For Black Country ex-pats and hungry Salopians, The Hundred House is a well-established fixture on the region’s dining scene.
It’s 35 years in, during which time it’s consistently relied on a combination of innovation, hard work and being in tune with Mother Nature to provide value for money dining and fabulous ale.
It’s a destination venue. Norton is too small to support a venue of The Hundred House’s considerable size and so it relies on a steady stream of customers from Telford and Bridgnorth, from Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton, from further afield in Staffordshire and The Black Country, all of whom are happy for a pleasant ride out to a venue that’s as picturesque and idyllic as its food is tasty.
The Hundred House is the lifetime’s work of the Phillips family, led by director Henry and his late wife, Sylvia.
Sylvia created a remarkable garden that her family has maintained. Filled with flowers and herbs, it is a scintillating space that has been transformed during the 35 years of stewardship under the Phillips family.
Their two sons, David and Stuart, have different interests. David keeps the beer in tip top condition. A business director and real ale enthusiast, his passion for a good pint attracts people from across the area.
Stuart, meanwhile, has run the kitchen for more years than he probably cares to remember. Having maintained two AA rosettes across two decades, the Hundred House slipped back to a single rosette as its focus moved to comfortable, easy dining, rather than competing with those in the upper echelon.
There is more to the venue than good food and drink, however, and in recent years its work as a wedding venue has been at the forefront.
Exceptionalism has earned the Hundred House a slew of national awards and recommendations as guests celebrate their special day at a venue that places great emphasis on high standards and the human touch.
Friendly, welcoming and polite, staff at the Hundred House combine professionalism with warmth; it is almost as though the region is a part of its extended family.
The venue’s sense of urgency has been apparent during the topsy turvy year of Covid-19.
While many restaurants took a wait-and-see approach, not wishing to be the first out of the blocks on July 4, The Hundred House led the charge. It’s typical of the Phillips family that they should wish to be trading as quickly as possible.
The post-corona shakedown has shown the true colours of many restaurants. There are those who pay lip service to the regulations, welcoming guests and assuming things will work out just fine.
In truth, they just might. The R rate is low, the chances of meeting another infected person are several thousand to one and those who throw caution to the wind may just get away with it.
There are the others – let’s call them The Good Guys – who don’t take any chances. The Hundred House are one. They recognise that one of the biggest issues facing customers is confidence.
Systems are in place, therefore, to make sure visitors are safe. At The Hundred House, there’s an electronic hand sanitiser, which dispenses germ-killing fluid so that people can cleanse their hands. There are paper towels, too, to make sure germs don’t come into the building.
At tables, there are pens and address slips, for people to fill in. Names, telephone numbers, addresses and emails are taken so that people can be contacted in the event of a track-and-trace scenario.
Menus are encased in wipeable plastic, so that they can be cleaned after each visitor, and all staff wear face masks to prevent any transmission. Vast plastic screens have been hung over the bar and a reception table, so that staff and customers do not come into contact, so that air is not shared. Payments are taken using contactless means, where possible.
Put simply, the venue has taken no chances. It has taken all reasonable steps to ensure the hygiene and cleanliness of its premises, thereby protecting customers.
The menu has also been given a makeover. Conscious that people eat more casually in the modern idiom, it now offers an easy-come-easy-go selection of tapas and tacos, platters and salads. That means people can mix and match or share among members of their own household.
Bar classics, sandwiches and an a la carte offering remain too, so discerning gourmands can enjoy feta cheese bon bons with charred red pepper and watermelon, or fillet steak with beef shin boulangere, roasted beetroot and a red wine and balsamic reduction. It is all things to all people.
That, of course, means the food isn’t necessarily looking to win awards. It’s providing interest and amusement, sustenance and happy memories.
When I visited for a just-passing-through lunch, I selected from the tapas and taco menu, eating a chicken bulgogi taco, a halloumi taco and a side of triple cooked fries.
The chicken was mouth wateringly tender, just cooked through, with a slightly smoky flavour. An Asian slaw added texture and crunch while various sauces provided a gentle kick. It was like being nudged, rather than kicked by a mule. The shells – supermarket standard, unheated – might have been improved with a soft shell taco, but at a few quid a pop, few would be complaining.
A halloumi taco was less interesting, featuring a variety without stand-out taste alongside a selection of vegetables, again, drizzled with appetising sauce. It felt like it was missing a trick, neither celebrating seasonality or providing a talking point.
The chips were delicious. Crisp, riven with dinks and crevices that golden brown and as crunchy as car wheels on a gravel road, they emitted little puffs of air as the fluffy inners were exposed. Delicious.
The bill was eminently reasonable – two tacos at around £4.50 each and a side at just under £4 – and service was good. A young waiter was particularly helpful and self-assured, other staff were also eager to please and engaged.
It’s service as usual at The Hundred House. After a peculiar and unscripted four months, boy, does it feel good to be back.
Tapas and tacos
1. £4.94; 2. £8.95; 3. £12.95
Chorizo Scotch egg, red pepper and paprika mayo
Pulled brisket croquette, ‘proper’ BBQ sauce
Bresola, yoghurt, garlic, chive dressing, truffle oil
Soup of the day, roll and butter, £6.95
Home-baked lasagne, pesto, parmesan, chips, £12.95
Hundred House pork, leek and sage sausages, mash, braised red cabbage, proper gravy, £12.95
Triple cooked chips, £3.95
Herbed sweet potato wedges, £3.95
Wood-fired Medietrranean vegetables, £4.95
The Hundred House Hotel
Norton, near Bridgnorth