Though its costs £400 for dinner, the restaurant can’t make a profit following the surge in energy costs, staff costs, ingredient costs and more. Which is saying something, as many of their ingredients are foraged and don’t cost anything.
The point, however, is easier to observe. Though Noma is full from here to eternity with a waitlist longer than a rock star’s tour bus, it can’t make ends meet. Everything’s become really expensive and unless they want to charge £500 for dinner – and, remarkably, there are those who’d be able to afford it – it needs to close.
Closer to home, and back in the world of real people, a similar pattern is emerging.
From Lichfield to Shrewsbury and beyond, restaurants are doing away with taster menus as they look to save their businesses. Such no-choice menus were, of course, introduced to save restaurants money while avoiding waste.
If the chef’s cooking the same six or seven dishes for everyone, they don’t need to prepare lots of other ingredients that may have featured on an a la carte menu – that people may not then have ordered, thus sending them to the bin.
Alas for chefs, as the purse strings tighten and tighten – thanks Liz, thanks Kwasi, thanks Boris, thanks Rishi – there’s been a reckoning. Hospitality is one of the hardest hit sectors and people simply can’t afford to eat out, or, if they can, they want to eat out for less and with more choice.
Some of the region’s best restaurants are cutting their prices – one is reducing the cost of dinner from £65 to £40 – at a time when their own costs are through the roof.
All know that if they don’t adapt they won’t survive. A few have already gone to the wall and others will follow as the recession bites in the months ahead. Covid was tough, but this is an altogether harder challenge.
Which brings us neatly to this week’s restaurant, or, more accurately, pub. The Pheasant at Neenton sits near to Bridgnorth, in the middle of gorgeous, undulating countryside that makes this visitor glad to be alive.
Restorative, alluring and quintessentially English, the rolling fields and meadows are deliciously quiet and lead to a beautifully-maintained, country pub that will be among the venues to thrive in the harsh months ahead.
The reason it does well is simple: it offers customers food that they want to eat at reasonable prices. My partner and I enjoyed a superlative Sunday lunch, with drinks, for less than £40 and couldn’t move for the rest of the day, so replete were we once we’d finished.
Sunday lunch is, of course, the greatest gastronomic invention of all-time. From crunchy to soft and yielding, from golden to lightly pink, from swishes of sauce to crisp, crunchy, golden potatoes; it ticks all boxes and then some.
They say the best recommendation anyone can provide is to return to eat more. This critic has, I think, notched up five visits to The Pheasant at Neenton while my partner has made it there seven times. We’re thinking of asking for our own table.
Our latest visit, six days hence, was glorious. She ate roast beef and Yorkshire puds, I ate slow-roasted pork belly with more crackling than I could manage. They were damn near faultless. For sure, I could split hairs about this or that, but that would make me look foolish and pernickety – perish the thought – when set against starry cooking and exceptional service from a team that’s as well-drilled as the new recruits at Sandhurst.
I honestly don’t know of a better Sunday lunch across the region – from Shropshire to Staffordshire, from the Black Country to Brum – and, quite seriously, if anybody does, then please, please, please email to the usual address. Tell me where it is and I’ll park the bus, eating six straight weeks in a row to beat my been-there-five-times-and-still-love-it-just-as-much relationship with The Pheasant at Neenton, which is utterly, utterly glorious.
We skipped the starters. By now, we know the drill. The starters are decent – good pub food done well, like soup, or grilled halloumi, or spiced duck terrine. It all sounds great, and, having eaten it before, I can vouch that it is. But be lured by a plate of crispy mac’n’cheese balls with tomato chutney and you’ll regret not being able to eat all of your Yorkshire pudding, while some of the forthcoming roast potatoes will also go uneaten.
And so we skipped straight to the main event. Like concert-goers who turn up halfway through to miss all the new tracks and feast on the greatest hits, we were all about the beef (and pork). Sunday lunch is served on sharing platters, so that guests can tuck in, serve themselves, and take what they fancy.
It’s a great idea which means those who don’t like cauliflower cheese don’t get a dollop of unwanted, mountainous, vegetal cream if they don’t want it. Instead, you take what you like and leave the rest, which, in our case, meant we took the lot.
Yorkshire puddings were the size of the Burj Al Khalifa, the roast beef was so tender it fell apart beneath the knife, the roast potatoes were cooked by Gandalf or some other, similarly-talented wizard. Golden, with more crispy bits than a packet of Walker’s, they were fluffy within and crispy on the outside, having been coated with beef dripping. Phwoar, flipping phwoar. It doesn’t get much better.
There was a fabulous red wine jus, my pork belly was tender and juicy with crackling that sounded like car wheels on a gravel road as I crunched into it. There were more veg than a fat rabbit’s breakfast and service was sublime.
Great staff, great food, reasonable prices and a wonderful dining room – The Pheasant remains the best Sunday lunch in our region.