Don’t you just love it when a new place opens up in town?
If you’re reading this and you’re in a big city then maybe you don’t get the same little buzz of excitement when you get an addition to the food offering in your local area but for us small town foodies, any extra option when it comes to eating out is always welcome.
In Rugby cafes come and go – some last days, some years, some offer indulgent treats like afternoon tea and others go for the healthy option. It’s a crowded market in our little town so it’s interesting to see what the new players will do.
The Tuning Fork was always going to be a promising place. For starters, it’s not in Rugby town centre but in a brand new development on the edge of town – Houlton. It’s actually for former Rugby radio station site but is set to be a new development of 6,200 homes.
The developers are keen to show us that it’s more than just a load of houses but will be a brand new community – hence the inclusion of a central hub on Dollman Farm complete with visitor centre and cafe. That’s the Tuning Fork.
Okay, so it’s got its new location and readymade audience. It’s got green countryside, a lovely brand new building complete with the oh-so-chic industrial look that you often see nowadays. But what about the food?
Fortunately for the guys behind the development, they’ve managed to snag an already-established name in the food scene in the area to run the Tuning Fork. Family-run business The Chef’s Kitchen have already earned themselves a name in the area for quality catering, whether it’s for weddings, functions or working lunches.
Elaine, son James and their team have now taken on The Tuning Fork, with plans to offer locally-sourced, season produce with anything from breakfasts like ‘Eggs Hemingway’ to lunches with a glass of wine or just coffee and cake. They’ve also taken on the cafe at Rugby town centre’s library, dubbed The Chef’s Kitchen Cafe Downtown, but that’s a whole different place that I’m yet to visit.
I was lucky enough to be invited along to The Tuning Fork a few weeks before it opened officially to get a flavour of the place and a feel for its atmosphere, to check out the kind of food these guys can produce, and I guess to be part of a buzz about the newest place in (or slightly out of) town.
The converted barn has got a nice feel to it. The right combination of rustic and modern, with the slight industrial feel I mentioned above. Comfy sofas, high stools and bars looking out onto what will soon be streets and homes, and normal tables and chairs. Oh, and let’s not forget handy little touches like wi-fi and plug sockets. I know where I might be decamping to in the future when I’m fed up of working at home…..
On the night we visited the place had an added bit of beauty with some gorgeous decorative foliage by Rugby’s very own Garden Gate Flowers – a bit of extra pizazz for a special supper club evening that is a slight step up from what The Tuning Fork will be doing as normal, but a chance to showcase everything this venue could offer in the future.
We started with canapes of crispy pork belly, eggs & hollandaise and avocado ceviche before taking our seats along the long table to see what the Tuning Fork kitchen had to offer.
To start, skewered chilli prawns – on a tuning fork of course. What a nice touch! The prawn was enormous, the tomato chilli sauce all the right mix of piquant and sweet and the portion size just right, I thought. A slice of bread was just the right vehicle to mop up the sauce and let’s not move on without mentioning the lovely crockery – something that continued throughout the night.
Next was a blood orange and pernod granita. If you’re thinking, ‘urgh, I don’t like pernod’, don’t worry – neither do I. But again, this was an exercise in balance and proportion, with just the right hint of aniseed among the citrus tang of the orange. An enjoyable palate cleanser before we moved on to the next course.
For me, the next course was a triumph. Halibut service with brassicas, watercress and caramelised lime dressing. A sexy looking lump of fish, there was definitely no skimping on portions here and the crispy skin was just how it should be. It sat like a lord on top of a throne of greens and broccoli and was a simple, but winning, way to enjoy a decent piece of fish.
Next up was roast fillet of beef with chicken liver parfait, croute, green beans and jus – right up my street and the kind of dish that Mr M would be furious that he missed out on. The fillet was exactly how I like it, plenty pink.
And interestingly, there were a few people who don’t usually enjoy meat quite that rare but tried it anyway and found themselves won over. I think The Tuning Fork might have converted a few people to rarer steak that night!
It was draped over a crunchy croute of bread that I think may have been from our own local Revel Bakery, another great string to Rugby’s bow, and a smooth, rich, chicken liver parfait. The green beans were a simple accompaniment and the jus was just that – no over-the-top, overworked gravy, but a simple reduction of those deep-flavoured meat juices that us carnivores love.
I’ve got to say, having never tasted any of The Chef’s Kitchen’s work before, I was already won over by this point. An understanding of decent produce that’s cooked with skill but isn’t messed with too much is all-too-often lacking from some places, and it’s nice to see people who can judge the right balance between showing off their own skills and allowing good, well-sourced ingredients to shine on their own.
Dessert – well, dessertS since we had two – was no different. First up was a lemon meringue parfait with blackberries and basil. Light, airy, moussey, lemony, with a slightly seared top, biscuit base underneath, and the simple addition of fresh blackberries and a basil leaf, it was just right.
After such a stunningly simple dessert, I thought I’d probably miss the simply-named ‘chocolate cake and strawberries’. Until I saw it. No ordinary ‘chocolate cake’, this layered beauty included an addictive frangipane taste that made it somewhere between a gorgeous chocolate dessert and a bakewell tart.
And if that wasn’t enough, the rich chocolate ganache with perfect mirror finish destroyed any attempt to resist in the same way the mirror on the wall tempted the evil Queen in Snow White. Resistance was futile, as they say.
We finished off with a coffee which, I must say, was a million times better than anything I’ve had from a mainstream coffee chain (isn’t it always) and I toddled the five minutes home feeling rather excited about a brand new place on my doorstep that could easily become my regular haunt.
Okay, so you won’t get a full-on six-course restaurant dinner if you go to The Tuning Fork. That was a one-off, though I’m personally campaigning for them to hold ‘Supper Clubs’ regularly for us food fans in the area. But if the dishes we tried in our sneak previous were anything to go by, I’m pretty sure it’ll win you over as a breakfast or lunch venue fairly swiftly.
I’ve had a quick glance at the menus and if you are after something beyond your average sandwich or panini, then I think this will be a place for you. Imaginative dishes aimed at offering something slightly different but – if our experience was anything to go by – still with quality produce and execution at the heart of the operation.
I’ve got high hopes for Houlton’s first big draw and hope the meal I experienced was the start of a long and successful story for The Tuning Fork. Fingers crossed!
I was invited to a Supper Club event at The Tuning Fork for the purposes of this blog. My meal was complimentary but I wasn’t asked to write a positive review.
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