As you can probably tell, thanks to this blog Mr M and I get to dine in lots of lovely places. But every so often, there’s one that really stands out from the pack. It might not be award-winning, it might not be particularly expensive and it might not be a specific cuisine. But for a variety of reasons, whatever they may be, it blows us away and sticks in our memories as a place to go back to.
Such was the case with The BoatHouse in Upton-upon-Severn. I’d love to tell you I just stumbled across it, but I actually went and sought it out after they asked me to pay a visit. We stopped by on our way home from our Cotswold dinner and overnight stay at the Ragged Cot in Minchinhampton and I’m blimin’ glad they did, or I may never have discovered this fab little place.
If you haven’t been to Upton-upon-Severn, it’s definitely worth a visit. A lovely riverside town that’s home to several annual festivals, the most famous being its Blues Festival. If you can’t make it to the seaside, it’s a great alternative and a fab place to spend a day. Boats cruising up and down, riverside walks, lovely little antique and independent shops (including a great wine merchant), and several pubs and restaurants along the banks of the river.
These include The BoatHouse – a bit of a break from the norm of riverside pubs that seem to make up a lot of the eateries in Upton. It’s a cafe, tapas restaurant, and wine bar. Sounds different right? It certainly looks a bit different and its appearance definitely didn’t smack of Spanish tapas.
The cafe is downstairs in the perfect spot to grab any passing trade keen for a coffee, ice-cream, sandwich etc. And upstairs is the restaurant along with a large terrace with beautiful views over the river – the perfect place to wile away a few hours and pretend you’re on holiday (providing the good old English weather complies!).
Of course, we all know rural Worcestershire isn’t quite one of the Spanish Costas, so Mr M and I were intrigued as to how good tapas could be in a quintessentially English setting. Very good, it turns out, hence the fact The BoatHouse managed to knock our socks off.
It’s an extensive tapas menu and not strictly Spanish I don’t think. More an appealing mixture of Mediterranean dishes from homemade dips and pitta to meatballs, fish dishes, veggie options, and some huge grazing boards. They also do an option called the ‘Kings Tapas’ where, for £20 a head, the chef basically picks you 11 dishes that might be from the menu, plus whatever specials he happens to have on that day. Not just that, if there are any you absolutely love you can just ask for more – for free!
Now, I know this might sound like a bit of an ‘all you can eat’ gimmick that might put you off, but trust me, it’s the way to go. The perfect way to try lots of dishes, including those you might not ordinarily pick, and it also means you can enjoy them coming out as and when they’re ready, in a steady flow of food just like it would be if you’re abroad. Perfecto.
Our foodie fun in someone else’s hands, we sat back and let the party begin. First up was homemade humous and tzatziki served with warm pitta bread. Ironically, I’m writing this sat in Kefalonia where the tzatziki and pitta are plentiful and oh-so-good. But I can safely say The Boathouse’s offering can easily hold its own against any I’ve had in Greece. Forget bland supermarket-style yoghurt with a bit of cucumber suspended in it. This was deliciously flavoured and delicately seasoned to allow the yoghurty cucumber-y ness to sing.
Decent seasoning proved to be an ongoing theme throughout our meal at The BoatHouse. You see it all the time on things like Masterchef, don’t you? Chefs banging on about seasoning and taste, and it makes you realise that inadequately seasoning a meal can make or break it. Not so here – even the simplest of dishes were made delicious by a careful use of seasoning and spice, and filled you with faith that you’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing with food.
Next up was deep-fried halloumi, something I always enjoy though rarely order as I’m always on a quest for new and exciting things. As I look on this dish with the benefit of hindsight, with such an indulgent party of flavours on their way it was nice to have something so simple as one of the dishes.
Third on the list were these pan-fried garlic mushrooms in champagne. Sounds simple, looks simple, right? Yes, but do not underestimate how good this can be. The texture was just right, still a bit meaty without a hint of slime and again, beautifully seasoned in their buttery sauce. Never before have I so underestimated a dish as I did these mushrooms.
Alongside them came calamari – one of Mr M’s firm favourites and something we’ve ordered more times than I can possibly say. Jamie considers himself a bit of an expert on decent calamari and was prepared to be unimpressed. Not so here. Wide-eyes, he declared The BoatHouse’s to be some of the best he’s ever tasted. Light, delicate batter, with meaty yet not rubbery squid inside. Again, brilliantly seasoned and a delight to eat.
Four dishes in, we were wondering if our meal had peaked early. Perhaps it was fluke they’d managed to hit the spot with the early deliveries? Surely they couldn’t keep it up for seven more dishes? Oh how I love to be proved wrong.
The next plate raised the bar yet again. Artistically-presented, it held two dishes – one from the menu and one a creation purely for that day. Pan-fried king prawns cooked in truffle oil and perched on chorizo were rich and reminded me a bit of the pintxos mum and I enjoyed in Bilbao.
But it was the special – salmon cooked in caramel on a bed of lime-infused courgette spaghetti that stole the show for me. The generous portion of salmon was sweet and sticky on the outside and flaked apart beautifully, its richness perfectly counter-balanced by the citrus freshness of the courgetti. I’ve never had these flavours together and they’re not anything an amateur like me could ever dream up, but they just worked.
If that had been the end of the meal, I can safely say I’d have been happy. But there was more, far more to come. Chicken flambeed in vodka with a creamy sauce and sweet peppers was another different one, and I loved the spicy creamy sauce, though Jamie wasn’t quite so enamoured by it as some of the other dishes.
And homemade meatballs – something you see on pretty much every tapas menu anywhere, ever – were another perfectly-executed classic. The meatballs were, again, perfectly seasoned to allow their own taste to shine through, while the sweet tomato sauce provided the perfect co-star.
Two courses to go. And we were pretty excited. Even more so when the beef and pomegranate tagine with pink peppercorns was put down in front of us. Simple in appearance but complex in taste, it stole the show for Jamie as he declared it his favourite of the day. The beef was tender and set in a sauce with a slight warmth punctuated by starbursts of heat from the pink peppercorns. The pomegranate seeds, in contrast, added little pops of sweetness that brought that stereotypical fruity flavour to the tagine.
And finally. Patatas bravas. Something I never want to order because it’s so often a few lumps of underdone potatoes with a nondescript tomato sauce on top. Not so here. Crispy little cubes of potato, crunchy on the outside and soft inside, salted and spices with paprika, and served in a sweet, deep sauce. Not a hint of greasiness and probably a dish that has changed my view of patatas bravas forever.
It was one of those meals where we sat for a few minutes in stunned silence afterwards, trying to compute how this low-key spot in a little Worcestershire town could have just served up such a feast. Are you wondering whether they were expecting me and so pulled something amazing out of the bag? Yeah, I did too.
Sounds crazy in hindsight – I mean, if a chef’s crap they’re not exactly going to be able to suddenly come up with the goods for one occasion. And having met Kyle, the chef, after a meal, I can safely say he seems like the kind of guy who would rather go out of business than lower his standards.
Even so, I did my due diligence and checked, and it seems it’s not just me whose been impressed. “Exceptionally good”, “fantastic”, “delicious” – all descriptions from different people – and I’ve got to agree with them. On top of this, the setting’s great and the staff are helpful – both things you know I value in a place. As we sat digesting our little banquet, both physically and mentally, we both started planning our return when we could show off our little find to friends with the same love of food as us.
The term ‘hidden gem’ is one of those overused phrases – including in this blog I imagine. But The BoatHouse really does fit that description. I’m just glad I’ve been lucky enough to try it. And not just once, because we’re definitely going back!
I was invited for a complimentary meal at The BoatHouse in Upton-upon-Severn but wasn’t asked to write a positive review. As ever, I’ve told it how I see it and am happy to say it’s not just me who thinks this place is great.