Food review: Clay's, Broseley
Picking a place to eat out can be tricky especially if the restaurant keeps quiet about how good it is. Andy Richardson finds a place doing just that. . .
Let’s start off with the negatives. Let’s dwell for a while on the things that Clay’s hasn’t got to grips with. And before you shrug dolefully and ruminate on what you might think is a predilection for negativity, fear not – this won’t take long.
Clay’s is really bad at telling people how good it is. It’s not media savvy, it doesn’t have 10,000 followers for a must-watch Instagram account.
It doesn’t upload scores of delightfully rugged and wilfully authentic videos to Twitter, showing its head chef basting game birds with foaming butter. There isn’t a well-paid PR driving home the Clay’s brand or booking slots on radio chat shows. In fact, unless you either a) live in Broseley, or, b) have a particularly impressive grasp of Shropshire’s culinary landscape, the chances are you won’t have heard of Clay’s.
Which is a shame. Because it’s among the best casual dining restaurants in the county. And given that Clay’s is so rubbish at telling people how good it is, let’s intervene right here and right now. In the absence of a cohesive communications plan or an ounce of marketing nous – actually, shouldn’t that be a gram, these days – let’s step up to the plate to celebrate a restaurant that truly is the best of Shropshire. Because if we don’t, you can be damn sure that hide-its-light-under-a-bushell Clay’s won’t.
Clay’s is located in Broseley, a town which previously could boast only the presence of the county’s best Thai Restaurant – The King And Thai – as it’s culinary claim to fame. While Ludlow and Shrewsbury dominate the county’s restaurant scene and rural areas across the county are a well spring of exceptional producers, Broseley is pretty much off the beaten track. It has a half decent curry house, a couple of pleasant-looking pubs but little else to write home about. With the exception of Clay’s.
The restaurant is a family affair, run by a pleasant husband and wife team who do all the right things for all the right reasons. He cooks. She manages the front of house. A small team help them. And everything is tickety boo.
Once inside, it’s a tiny, tiny space. Twenty covers are shoehorned into what might once have been a small, neighbourhood shop and the waiting staff perform a peculiar dance when they bring glasses and plates to the table. Like ballet dancers, they are constantly on their toes as they try to squeeze through gaps that don’t exist, like a Mumbai taxi driver.
They are a friendly bunch. The restaurant manager tells the same joke to every table – ‘Would you like a dessert, they are calorie-free?’.
And there’s a warm and convivial atmosphere in the dining room. Tables are perilously close together. Guests have to pull down their virtual blinders if they’re to remain focused on their nearest and dearest for conversations as adjoining tables are hard to ignore.
The décor is a delight. Porcelain flying ducks line a back wall, like Stan and Hilda Ogden’s one-time Coronation Street home, while neutral shades and swivel chairs complete the assemblage. It’s a venue-for-all-seasons, with books for guests, including joke books in the toilets: the best gag was about a vicar, a hotel and a porn channel – but modesty becomes me and I’ll leave it to you to find it, should you book a table. It’s worth reading. I’m still laughing two days later.
The food was a treat. Homemade bread was pretty good and our starters and mains were executed with precision and skill. And though at times the balance was a little out of kilter, Clay’s is a classy establishment run by a chef who knows his onions. My partner started with a homemade soup served with three crab crackers. The crackers were towering – like the Burj Khalifa of crustaceans. In truth, one – rather than three – would have been ample. The dish was overly generous (yeah, yeah, yeah – better to be that than parsimonious) and my partner was near replete by the time she’d finished.
I’d warmed up with a glass of rhubarb nectar, my new favourite thing, that was sweet and tangy, sharp and fruity and tasted of the first day of spring. And while my starter wasn’t particularly memorable, my main was a true crack-a-jack course. A chicken breast served on smoked quinoa with egg plant and sunblush tomatoes was bursting with flavours. The breast was magnificent. Plump and oozing warm, liquid flavour like some sort of benevolent, flavour bomb rooster, it had been cooked with remarkable skill. The last time I tasted chicken so good in Shropshire was when the brilliant Adrian Badland opened House of the Rising Sun, in Shrewsbury, a few years back.
It had been cooked with rare skill. The quinoa was light and flavoursome, the egg plant delicious and the sunblush tomato added sweetness to the dish.
My partner’s main was similarly accomplished where a fillet of cod had been cooked so the flakes were a translucent perfection. When it comes to cooking protein, Clay’s is in a class of its own.
Perhaps the garnishes need a little more. The absence of sauces with both of our dishes was notable: my theory was that the kitchen is so small and the number of covers so low that there is neither the time nor the space to prepare them, so spices are used instead. I might be wrong. The type of cooking may be down to the chef’s preference, rather than logistical necessities.
We stayed around for desserts and a baked white chocolate cheesecake provided a delightful and delicious conclusion to our dinners. With just the right amount of wobble, it was a temptress on a plate. And though my partner’s ice cream was nothing to shout about, we’d enjoyed a resolutely good evening where environment, service and cooking were all of a good standard.
Clay’s finds itself among the better, informal restaurants in Shropshire – if you’re looking for comparisons, think The Green Café, in Ludlow, or CSons, in Shrewsbury. It does the simple things well, is fairly-priced, provides service with a smile and has a seriously tasty menu.
Now all it needs to do is let people know it’s there – or, alternatively, leave it to us to do just that.