Yes I know, I’ve written about the Wine House before, but I’ve only had the pleasure of lunchtime dining off the grazing menu before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but I thought I’d fill you in on the full a la carte dinner experience so you get the full picture.
After one of the aforementioned lunchtime visits, my mum declared that she wanted to have her birthday dinner at the Wine House. Fine by me I thought. So off we toddled for an early dinner last week. If I haven’t explained it before, the Wine House may be in an old, traditional building, but its interior is modern and stylish, with dark furnishings, an open kitchen, and an impressive glass-walled wine collection. It’s still got the old beams and brickwork, and retains its sense of history with Samuel Johnson (he’s from Lichfield) quotes decorating the wall, but oozes a more up-to-date effect thanks to the decor.
The Wine House does tasting menus, complete with wine flight if you want, but we went for the a la carte instead. The dishes are definitely of fine dining ilk, but somehow don’t come across as pretentious, and it’s reassuring that it uses local produce wherever possible. We studied the menu over a nice bottle of Portuguese red, enjoying some freshly baked rolls with three different piped butters – wholegrain mustard, apricot, and pink peppercorn. The peppercorn was our favourite and it was nice to have something a bit different.
For starter I opted for sloe gin braised Cornish snails, with wild garlic purée, horseradish ‘snow’ and watercress. It’s not often you see snails on a menu so I couldn’t ignore them. The snails were well cooked, neither slimy nor rubbery. The purée was the perfect alternative to the usual garlic butter you get snails served in, while the horseradish snow was piquant and cut through the richness. I’m not too sure about gimmicks like ‘snow’ sometimes – you could ask why not just serve horseradish as you usually get it – but this worked, giving the heat you’d expect from horseradish but adding an extra texture to the dish.
Mr Manning chose ‘Ham & Eggs’, or the Wine House’s take on it. Mustard and calvados hock terrine with Panko breaded egg yolk and pickled baby vegetables. His terrine firm, meaty and well set with a great depth of flavour. The tiny egg must have been a quails egg, and was delicately breaded (apparently Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb). It was perfectly cooked, with the bright yellow yolk oozing as he cut into it. His only complaint was that the terrine to egg proportion wasn’t quite right and he needed more of the oozy egg to go with his ham.
Mum opted for pan-seared king scallops with clam and tarragon infused tea and a ‘study’ of sweetcorn. The tea, which came in an impressive glass teapot was actually more of a broth that she could pour over the scallops. They were nicely cooked, fat and juicy and not rubbery. The whole starter was a lot more delicate than mine and Jamie’s, so it was hard for us to appreciate the more subtle flavours, but she said it suited her fine.
For main course, Mr M obviously felt it was his duty to continue his quest to sample beef in every single restaurant we go to, so he went for the fillet steak, cooked pink and finished in truffle butter, with crispy marrow and truffle mushroom puree. The steak was, as you’d expect, perfectly cooked, with a crispy disc of breadcrumbed marrow and a generous smear of distinctly-truffley puree. The chips were fat and a good combination of crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Torn between a whole hay-baked quail and salted black cod, I chose the latter on the advice of the waiter and definitely wasn’t disappointed. The generous helping of well-cooked cod came with steamed razor clams, brown butter, endive, sherry vinaigrette and tomato concasse. I like razor clams, but I’m not sure how much they added to this particular dish, other than an impressive aesthetic addition. The cod was by far the star of the show, and I don’t think it would have lost anything not to have the clams.
Mum – usually a fish lover – went for the unusual choice of ‘Three Little Pigs’. This was braised Middle White shoulder, sous vide fillet, and trotter croquettes, served with asparagus, ceps and a sticky jus. Hers was probably the winner. The shoulder and fillet were melt in the mouth, and the trotter croquettes were tasty little bits of deep-fried porkiness. Great choice ma! We had two generous bowls of vegetables on the side to go with our dishes – one a Mediterranean mixture featuring sweet peppers, and another a green mixture of sugar snap peas and green beans.
Not to be beaten, we forged on to dessert, choosing to go for just two between the three of us. Mum and I have actually had the beetroot cheesecake before, and couldn’t resist going back for more. It’s such an original dessert that I’ve never seen or tried anywhere else, and brilliantly executed. On this occasion, Mr M felt it was slightly too gelatinous, almost becoming more panna cotta-esque than cheesecake, but I was more than happy with it. The beetroot brings a sweet but not too sickly taste and the flavour is unlike anything else. It was served with a beetroot sorbet that got a resounding thumbs up from all of us. The second dessert was a chocolate fondant torte. I’m not sure how much I have to say about this, you can see from the picture how shiny and perfectly-finished the chocolate is, and the taste was just as good. Rich, bitter, and intense, just how it should be.
By this point, we’d obviously got carried away, so went for a cheeseboard to round off the celebrations. We chose five of the seven cheeses, enjoying a range of hard, soft, and blue served with crackers, grapes, and a tasty chutney. I would tell you what they were but by this point I’d had rather a lot of the previously-mentioned nice wine, so didn’t take a note.
Needless to say, the night at the Wine House was great. There were one or two tiny things we’d have changed about the food, but that comes purely down to personal preference. There were also one or two things we might have added to on the service side – like the fact we didn’t have any side plates for our bread at the start, or Mum could have really done with a spoon for her brothy starter – but these are teeny tiny things that we put down to the fact our waiter was only on his second shift. Please do not take this to mean that the service isn’t excellent at the Wine House, it really is. The staff are attentive, knowledgeable, and right on the button. The problem is, when they set a bar of near-perfection for the food and cooking, anything less than that becomes more noticeable than it would in a far less noticeably brilliant establishment. The Wine House have got it just right, they cook great food, using good quality ingredients, they present it beautifully, and they serve it in style. Oh, and they do a great apple martini which is going to have my mother going back again and again.
Thanks to the Wine House for making my Mum’s birthday a night to remember. I have a feeling we’ll be returning for a long time to come…..
We paid in full for the dinner at the Wine House (yes, we treated mum too!)