Food review: Simple dishes done very well at Weston Park's The Granary
It’s taken Weston Park’s brasserie longer than might reasonably be expected to work out what it is. Since being launched amid a blaze of investment in natural wood and large panes of glass, it’s faced a circuitous route to reach its current destination.
The Granary has been chameleon-like. It has changed its offer to suit prevailing moods. For a while, it tried to compete with the region’s best-known and best-loved fine dining restaurants, offering complicated menus that challenged it’s then-chef and front-of-house team as much as they challenged the guests.
Simpler versions of those followed, providing probable excitement for cooks in the kitchen but doing little to stimulate the appetites of travelling guests. And now, finally, The Granary has settled on a dining offer that in retrospect seems so blindingly obvious that it’s a wonder why it didn’t do it before.
Gone are illusions of grandeur. The Granary is no longer offering dots of this or soupcons of that. Instead it’s providing an archetypal bistro menu with fish and chips, steak, burgers and similar comforts. Though the chefs no longer have room to show off or dazzle with their ability to create a beetroot and blackcurrant puree alongside a piece of perfectly pink duck, it works. Halle-flippin’-lujah.
Though The Granary has plenty of local produce from which to choose, including fruit from the Walled Garden, it is no Le Manoir. It doesn’t boast a big name chef, an illustrious reputation for destination dining nor the sort of accolades and awards that excite foodies. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a decent cook – it does.
When my friend and I visited for a midweek lunch, we were both surprised and impressed that standards had risen. The guy presently rattling the pans may be offering a simple menu, but he executes well and does all that can be asked.
One of the best restaurateurs in the region is a Ludlow businessman called Cedric Bosi. He owns two pub-restaurants in the picturesque south Shropshire, one of which has a rating from Michelin. And while his brigade produce some stellar dishes, they also do brilliant hot dogs, steaks, burgers and fish and chips.
He drills into his cooks that they’re not trying to dazzle TV judges with showstopping food; they’re trying to put a smile on the faces of hard-working locals who fancy something tasty. So when they do fish and chips he urges them to up their game and do the best fish and chips they can, with crisp batter, tender flakes of protein, crunchy chips and a pleasing garnish.
The team at Weston Park have no connection with Cedric’s operation but its chef is singing from the same hymn sheet. The food my friend and I ate was the acme of simple – burger and chips – yet all of the elements were spot on, not an ingredient was out of place, not a cooking technique was awry.
We met at lunchtime having booked a table and a small number of other diners were present in the light and airy room. The Granary was a wise investment and though it’s taken time to get the food offer right, the interior has never been in doubt. The restaurant sits in a granary that was built in 1767 and has delightful exposed brickwork and wood. Smartly furnished with an open-plan bar and tasteful mezzanine, it’s a pleasing space in which to eat.
I don’t imagine the menu will change much. It’s short and to the point, though the dish my friend and I were both inclined towards – parmesan chicken – was sadly unavailable. No matter.
My friend started with a smoked chicken and ham hock terrine that was served with a sweet potato and spring onion salsa, crème fraiche and chives. It was decent. The meat was moist and nicely seasoned with good texture. Neither of us were convinced by the presence of sweet potato in the salsa but the other components were good and the dish made for pleasant eating.
I enjoyed a seasonal salad of roasted peach with mozzarella, olives and mint pesto alongside toasted pinenuts and bitter leaves. And while the combinations on my dish also felt a little odd – mint, mozzarella and peach? – it was reasonable.
The peach was soft and bubbled with sweet flavour while the bitterness of the chicory provided fabulous contrast. Our mains were rock solid fantastic. Delivering the sort of punch for which Deontay Wilder is renowned, our burger with smoked bacon, cave-aged cheddar, hand-cut chips and a pretzel bun was spot on.
The bun was as light as a duck down pillow and the cheddar had more ballast than a railway line while the bacon was deliciously crisp and had been cooked to the second. Why so many restaurants serve fatty bacon on burgers is beyond me – it’s limp, it’s floppy and it’s as appropriate as Ronald McDonald at a 60th birthday party.
Thankfully, the Weston Park version was fine. The burger itself had been cooked with skill so that small drips of smooth and satisfying beef fat oozed dirtily down our fingers as we ate it. Nice one, chef.
The chips were great. The last time I ate at Weston Park they were so dangly and soft it felt as though they’d been fried in water rather than oil. These were golden and crunchy with rough edges and plenty of bite.
We didn’t stay for dessert. Two substantial courses were good value and left us replete. We did, however, reflect on the substantial improvement that the venue has made both conceptually and in terms of delivery. The chef is doing the basics well. And though some of the combinations are not quite on point, the cooking is divine.
The menu fits the venue like a hand in a glove. People driving to the venue want a pub-plus selection and that’s what’s finally on offer. It’s taken Weston Park a while and a number of changes to find the right formula.
Finally, it has.