The last time I visited Lichfield was January 1990.
The reason I can be so specific is not because I have some sort of elephant-sized memory, although my other half would argue otherwise.
I can however pinpoint the date because I remember buying a copy of Sinead O’ Connor’s hit single Nothing Compares 2U from a branch of Our Price.
I was nine years old and the seven-inch single cost me 99p. Those were the days, eh?
Now, Our Price has long gone to the record shop in the sky along with all things vinyl, and the city of Lichfield has changed dramatically. That said it still retains its pretty charm and, just off the drag of the usual high street chains, there’s a maze of cobbled streets littered with independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
It was on one of these very streets – Lombard Street – where we found 1709 The Brasserie.
Named after the birth date of the UK’s most famous Lichfieldian Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709 is a glorious timber-framed nook of a building. There’s plenty of authentic low beams, chunky wood tables and chairs and a good mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings sympathetic to the age of the building without seeming fusty.
We went on a Sunday afternoon and the compact restaurant was packed with couples, families and groups of friends – a crowd of 14 was seated in one cosy corner.
Look at the menu and you can see why it’s so popular. 1709 offers three courses for £12 – you couldn’t eat in for much less.
And it’s not just a Sunday special, 1709 has similarly priced menus throughout the week. The Monday deal of three courses for two people including a bottle of wine for £25 sounded too good to be true.
But at this price, would the food be any good?
Rubber-necking at the plates in front of other diners as we were shown to our table in the window, my first impressions were ‘yes’.
The table of eight nearby were tucking into sumptuous looking Sunday roasts, while the young family to our side were languishing over tremendous puds.
A closer look at the menu and we were further impressed. At this price, you’d rarely expect to see dishes such as moules mariniere, or poached salmon with pickled cucumber, crème fraiche topped with micro herbs.
There was also a tempting sounding 1709 falafel served in warm pitta bread with coriander and yoghurt, and a summer minestrone soup with red pesto croutons.
Surely there’s a catch?
Tentatively, I ordered the mussels while the other half opted for the pear, fig and Shropshire blue cheese with balsamic syrup.
Staff are young, friendly and eager to please. They were quick to bring over our drinks order – a large bottle of sparkling water and a very delicious New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, priced just shy of £5. The starters arrived in good time; despite an almost full restaurant the kitchen appeared to have a steady flow with diners being served courses within a respectable window. Everyone looked happy, no one seemed to be straining their neck to watch the kitchen door swing open.
My mussels were outstanding, all shells open proudly, waiting to be devoured. They looked like sunflowers reaching for the light, shimmering delicately.
They were fresh and tender although the slithers of onion in the sauce were so large they gave new meaning to the word rustic. However, they imparted such a wealth of flavour into the creamy, white wine-rich sauce I could not complain.
The dish was served with two slices of the freshest bread and butter I’ve tasted in a long time and was a dream to dunk in the remaining juices.
The other side of the table was equally impressed by his salad, complimenting the winning combo of the salty blue cheese, sweet fig and poached pear.
He nabbed half of my bread to mop up the balsamic glaze. I threatened cruel punishment later. No one comes between me and a nice slice.
However, this meant I had plenty of room for the main event.
There’s usually three Sunday roasts to choose from, including one veggie option, as well as a handful of dishes from the main menu such as Thai-style chicken breast with mangetout salad and a red pesto dressing, and sesame seed halloumi parcel, served on a sweet potato and coriander mash topped with salsa verdi.
Some of the dishes seemed to be stepping dangerously into that weird word of fusion but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and chose the chargrilled tuna steak with a niçoise salad and sweetcorn, chilli and lime salsa.
I couldn’t believe the mammoth size of the fresh tuna which was nicely charred atop al dente green beans, salty olives, boiled eggs and sweetcorn. In all honesty, it was a slightly strange combination but was still very pleasant to eat, particularly the sweetcorn and lime salsa.
The boyfriend nodded delightedly when presented with his roast beef dinner. Elegant in appearance, it was still generous without being overfacing – a risk even some of the finer restaurants run when serving up a roast dinner. I’ve faced Yorkshire puddings bigger than Noah’s ark and while it’s undoubtedly an impressive piece of culinary art, it’s rarely that enjoyable to eat. Like a middle aged man in a sports car, it’s as if the chef behind a collosal Yorkshire pud is making up for failings in other departments of their life.
Here, like Baby Bear’s porridge in Goldilocks, the Yorkie was just right and didn’t overshadow the main event – the rare roast beef. The meat was still blushing but had been sufficiently rested so that it cut easily and ate like a dream.
It was served with carrots so burstingly orange I needed to don sunglasses. There was also shredded cabbage, cauliflower cheese and lashings of gravy.
He said it was one of the loveliest roast dinners he’d eaten out in a long time. High praise indeed, this man is a conniseur of roast dinners. Main course plates cleared we eyed up the dessert menu. I was nursing a full tummy but with the memory of other diners’ puds still fresh in my mind I couldn’t resist.
I chose the banoffee trifle while Mr Emily opted for the berry Eton mess, although choices included a 1709 cheeseboard for a £2 supplement, and a black cherry creme brulee with homemade tuile biscuit.
Once again, the portions were skillfully judged; enough to sate a sweet tooth yet not so much you needed to undo the top button of your jeans at the table (this I have done, only to struggle to do it up again on vacating the restaurant).
My banoffee trifle was a delight featuring sultry layers of fresh cream, toffee sauce, custard, sliced banana and a crumbly bisicuit base. Smooth, rich, crunchy and fruity all wrapped into one – just heavenly.
The berry Eton mess was similarly creamy with good chunks of chewy meringue and a swirl of autumnal berries.
Both desserts were the type of thing you could rustle up at home without too much bother although this didn’t detract from their utter deliciousness.
1709 may not quite be fine dining, but it is the type of grub you’d love to impress your friends with. Ingredients are carefully sourced, cooked with love and presented with finesse.
Put simply, it’s the type of food you really want to eat at a price you want to pay.
And like the food, the service is really on the money too. Staff were friendly and helpful without being intrusive.
The bill, including a small glass of wine and a bottle of sparkling water came in at £31.35. Yes, you read correctly. Two people, three courses with drinks for just over thirty pounds.
Wait a minute, I’m not back in Lichfield in 1990 again am I? Have I stepped into some sort of Life on Mars time machine?
No, I can hear One Direction blaring out from a nearby boozer. And there’s no Our Price. But this is Their Price and it’s flipping outstanding.