Express & Star

Food review: The Woodberry Inn's ‘farm to fork’ menu excels

It used to be someone’s home. Imagine that. A house the size of a pub in one of the West Midlands' prettiest and most popular markets town was actually a gentleman’s residence.

A chicken supreme

The gent in question was a Mr Southwell, who owned Bridgnorth’s carpet factory, on the River Severn. By day, he’d be devoted to Axminster. Then, by evening, he’d trot back to his palatial abode where he could chew the fat with family and friends.

The house long-since changed hands and, having spent much of its long life as The Woodberry Down, was renamed The Woodberry Inn.

In more recent times, it was bought two local families; Chris and Wendy Yates and Keith and Jenny Alderson.

All would be known to some locals, though Keith Alderson might be the best known. He runs the town’s best butchers, Aldersons, which most recently was in the headlines for the quality of its produce.

The butchers in Sydney Cottage Drive saw its rib eye steak and its steak and ale pie shortlisted in the prestigious 2023 Golden Cleaver Awards.

The awards, which are organised by the Institute of Meat, recognise and celebrate innovation and quality in retail butcher shops.

Not only was Alderson’s Butchers Pie House & Kitchen shortlisted for two awards, but the shop was also given the maximum three stars for its ribeye steak, its steak and ale pie and its lamb hotpot. It was also awarded two stars for its traditional sausage.

The Woodberry Inn in Bridgnorth

The Woodberry Inn has set similar standards. When the local owners bought it, it was handsomely remodelled throughout, with oak flooring and leather seating, while retaining the original features and charm of the building, becoming a much-loved asset to Bridgnorth.

Its ethos is to serve a ‘Farm to Fork’ menu, as its beef is reared at Keith Alderson’s Morville farm, which is supplied through a local butchery business to the restaurant.

The Woodberry offers locally sourced seasonal produce and real ales in stylish surroundings. This unique gastro pub also features eight individually styled ensuite rooms for its guests, along with on-site parking and free Wi-Fi throughout the building.

That makes The Woodberry Inn a perfect location for those looking to seek out something new, or while away an afternoon in the sumptuous surroundings.

That’s not to say it’s offering the sort of gastronomic experience that you might get from the region’s crème de la crème. The Woodberry isn’t going to trouble Tom Kerridge anytime soon, or, for that matter, such establishments as The Hundred House Inn, just down the road, or The Charlton Arms, in Ludlow, which is also a pub-restaurant-mini-hotel.

It stays in its lane. It knows its market, it knows what people want, and it tries to provide good food at an affordable price, without too many cheffy flourishes.

The menu is relatively simple, with a range of steaks, inevitably, alongside pulled pork, halloumi, a chicken dish, or, at the weekends, a traditional Sunday roast. There’s also a lasagne, soup of the day, a chicken liver pate and other dishes that are tried-and-tested pub classics. The emphasis is on decent delivery, affordability, and pleasant service. And who can argue with that?

Pubs across the region face continued challenges. They close at a rate of knots as the high costs of energy, the competing leisure pursuits available to us all, and the increased price of labour and ingredients make it ever harder to make ends meet. Customers have become increasingly conscious of price – eating out is a luxury, for many, rather than the regular treat it was pre-Brexit, pre-Covid, pre-War in Ukraine, and pre-Liz Truss.

So venues have to be increasingly focused and increasingly competitive – and those are two areas where The Woodberry excels. It doesn’t try to dazzle with swishes of this or quenelles of that. It sticks to basic principles, focusing on recognisable dishes that make people feel comfortable, while providing personable service from a polite team.

When I visited, I enjoyed a small bowl of olives to start before tucking into a small plate of devilled whitebait with tartare sauce. The sauce was good, with plenty of tang and just the right amount of texture. The whitebait, similarly, were delightful. They were crispy and crunchy on the outside, with a delicious bite.

The olives heralded what was to come

A chicken main followed. Winner winner chicken dinner. A chicken breast cooked in cider and served with a mushroom and tarragon sauce came with green beans and sauted potatoes. The chicken was still tender and carried the gentle, sweet, and autumnal flavours of the cider. The mushroom sauce added a creamy, earthiness to the dish, while the notes of tarragon added a degree of refinement to it. The green beans were lightly cooked and serve al dente.

Whitebait with tartare sauce was delightful, crispy and crunchy with a delicious bite.

The saute potatoes were reasonable and deliciously buttery, though they might have been better had they been cooked a tad longer so that they’d become crisp in the pan. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant if not unspectacular course that was seasoned with skill, cooked with a fair degree of precision, and was pleasurable to eat.

Dessert was a plate of sugary calories – sorry, meringue roulade – that was dressed with a chocolate sauce and served with a little custard. A crunchy exterior hid a mallowey inside. It was light, delicately flavoured with coffee and served in sensible proportion to the rest of the dinner, providing a pleasant conclusion.

Creamy dessert completed dinner

And that was that. Service had been good throughout, with staff being attentive but not intrusive. The dining room was enjoyable; a light and airy space that had been refitted to a high standard and allowed the light to flood in. There was a good atmosphere in the dining room, with guests clearly in a good mood and enjoying the ambience created.

The Woodberry Inn is one of the region’s better dining-pubs. It doesn’t set the world alight with once-in-a-lifetime food, but it does provide the sort of experience that Mr Southwell, the premises’ one-time owner, would have been proud of.