The Golden Ball Inn, Ironbridge

Rating: *** Lou Robson enjoys her dishes at The Golden Ball – but wishes she’d followed her friend’s lead.

The Golden Ball Inn, Ironbridge

Rating: *** Lou Robson enjoys her dishes at The Golden Ball – but wishes she’d followed her friend’s lead.

The people of Ironbridge have been happily drinking in the Golden Ball Inn since 1728 and the pub on Jockey Bank is the oldest recorded licensed premises in the area.

It is at its busiest on Fridays – many locals have a regular date to dine there every Friday night – and it was packed as we squeezed our way to the bar.

This pub is always a good place to visit with out-of-town visitors and my friend had come all the way from Liverpool to visit a dentist in Shrewsbury. That he could make it through three courses is a testament to Shropshire dentistry and the pub’s chef.

As you would expect from its age, the building’s low ceilings are criss-crossed by beams and its wooden and tiled floors shine warmly with use and polish. The walls are covered with ephemera, from tin and enamelled beer signs to historic deeds of sale, and shelves groan with bric-a-brac and cast iron cooking pots.

We could have eaten in the restaurant, which has table service, but chose a table in the back bar by the beer garden because it was brighter and more convivial. Dogs are allowed in the bar area and a border terrier was sitting contentedly by a nearby table.

We arrived at a quarter to eight and by then two of the meals listed on the blackboard by our table (the swordfish steak and the trio of Wenlock farm sausages) had sold out.

For a starter we decided to share the Greek mezze platter washed down with Ironbridge Foundry Gold beer, one of five real ales sold at the bar, and a mild and refreshing taste after our walk up Madeley Road.

The platter was more broadly Mediterranean than distinctively Greek but it worked well as an appetiser. The rectangular plate held a slice each of prosciutto, a generous helping of sliced chorizo, a mix of garlic and olives, chunks of melon, a rocket salad and a bowl of tzatziki dip served with a basket of warm pitta breads. The rocket salad could have done with a sharper dressing and the mint and yoghurt dip was crying out for some cucumber and garlic to round it out.

For a main course Felix chose the shoulder of lamb with mustard mash and Shrewsbury sauce (£14.95). I ordered venison medallions but they were by then the third dish to sell out so I settled for chicken chasseur (£10.95).

The meals could have done with warmer plates because the sauces on both dishes appeared a little congealed by the time they got to us. Felix got the best of the bargain. A huge piece of meat on the bone, browned to perfection outside and succulent inside, was coated with a caramel coloured Shrewsbury sauce. The fruity sauce perfectly complemented the lamb and the grained mustard mash. “I enjoyed every part of that,” Felix said.

The chicken was less exciting. The two pieces of breast meat were, like the lamb, cooked to moist perfection but the sauce of mushrooms and tomatoes was just that and sadly, a tang of tinned tomato was still pervasive. It should have been accompanied by new potatoes but I had asked for the dauphinoise potatoes which would have partnered the venison. They turned out to be a good match, creamy and soft without collapsing, and they almost made up for the disappointment of the chasseur sauce.

Both dishes came with a shared bowl of vegetables – corn, broccoli, string beans, carrots and savoy cabbage – all freshly cooked.

We had moved on by now to Three Tuns Pale Ale from the UK’s oldest licensed brewery. With a bit more body than the previous beer, it washed down the meals and was much less cloying than a glass of wine would have been.

With a short break for digestion we moved on to the puddings. I chose a rhubarb and ginger crème brulee and Felix chose bread and butter pudding.

The crème brulee came with a separate ball of ice cream (good quality vanilla shot through with seeds) which I found superfluous. Someone had enjoyed wielding the blowtorch because the sugar topping on the crème brulee was a good quarter of an inch thick and set like iron. The heat had pervaded the dish beneath so it was a slightly disconcerting mix of warm and chilled custard and chunks of rhubarb. There was a faint flavour of ginger but I would have preferred a stronger taste and texture to lift an already delicious pudding.

Again, Felix had made the better choice with his bread and butter pudding. I wasn’t impressed when it arrived. It looked like a toasted sandwich surrounded by a lake of custard but one taste and all was forgiven as it melted in the mouth. From now on whenever I make this pudding at home I’ll be adding nutmeg because that was the ingredient that lifted this dish towards the sublime. The custard was perfect too and clearly made with fresh eggs.

The bill came to a few pennies over £60 which puts this on the expensive side for a pub meal, even including drinks, but worth it for good food in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

ADDRESS

The Golden Ball Inn, 1 Newbridge Road Ironbridge TF8 7BA

Tel: 01952 432 179

Web: www.goldenballinn.com

MENU SAMPLE

Crayfish cocktail £5.95; Pan-fried pigeon breast in Madeira sauce £5.95

MAINS

Pan-seared medallions of crocodile with garlic fried king prawns, parmentiere potato, fresh carrot and bean medley and creamy garlic sauce £16.50; Beer-battered fillet of Scottish haddock with fresh salad and chips £9.50

DESSERTS

Plum and almond tart £4.95; Lemon and ginger cheesecake £4.95

SERVICE

Basic but friendly

ATMOSPHERE

Warm and welcoming

DISABLED FACILITIES

It’s an old building, so limited. Steps down to toilets.

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