I’d intended to visit Five Rivers, in Walsall, because the food is stellar and the service is beyond the standards you’d find in Buckingham Palace. Good people, making sure guests are comfortable, supported by a great kitchen and interesting food. What more could a hungry diner want from a last-minute visit for supper?
So my brain searched through it’s Rolodex of memories and decided that Five Rivers was, in fact, Golden Moments, an unconnected restaurant in Ludlow, 41.4 miles from my intended destination.
Funny the way your mind plays tricks on you when you’ve not had enough sleep.
And so we drove, all the way to Walsall, then took a turning where we didn’t think we should have until we came across a restaurant was definitely not the one I wanted to visit.
Located next to a garage, with a sign that looked as though it was ten lightbulbs short of a place in the town’s illuminations, and I thought: ‘Ugh. What have I done?’
I’d intended to take my nearest and dearest for an enjoyable evening with funky food and chi-chi service.
Instead I’d happened upon the wrong restaurant that might more accurately have been called Bronze Moments, for the exterior was no Gold Medal Winner.
Appearances can be deceptive, however, and an hour or so later, we skipped from Golden Moments thinking the only restaurants we visit in the future must be the wrong ones.
Because Golden Moments was fantastic. It was Sunny Delightful. It was Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. It was Bees Knees and gold and black wings, too.
Impeccable service, friendly staff, carefully cooked food and a happy dining room made for a delightful, delicious and decorous evening. If I were on Death Row and were offered one last dinner, I’d insist the jailer brought me the wrong one – because our not-visiting-the-Five-Rivers evening worked out to be a treat.
Golden Moments was a rough and ready sort of place where the buffet trays in the window suggested cheap and cheerful.
It’s delightful to be proved wrong, of course, and that’s what a marvellous brigade did over the following 60 minutes or so as they threw all of my unconscious snobberies into the bin and set them alight.
It was joyful and joyous, congenial and captivating, enchanting and engaging. It was all that you might hope for from a cool, well-run, polished neighbourhood restaurant, and then some.
The menu was delightful. The usual selection of mushroom bhunas and sag paneers, or clay pot veg and bhindi bhaji were mixed with more exotic dishes like smoked paprika chicken, dhaba gosht, ramna lamb and chicken munchurian.
We thought better of a schoolnight blow-out and confined ourselves to a few popadoms to share, followed by a main course.
No starters, no sides, no desserts – just a one-shot hit of South-East Asian goodness.
The popadoms were fine – regulation crisp, served with chunky onion relish, yoghurt dip and a little chilli. Fine, fine, fine, but don’t start cheering just yet.
And then the mains. My brother ate a starter-sized main of salmon tikka featuring tenderly cooked fish in mild spices with a side salad.
Such dishes have nowhere to hide. The cooking and the spicing must be tip top if the dish is to succeed.
Happily, the chefs had brought their A-Game to the table and the dish was a sure-fire winner. Dressed with dots of minty, yoghurt sauce, it brought home the bacon, or the salmon, or whatever a really good starter brings home.
My partner’s chilli prawns brought the fire. Four plump prawns – there really ought to have been a fifth – were gently cooked so they remained tender and just the right side of juicy. They were served in a bowlful of spicy curry sauce, in which more chillies were hiding than you’d find at a Dhaka market stand. Green, fresh and thrillingly spicy, they enlivened a dish that was served alongside a fabulous roti.
My partner smiled as she gamely made her way through a fiercesome dish that those with a fainter heart may have baulked at.
I ate a magnificent Indo-Chinese dish of Manchurian chicken. Served mildly spicy, rather than hot and fiery, Manchurian chicken is a dish that has numerous interpretations. This one was hot without sending my eyelids into meltdown, with plenty of spring onions, a hit of umami and more. It was sweet, it was savoury; it was sour, it was hot. It offered all the flavours of South East Asian in one satisfying bowl.
Served alongside a helping of boiled rice, the sauce was soaked up and eaten greedily while the chicken was wonderfully tender and showcased the skills of a chef who knew his or her way around the kitchen.
We skipped the brought-in puds – who wants those when you can just as easily buy from the supermarket? – and called it quits. Better to get out of the game while you’re ahead, and all that. And we avowedly were.
An evening that might well have been a horror show was instead a revelation. Food that might have left us wishing for a different location in another town made us glad I’d made a schoolboy error.
Service, I should add, was exceptional. Two front-of-house staff were politeness personified. One extended a warm handshake as we left while their skills throughout the evening were flawless.
Great service, a happy dining room, brilliant cooking and staff determined to please made Golden Moments a genuine revelation.
From now on, I’m only ever going to eat at mystery restaurants. Golden Moments provided exactly that.