Express & Star

From pub grub to fine dining – celebrating the cuisine of the region in 2023

Most of the region’s restaurants will have a single objective as we look towards 2023 – survival.

Crown Country Inn, Munslow, Craven Arms

There’s not been a more challenging time in living memory as the fates conspire to push many restaurants, pubs and bistros to the brink.

Those that survived Covid now face a slew of challenges. Brexit has caused a near-£50 billion hit to the UK economy, which means customers have less cash to spend on fish and chips.

Not only that, it’s also drastically reduced the number of EU workers in the UK, which means chefs and waiters from Italy, Spain, France and other parts of the continent are no longer in the talent pool.

Staffing, therefore, has become a critical issue with many restaurants struggling. Wages have spiralled as a result, with restaurateurs desperate to hang on to good staff.

The costs of Covid are still being paid off, too. Loans that helped businesses to muddle through are gradually being reduced and many are carrying debts that didn’t exist in the time before the pandemic.

And then there’s the cost of living, Putin’s War in Ukraine, rampant inflation and strikes.

The cost of living crisis means the public are cutting back on spending. While they’d have been happy to pop out once a month for lunch or dinner, they’re now heading out for special occasions only – and sometimes not even for that.

Spending on hospitality is one of the first budgetary items to be cut from the household purse in times of austerity and that means restaurateurs are chasing an ever-decreasing amount of money.

Putin’s war forced up energy prices, though the behaviour of energy companies and the Government’s refusal to adequately tax windfall profits has been debilitating.

There are many businesses facing four-fold increases in their energy bills – so where they’d once been able to afford £50,000 a year, now they have to find £200,000 a year at a time when demand has fallen.

And then there’s the issue of inflation on ingredients. Such commodities as vegetable oil and wheat have soared while the challenges in importing goods from the EU has also led to further increases in cost.

So, with less staff, less customers, higher bills, a lack of consumer confidence and uncertainty over the future, it’s little wonder businesses are simply trying to hold on – hopeful that the future will be brighter.

That’s not to say many are not thriving. They are. Those who run their businesses well, who employ good staff and who have an offer that connects with the general public are able to succeed.

And such pockets as Lichfield show what can be done when a group of like-minded chefs and restaurateurs find themselves in the right place at the right time.

Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, The Boat Inn, and Larder are among the restaurants that have surged forward in recent years and all can expect to continue their progress in 2023.


The Boat Inn scores highly with the AA Guide, which says: “And the menu? It has a sharp eye for the seasons and a love of big-hearted, well-matched flavours, as in Dorset crab with ribbons of kohlrabi, seaweed and wild cranberry, or pig’s cheek with squash and sumac. Elsewhere, there’s rose veal served with crisp sweetbreads and chanterelles and, for pudding, a lush chocolate gâteau with caramel ice cream.”

They are the best in the area, but there are others that prove popular at a lower price. Pom’s Kitchen & Deli offers good brunches and lunches while The Feathers Inn offers cheap and cheerful pub food.

Lichfield dominates the gastronomic scene in Staffordshire, though The Moat House, near Stafford, and The Shropshire Inn, also in Stafford, provide consistently good dining.

While Staffordshire has the best fine dining restaurants, the Black Country scores highly with great chip shops as well as first class Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants, which offer great food at low prices.

Taking pride of place in any mention of Black Country grub is Mad O’ Rourke’s Pie Factory in Tipton. Something unique to the Black Country, it’s a must for anyone who considers their stomach to be bigger than their eyes.

Mad O’Rourke’s cow pie

The ingredients may be pretty basic, but, named after the wild west character in The Dandy comic, Desperate Dan’s Cow Pie is a world-famous meal in a pie. Comprised of steak & kidney and a variety of seasonal vegetables, all slowly cooked together in their famous gravy and baked with a pastry lid and pastry horns, it weighs a whopping 1.8 kilograms (that’s 4lb) and needs to be eaten at a reinforced table.

Those who devour every delicious morsel of the legendary cow pie, including the pastry horns, become a legend in their own lunchtime and receive a certificate from the venue.

Shropshire enjoyed an enviable reputation for great food over a period of years, though in recent times its focus has switched away from the sort of high-end food now available in Lichfield to mid-priced dinners at independent restaurants.

That’s not to say there’s not quality to be found and in Ludlow. Cedric Bosi continues to shine at both The Charlton Arms, which has a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and The Church Inn, which is the county’s best pub-restaurant.

Confit duck at The Church Inn, Ludlow

There are others that delight. Old Downton Lodge, near Ludlow, is arguably the county’s number one, while Forelles, at Fishmore Hall, near Ludlow; and The Haughmond, near Shrewsbury, are close behind.

Sebastians, at Oswestry, remains a consistently-good place to dine while Pen Y Dyffryn County Hotel, also near Oswestry, has similar standards.

A number of others stand out, not least Goldstone Hall, near Market Drayton; the Raven Hotel, in Much Wenlock; the Crown Country Inn, at Craven Arms; The Bear Inn, at Hodnet; and The Cliffe, at Dinham.

Shropshire is about more than just good restaurants, however, and its farmers markets, food festivals and other celebrations of great local produce – not to mention some great delis in Shrewsbury and Ludlow – bring joy to diners.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.