Andy Richardson enjoys a splendid setting but the food was a little disappointing.
Rating: *** It was a balmy summer’s evening and the shadows were lengthening on the lawns of Albrighton Hall Hotel, on the outskirts of Shrewsbury.
A wedding party was relaxing on chairs outside the venue, enjoying the dazzling rays of sunshine that danced on a small lake. The air was filled with lazy chatter and guests were toing and froing from the venue’s grand rooms.
Albrighton Hall Hotel and Spa is one of county’s grand old hotels, a venue steeped in history that has been sympathetically improved down the years. It comprises an 18th Century manor house and lake, with 15 acres of grounds, and features 86 contemporary guest rooms.
The spa, meanwhile, has an indoor heated pool, and nine meeting rooms can host up to 400 for meetings and weddings. With its idyllic location, it’s little wonder the venue is a perennial favourite of business people, wedding parties and discerning diners.
I’ve eaten at the Albrighton Hall Hotel on a number of occasions, enjoying reasonably elegant food in the Oak Room Restaurant.
It’s been some time since I visited the venue, however, and so booked in for a midweek dinner with a friend. The reassuring crunch of tyres on gravel heralded her arrival and we made our way to the restaurant right away, so as to peruse the menu and make our choices.
A helpful waitress brought a selection of freshly-cooked breads to our table and we took our time to decide what to eat. The food at Albrighton Hall is from a classical/traditional background; there are no froths or foams, no swishes of this or dots of that.
My friend began with a starter of homemade chicken liver pate with toasted brioche. It was served attractively, with the pate in a small glass. She spooned it onto the toasted brioche and purred her approval. It hit the spot.
My starter comprised thinly-sliced breasola with pine nuts and pesto, garnished with a few salad leaves. It was delicious. The chef had simply had to assemble high quality ingredients, rather than cook, and the natural flavours sang out like a choir in full voice.
There was a welcome pause before our main courses arrived. My friend had ordered the fish of the day, a fillet of plaice on crushed new potatoes with a citrus butter. It was exceptional, the stand-out course of the evening. The fish had been cooked on the bone with great skill, so that the skin had taken on a pleasing golden colour.
It had been well seasoned and the accompanying greens, potatoes and citrus butter were flavoursome. It was eaten with great enthusiasm.
I’d opted for one of my favourite cuts of meat, shoulder of lamb, which was to be served with an olive crust, red wine reduction and garlic puree.
The dish looked easy on the eye. However, the lamb had been overcooked. Shoulder of lamb, in the right hands, oozes flavour. The fat that runs between well-worked muscles fills the tasty dark meat with savoury deliciousness when cooked slowly. Undoubtedly, the shoulder that I ate had been cooked slowly – but it had also been cooked for far too long.
The moistness that is an essential component of shoulder of lamb dishes was absent: the meat was much too dry. The olive crust did little to add to it, the chef was guilty of crimes against lamb. Serving dried shoulder is inexcusable, in truth. It is one of the fattiest cuts and it had been inexpertly cooked.
We stayed on for desserts. My friend enjoyed a rhubarb tart tatin, which was a real treat. The balance between sharp and sweet was spot on. I enjoyed a milk ice cream with a frangipane tart. The pastry was underwhelming and the ice cream lacked creamy dreaminess. It could also have been a little sweeter. We made the most of the venue’s bar, repairing to it for coffees and hot chocolate.
Albrighton Hall remains a fairly safe bet for those looking to enjoy a special occasion. It’s oak-panelled dining room is a pleasant environment in which to eat and its staff are helpful. However, on this occasion, the cooking was inconsistent and marks have been docked accordingly.
Salad of crayfish and prawns (£6)
Severn and Wye smoked salmon (£6.75)
Fresh grilled market fish (£15)
Seared Gressingham duck breast (£17.50)
Rhubarb and ginger tart tatin (£5.95)
Passion fruit cheesecake (£5.95)
Formal, but not stuffy.
Good. An experienced team make sure evening service passes without trouble.
Good. There are dedicated facilities for people with disabilities.