There’s nothing like a Michelin star to raise your expectations, especially when you’re going to a former pub and not a traditional fine dining restaurant. Being a Midlander, you get used to some people assuming that we can’t possibly expect to find award-winning food without travelling to London. But The Cross in Kenilworth is the latest establishment in our region to prove this myth wrong. Less than a year after opening, it’s been awarded a Michelin star, and also marks the return of Simpsons owner Andreas Antona to the town. It’s not him in the kitchen at The Cross, but head chef Adam Bennett, who cooked at Michelin-starred Simpsons and recently got to the finals of the world cooking competition the Bocuse d’Or.
To cut a long story short, the guys behind this refurbished 19th century inn know about good food, and about good restaurants, and it definitely shows. Mr Manning remembers having a few beers in The Cross, back when it was just a boozer and not a swanky restaurant, but other than his vague memory, there’s nothing that says “pub” about The Cross other than its exterior. Once inside, there’s a cosy well-stocked bar, a restaurant area with open view to the kitchen, and a separate room with log burner where we were seated. All in all, the perfect surroundings for a tastebud-teasing feast.
The problem with award-winning establishments is they can sometimes be a little bit intimidating for us mere mortals. A good restaurant serves great food and gives great service, making you feel grateful to have experienced it. A GREAT restaurant serves great food and gives great service, while making you feel that they’re grateful to you for gracing them with your presence. The Cross certainly manages this – the staff are polite and knowledgeable, with just the right amount of friendly interaction, the surroundings are relaxed but special, and the food is cooked to impress, that’s for sure.
The presentation of the whole place is relaxed, oozing rustic charm instead of fussy fine dining. There’s no white table cloths and bone china crockery. It’s simple, and classy, and speaks for itself. Anyway, enough about the peripherals. It’s the food we’re here to talk about. We visited with some foodie friends for a birthday, and what a fab birthday treat.
There’s certain menus where one or two dishes stand out as your possible choices. When this happens with about five it’s a tough decision. But hey, someone’s gotta do it! For starter, I opted for smoked salmon and fromage blanc. An elegant tube of smoked salmon filled with delicate soft, creamy cheese, with sweet, perfectly-textured crab mayonnaise, interspersed with avocado as well as small lumps of citrus fruit. The balance of the dish was perfect. Rich, indulgent salmon and cheese and mayonnaise, with zingy but delicate citrus flavours cutting through and keeping it fresh. It might have been simple on the menu, but there was no doubt from the presentation that this restaurant is up there with the best.
Mr Manning went for the crispy duck egg, served with smoked haddock, potato and Berkswell cheese. Descriptive as ever, in his words it was “delicious”, and the speed in which it was polished off certainly backed up his wordy report. The rest of our group took full advantage of the menu offerings, trying out ham hock terrine, as well as mussel soup flavoured with curry spices and saffron.
For main course, choosing brought the same challenges. When beef, venison, pork belly, sea bream, veal and fillet steak are all on the menu, it’s a tough call! Unable to resist the lure of my old favourite, I settled on beef braised cheek, served with glazed carrots, beef fat mash, pickled walnuts and red wine sauce. This was, quite simply, divine! I can’t fault it. Tender, fall-apart-when-you-touch-it beef, creamy mash laced with beef fat, sweet glazed carrot, rich pickled walnuts and a perfectly executed red wine sauce to tie it all together. I think I’ve referred before to “the shoulder shrug” – Mr Manning’s observation of what happens to me when something tastes really, really good. Well, shoulders stayed shrugged for pretty much the whole of this main course. Need I say more!
Not quite as happy was my long-suffering other half. In a surprise choice he went for veal steak on the bone served with chips, onion rings and green salad. Perhaps it was the wrong choice, but he didn’t really feel that what was essentially steak and chips was particularly impressive. Yes everything was well executed, but it didn’t sing Michelin star at you unfortunately.
What did sing, though, was our friend’s choice of venison fillet with haggis, crushed roots, kale, potato and bacon terrine with wild cranberries and Laphroaig sauce. Again, perfectly cooked venison with classic flavours guaranteed to complement the meat, and a sweet indulgent sauce.
Dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert. A few of us couldn’t choose between sweets or cheese, so we decided to do both (of course). First up for me, a creme caramel that unsurprisingly was the perfect balance of texture and flavour, creamy, perfectly-set and sweet. Mr M’s black forest gateau was the furthest you could imagine from a 70’s dinner party classic – a beautiful slab of chocolatey goodness, served with a piquant, acidic, berry sorbet. Perfectly presented too (no surprise there).
Our cheeseboards were a selection of English cheeses, from Berkswell to goat’s cheese and Brie equivalents (yes I was a bit sozzled so can’t remember all their names, but we were talked through them by a very knowledgeable and helpful waiter). The only slightly strange thing was that when we observed that two pieces of supposedly the same cheese, served on two different platters, tasted completely different (one pretty horrid), it emerged that they were the same cheese but we’d been given an old, edge piece on one plate. If you were being particularly pernickety you could argue that this should have been noticed, especially since they looked completely different. But hey, mistakes happen, even in the best of places.
All in all, we had a fab evening. The food is great. It’s certainly not cheap, but you get what you pay for and it’s well-cooked, full of flavour and beautifully presented. It’s no surprise that less than a year after it opened, The Cross was packed with people filling their faces with its fine food. It’s probably one for a special occasion for us, but it was certainly a treat, and that beef cheek is gonna be hard to beat!
We paid in full for our meal at The Cross. They didn’t know I was a blogger.