Arbor Lights, Walsall
This Walsall town centre restaurant serves up a menu to die for – plus some superb homemade chips, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider.
Have you been able to catch the Lamb Shank Redemption yet? Have you seen Planet of the Grapes? How about The Man With the Garlic Bun?
I can guess what you're all thinking, you're thinking "It sounds like the Insider's been sniffing from the mustard jar again,' aren't you?"
At least that's what you will be thinking if you haven't seen the flyer for the movie-themed specials night at Arbor Lights in Walsall. If you go along on April 19, you will be able to choose all the above film-related courses, along with Souper Man and the Sexy Lives of Potato.
All that's in the future, though, and it seemed more like the Ice Age – or Snow Day at the very least – as we trudged through the white stuff on the way to this Walsall restaurant on a Saturday night.
Arbor Lights has had a pretty colourful existence in its 10-year history.
I remember coming here five years ago. Apart from a young waiter who gave me my favourite all time line "Dunno, veg aren't my thing", I found it a very enjoyable experience.
In the following years, there were reports that the restaurant had gone into a state of decline. At least that was the case until last year, when the present owners took over. Now word on the street is that it is back to its best.
The first thing that strikes you is that the restaurant walls are, well, rather bright. The plum coloured wall in the dining area looks great, but I'm less sure about the Trafalgar blue paintwork in the bar area. Smart and distinctive, no doubt, but a bit garish for my taste.
Their dining area is split into two by an attractive dining room with interesting ornaments, and there is an eye-catching hand-written sign promoting "The only home-made chips in Walsall."
Sadly though, there is no cask ale. I remember when it first opened, it won an award from the Campaign for Real Ale, but those days look to have gone, with only keg beer on tap at the distinctive wood panelled bar.
The wine list wasn't bad at all though. If you're going for a bottle, there are two excellent white wines, in Nobilo sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, or La Campagne Voigner if you want something slightly less dry. Or, if it is a special occasion, Moet is available for a reasonable £40.
But if you don't want to commit to a whole bottle, there is a choice of eight wines available by the glass. According to the menu, my Italian pinot grigio offered "racy balanced fruit". While there did not seem to be too much of the Sebastian Vettel about it, I would describe it as a good, smooth refreshing drink, which will go down great in the summer.
There was also a jug of still water on the table, a nice touch which we do not see often enough in this country.
The food menu was excellent. There wasn't a huge choice, but everything on there looked interesting, and it is certainly more imaginative than the average town centre restaurant.
If you're game for something a little different the black pudding and pheasant sausage might fit the bill, and there is also a savoury tart tatin made from beetroot, apples and walnuts in puff pastry.
While I was tempted by 8oz sirloin, I opted in the end to go for the double bill of pork, a pressed pork shoulder and char grilled pork cutlet, while my companion opted for the breast of chicken in bread sauce. And since the chips here were so famous, we decided to share a portion of those too.
The food took around half an hour to arrive, and it was every bit as good as it sounded. A few years ago the Mexican-style pressed pork shoulder, coated in breadcrumbs, was quite a rarity in this country, but has become increasingly popular after being championed by Gordon Ramsay and the Hairy Bikers. Having never tried it before, I would definitely consider it again in future.
But the char grilled pork cutlet was even better, big on flavour but not too hard to the chew. It was served with a selection of stir-fried root vegetables, which added a dash of spicy flair to the proceedings, and the huge fat home-made chips, served in a stylish wire basket, were as irresistible as they sounded.
My companion said the chicken was also superb, and let's say there was a bit of rivalry when it came to who had the last few chips.
The desserts were, if anything, even better, beautifully presented in bowls on slates. My sticky toffee pudding was delightful. It wasn't huge like some of the ones that you get in the budget pub chains, but whereas those ones tend to mainly sponge, there was lots of toffee in this one and the pouring butterscotch was excellent.
My companion chose the sherbet lemon cheesecake with blackcurrant sorbet. The sherbet gave it a real kick, and that the blackcurrant complemented it perfectly. For £3.95 each, these were superb value.The bill came to £46.10, for two courses each, two glasses of wine, a tea and a coffee, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it.
The two young front-of-house staff were friendly, helpful and polite, and the only real black mark is down to the fact that there weren't too many people there. I hope that was a one-off down to the weather, because this place deserves to succeed. And if you're looking for somewhere to eat in Walsall town centre, you would do worse than to head down here.
The Arbor Lights will steal your heart, as Vera Lynn didn't quite sing.
Arbor Lights, 127-128 Lichfield Street, Walsall WS1 1SY
Tel: 01922 613361
Chicken liver pate with chilli and cherry tomato confit £4.15
Goats' cheese souffle with parmesan cream £4.95
Fish - red snapper, pineapple and chilli relish, mango and hot salad £14.95
Risotto - prawn, asparagus, chorizo and chilli £13.95
8oz sirloin steak with chips, onion rings, flat mushroom and tomato £15.95
Pasta - Mushroom and leek with fresh egg cannelloni and garlic ciabatta £10.95
Black pudding and pheasant sausage, pheasant breast, red cabbage, apple and pancetta £14.95
Warm chocolate brownie with white chocolate ice cream £3.95
Mulled wine fruit terrine with cinnamon ice cream £3.95
Chocolate bread-and-butter pudding with English cream £3.95
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