If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I work in Lichfield and am gradually working my way round the city’s eateries. I’ve tried Poms, The Spark (now closed I’m afraid), Damn Fine Cafe. And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about 1709.
Named after the birth year of Lichfield’s own Samuel Johnson, it oozes history with wobbly floors, low ceilings, and timber-framed walls. It’s a charming little brasserie, and rather fabulous value for money.
On my first trip I went for lunch with some girlfriends. It was a few months ago now, so I think the menu’s changed, but they still do great value lunch deals, with two courses for £8.50 and three for £10.50.
Two of us shared a baked camembert served with breads and onion chutney, then I chose fishcake with creamy leeks. The fishcake was nice and fat, although I would have liked a bit more fish in it (it was more potato than fish) but hey, for £10.50 for two courses, who’s complaining?
We had the age-old problem of an hour’s lunch break not being quite long enough for a full sit-down meal, especially given how busy it was (always a good sign), but as soon as we mentioned to the staff that we were in a bit of a rush they were wonderfully helpful, making sure our main was ready as soon as we’d finished our starter so we could get back to work on time.
Last month, I went back to 1709 with a bunch of my workmates for a little pre-Christmas meal. The dinner offers are as competitive as the lunches with two courses at £13.50 and three at £15.50. Better still, they don’t hike the prices up at Christmas unlike so many other places. You just get a different menu to choose from at the same low price. Good hey?
I walk past 1709 quite often in the evening, and it definitely looks like an inviting place for a dinner, especially on a cold winter’s night. The building lends itself to that cosy candlelit feel – not too fussy but kind of olde worlde charming. Simple, warm and cosy.
On our girlie work outing the service was great from the off, friendly and chatty but not too overwhelming and again, endlessly accommodating. Requests for things off the menu, for parts of dishes to be swapped or left out, were all met with a smile and, after a quick check with the chef, carried out without confusion or error.
For starter I tried the 1709 smokies. They sounded fab – smoked haddock in a light tomato and cream sauce topped with melting mozzarella and mature cheddar cheese. But I have to confess, I was a tiny bit disappointed when they arrived.
They were definitely cheesy, but there was nowhere near enough haddock for my liking. It was a nice tasting tomatoey creamy sauce with cheese on top, but I wanted chunks of smokey sweet fish and couldn’t really find them. I must add, it wasn’t just me, another person on our table had them and felt a wee bit letdown too.
In contrast, I was told that the spiced berry and orange cured salmon with watercress mayonnaise and rocket and cress salad was delicious, people just wanted more of it. And my cheese-loving friend, who was kindly allowed a baked Camembert despite it not being on the menu, had a big smile on her face. What’s not to love about a big pile of melted cheese?
For main course I chose slow braised blade of beef. It was meant to come with smoked bacon and onion mash, which I swapped for the horseradish mash off the lunch menu, and was also served with glazed carrots and rich cooking jus.
It was hearty fare – a hunk of falling-apart meat in a thick beefy sauce, with a dollop of smooth mash laced with the peppery zing of horseradish. The carrots were sweet and well cooked, though I’m not sure whether they were the best example of glazed carrots I’ve had.
Some of the other dishes looked pretty good too (including the vegetarian options – I know, unusual for me to be tempted by non-meaty stuff). The pan fried seabass fillet was well cooked, although my friend said the red lentil and new potato dhal didn’t seem to her to be so much a dhal as spicy potatoes with lentils.
Confit of duck leg with sautéed potatoes, blackberry and red wine jus, and seasonal greens was probably the prettiest dish on the table and apparently rather tasty, with the tartness of the jus complementing the rich duck. And curried lentil and potato cake with a tomato and spinach ragout and smoked garlic dressing looked like a real winter warmer.
For dessert there were typical festive choices of Christmas pud and the like, but I couldn’t resist the white chocolate and ginger cheesecake with mulled berry compote. It was delicious. The ginger just tickling your tastebuds, adding a winter warmth to the sweet white chocolate whilst not overwhelming it. And the mulled berry compote adding colour, texture and a bit of much-needed bitterness to contrast with the sugary cheesecake.
Value for money
I think including wine, we ended up paying just over £20 each – not bad for a pretty decent three-course meal. And this is where 1709’s success lies. Yeah, it’s not perfect, some of the dishes I probably wouldn’t order again. But when the prices are so reasonable, any criticism you might have is balanced with: “yeah, but it’s such a good price”.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the food is pretty good. It’s well cooked, tasty, with tried and tested flavour combinations on offer. The portions aren’t huge but again, what do you expect for three courses for £15.50? There aren’t many places you can get decent food at such reasonable prices, so you can forgive the odd mistake. Well, I could anyway. And that’s why I’ll happily be going back.
I paid in full both times I went to 1709. They didn’t know I was a blogger.