - more tempura really - were the best bit of my meal, although the batter was chewy and slightly tough instead of being crisp and light. The beetroot quarters themselves were lovely and the horseradish went perfectly with their earthy blandness. Hardly a meal, though.
We didn't have coffee or dessert (we wouldn't usually at lunchtime anyway) but left unsatisfied and frustrated. Great looking building, good location and such a dearth of other good eating places in this very affluent area so close to London..... but so badly let down by lack of attention to detail and poor kitchen skills. At a time when even wonderful places are having to think of new ways to attract and retain customers, it seems a big mistake to actually repel them like this. We won't be back in a hurry.