Not that making good is easy during an inflationary time when the effects of the pandemic and Brexit are playing out across hospitality.
Prices are rising dramatically as high fuel costs, high farming costs and staff shortages have a huge impact. The owners of local pubs and restaurants don’t just have to worry about customers being confident of going out for dinner, they also have to make sure they’ve got adequate staff and that their own costs aren’t escalating to an unmanageable extent.
It’s a tough balancing act but one that the best will overcome. And in the case of The Woodberry Inn, near Bridgnorth, those at the helm are among the region’s best.
The Woodberry Inn (formerly The Woodberry Down) was built in the 1920s as a gentleman’s residence for Mr Southwell, the owner of the former Bridgnorth carpet factory on the River Severn.
It is owned by two local families; Chris and Wendy Yates and Keith and Jenny Alderson. The project of bringing the building back to its former glory took 18 months to complete and the Freehouse was re-opened in August 2015. The venue has been handsomely remodelled throughout, with oak flooring and leather seating whilst retaining the original features and charm of the building, to become a much-loved asset to Bridgnorth.
The Woodberry’s ethos is to serve a ‘Farm to Fork Menu’ as its beef is reared at Keith Alderson’s Morville farm, which is supplied through his local butchery business to the restaurant. It offers locally sourced seasonal produce and real ales served in stylish surroundings.
The gastro pub also features nine individually styled en-suite rooms for its guests along with on-site parking and free wifi throughout the building.
That’s a recipe for success and The Woodberry received a rating of 9.3 from its guests in conjunction with a Recognition of Excellence award from Hotels Combined and multiple Certificates of Excellence from Tripadvisor.
The menu is a tour through family favourites and pub classics. So a burger starter is given a welcome twist as the chef makes his patty from spiced confit duck, which is served with celeriac and apple remoulade.
A vegetarian option demonstrates smart thinking with Cajun-spiced cauliflower served with sriracha mayonnaise. Halloumi fries, meanwhile, are dusted in paprika and served with aioli.
The a la carte menu features a melt-in-the-mouth eight-hour braised beef short rib with celeriac mashed potato, buttered greens and a braising liquor while the cod loin is served in a herb crust with sauteed new potatoes and greens, alongside a white wine sauce.
Classics are given a touch of class, with the fish of the day being served in a lemonade batter alongside mushy peas, tartar sauce and hand cut chips. The grills, meanwhile, feature stunning cuts of Alderson’s beef with all of the expected trimmings.
Yet for the all the playful touches and creative interpretations by the chef, The Woodberry at heart is deeply traditional. Real ale, half-decent wine, good quality local produce and dishes that are easy to identify; it adds colour and flair without straying too far off the beaten track. And so a Sunday lunch seemed the perfect dish to order during a flying visit to 70 Victoria Road.
Booking was a doddle while service came with a smile. Helpful front-of-house staff provided menus and led the way to a table. Though the remodelling job was some years ago, The Woodberry still looks great. Clean, with neutral colours and plenty of wood, the money was well spent and the venue remains up-and-at-’em, rather than down-at-heel.
If anything, the food has also improved in recent years. There’s a little more refinement, but not too much. There’s a little more sophistication, though no pomposity or pretentiousness. There’s a focus on getting the basics right – good seasoning, solid flavour combinations – rather than getting carried away. The kitchen has grown into the role and displays confidence and skill.
When we visited not long after the refit, we remarked that there was something remarkably clever about not trying to be too clever.
And that’s what The Woodberry continues to be.
While other pubs undo their good work by offering a swish of this, a garland of that and a nougatine basket of that, The Woodberry sticks to one thing and does it reasonably well.
Shropshire has more than its fair share of superlative and interesting restaurants, though not so many brilliant pubs.
The Woodberry stays in its lane and concentrates on getting it right.
And so a simple two-course meal that elsewhere might be unremarkable was an absolute treat in the hands of a competent and experienced team.
Starting with a colourful, vivid green broccoli soup served with nicely aerated bread, the starter was executed with aplomb. Flavours were amplified, long and deep, the seasoning was just so, there was plenty of complexity to lift it about the humdrum and it was served as a generous portion.
Humble dishes frequently provide the truest reflection of a chef’s skill and there was everything to admire and enjoy about a robust, no-faults starter.
The main course was pretty good too, though too much potato and a few minor errors meant it didn’t quite hit the heights.
The star was Alderson’s marvellous beef which was still pink and meltingly tender. A Yorkshire pudding was as inflated like a political opinion while the small pot of veg were delicately cooked so they remained flavoursome and had lots of bite.
The potatoes were a little off colour, with a roast lacking the necessary crispness and a boiled new potato unnecessarily making up the numbers.
Those quibbles aside, however, it was a pleasant plate of food that showcased many of the fine qualities on offer at one of the region’s best dining pubs. It’s not easy running a pub-restaurant in straightened times, but The Woodberry is getting most things right.
The Woodberry Inn
70 Victoria Road