Our own undercover food writer, The Insider, finds himself hot under the collar during this week's restaurant review.
There are some golden rules when it comes to life as an undercover food writer, writes our own undercover food writer, The Insider.
Keep a low profile. Don’t say anything that will give any clue to your identity. And don’t, under any circumstances, set fire to the menu.
And going on that criteria, I must admit that my latest mission didn’t go as successfully as I would have liked. I have no idea whether the young, blackshirted waiter who took my food order noticed that the menu was somewhat smaller than when he had handed it to me, with a singed, jagged edge where its corner used to be. If he did, he wasn’t saying.
But then again, it seems hard to envisage that nobody noticed the smell of burning, and the plumes of black smoke which had been floating up from our table a few moments earlier. Sometimes it is best to just front it out, look all wide-eyed and innocent, and mutter about the appetising aroma coming from the kitchen.
We decided it was time to hit The Cowshed after receiving several recommendations from readers. Millicent Boothe told me how the roasted lamb noisettes were perfectly cooked, and supplied the tenderest chicken her friend had ever tasted. Ambience Pippa Spencer from Albrighton is another fan, raving about the lunchtime meals. “The decor and ambience were good, and we will certainly visit again.”
Sarah D also dropped me a line, saying it offered great local food and good service.
The Cowshed is a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene, having opened in 2005 and picking up a Staffordshire Good Food Award in its first year. True to its name, The Cowshed is the former dairy at Clive Farm, which is still a fully working farm.
Tucked away off a country lane, a brick archway leads to the courtyard car park. On the reasonably pleasant Friday night of our visit, a couple of people were sitting at the small round tables in front of the main entrance. The car park is level and you can stop quite close to the door. While there is a small step up to the main entrance, I cannot see wheelchair access being a problem although, as ever, it is probably wise to telephone in advance.
The room is a stylish mix of traditional rural themes, with a dash of modern minimalism. The tables are hefty, rustic affairs, which go well with the sturdy-looking ceiling beams, while the white walls and pale wood flooring provide a bit of light relief. The wicker chairs look good, too, although they are more geared towards style than comfort, while the cartoon paintings of cows on the walls give it a quirky touch.
The place was busy, but given that this was a Friday night, it wasn’t what you would call heaving. It is quite hard to pigeon-hole the customers there, although I would imagine many of them were there to celebrate a special occasion of some sort. There is no shortage of drinks, with a choice of real ales – although they tended towards the stronger end of the market – and a healthy, reasonably-priced wine list.
The food menu is not huge, perhaps reflecting the fact that a lot of time goes into sourcing the ingredients and preparing the dishes, with a choice of five starters and seven mains. But it is interesting, featuring a range of lovingly crafted and carefully thought-out dishes. Indeed, it was while I was so engrossed with its content that the menu came into contact with the candle on the table, resulting in the impromptu pyrotechnics display.
The oven-roasted lamb rump in cranberry and mint sauce sounded rather gorgeous, but you can’t go to The Cowshed without eating cow, can you? The pan roasted fillet of local beef was a real man-sized portion, generously proportioned, and the red wine jus was exquisite. There wasn’t much of it, mind, but perhaps they were worried that, in my hands, it might just present a fire hazard.
My dining companion’s pan-roasted breast of chicken was also nicely cooked, although again, a bit more brandy cream sauce would have been nice. The dishes came with a single bowl of vegetables, including some very pleasant spicy creamed potatoes, parsnips and a couple of slices of carrot – as well as a plethora of courgettes.
Service from the two young men in black was exemplary, and having decided not to bother with a starter, the complimentary cups of soup we were presented with to accompany our bread before the main courses made for a very nice touch indeed.
Given that the beers on offer were a little on the strong side – and this was clearly a place to push the boat out – I decided to sample the £6.50-a-glass non-vintage champagne to accompany the meal, and it is things like that that help make the meal a little bit special.
The Cowshed is renowned for its speciality cheesecakes, which are now available to take away, and I couldn’t possibly go away without sampling one for myself. It was everything you would expect – an orgy of decadence on a plate, and all for £5.95.
The total bill came to £66.20, including coffees, which at £2.50 to £2.75 a cup, cost more than a pint of beer in many pubs.
It is certainly not cheap, and it would have been a lot more had we gone for starters, or the dessert wine which came in at an eye-watering £16.95. If you’re watching the pennies, the £7.99 lunchtime meals, of the £14.95 Sunday menu might make for better value.
On the other hand, we all want to treat ourselves occasionally, and if you’re looking for somewhere a bit special, and don’t mind paying a little extra, it makes for a memorable experience. Blazing, in fact.
The Cowshed, Clive Road, Pattingham, Wolverhampton, WV6 7EN
Phone: 01902 701888
Warm breaded camembert with red onion chutney and crisp leaves £5.95; Wild mushroom souffle with a garlic infused cream £6.50; Sweet chilli sauteed tiger prawns with Italian linguine £7.50.
Slow-roasted pork belly with black pudding, apple mash and a wholegrain mustard glaze £16.95; Whole lemon sole with peppered lemon butter and crayfish tails £17.50; Oven roasted lamb with honeyed parsnips, cranberry and mint sauce £19.95; Butternut squash risotto with an aubergine tian £14.95.
(All £5.95) Rum and lime caramelised pineapple with vanilla pod ice cream, Trio of ice creams.