Andy Richardson goes for a meal at Bridgnorth's Coach House, which is under new management.
One of Bridgnorth’s longest running pubs has endured a chequered history, in recent times. The former Fox Inn, in Low Town, has seen owners and chefs come and go, with continuity seeming to be a thing of the past.
That, hopefully, has changed with the arrival of new owners, Nigel and Jane, who also run the Boat House, in summer months. The couple are popular and well-respected and will hopefully have what it takes to put The Coach House back on track.
The Coach House has plenty going for it. It has an excellent location, five minutes from the River Severn and 10 minutes from the High Street. It is within easy reach of the Severn Valley Railway and other attractions and there are plenty of other pubs and restaurants nearby.
The new owners have invested in their premises, converting the building into a six-room guest house that offers luxurious rooms and the warmest of welcomes.
The bedrooms have been extensively refurbished while retaining original oak beams. A large guest lounge with a 50-inch plasma TV and a large dining area add to the package.
The property’s restaurant has also been revamped so that customers can enjoy pub classics in comfortable surrounds. My friend and I booked a midweek table, to see whether the new restaurant would cut the mustard.
We arrived early and were welcomed by a charming maitre d’ who presented us with menus and offered us a number of tables. Drinks were brought to us and we sat down to peruse the food choices.
The Coach House is, for want of a better phrase, a steak house. It offers a selection of beef, lamb, pork and fish dishes, in addition to a few tried and tested classics. Our maitre d’ was knowledgeable, answering my friend’s questions about the provenance of their food by telling him the names of their regular suppliers.
One of their regular suppliers is Aubrey Allen, a consistently brilliant Midlands-based company that also supplies some of the region’s greatest restaurants, like the Michelin-starred Simpsons, in Birmingham. Raymond Blanc is another fan of their produce. “The steaks are excellent,” purred the maitre d’. “You ought to try one.” And so we did.
But first we tucked into our starters. I opted to start with pan-fried king prawns, which were served with a sweet chilli jam and side salad, while my friend opted for the prawn cocktail, a retro dish served with iceberg lettuce, wholemeal bread and Marie-Rose sauce. The prawn cocktail was devoured with gusto though the pan fried king prawns were a little underwhelming. They were served shell-on, a curious decision given that no extra flavour was thereby added – it just made for messier eating.
The prawns were also served on a stone cold plate; a basic error that no restaurant should make.
My friend selected the 12oz sirloin steak for his main, topping up his plate with a king prawn skewer and wild flat mushrooms that were topped with Shropshire Blue cheese and salad. The dish was served with chunky chips that had been cooked in beef dripping.
The steak was exceptional, the stand-out ingredient of the evening. It had been cooked exactly as requested, so that the outside had been well seasoned and charred while the inner remained pink and succulent.
The chips were a revelation. The beefy dripping gave them bags of flavour and I found myself stealing a few as the evening wore on.
I opted for a chargrilled corn-fed chicken fillet, which was a let-down. The chicken had been overcooked so that it was dry. It was served with apple-cured bacon, which was pleasant, and vine tomatoes, as well as a dash of peppery sauce.
But any flavour in the chicken had been obliterated by too long in the oven.
It was dense, rather than moist, and a waste of good ingredients. I’d opted for spicy masala chips, which were a little underwhelming. They were simply doused in masala seasoning – I’d thought they might have been fried in a spicy oil.
Throughout the evening, the maitre d’ was attentive and polite.
She made frequent visits to our table, asking whether we were content with our dishes and recharging our glasses: my friend enjoyed a lively Australian shiraz, which proved a good accompaniment to his steak.
We stayed on for dessert and while my friend skipped that course – the 12oz steak with all the trimmings having gotten the better of him – I opted for a sticky toffee pudding with cream. The pudding was light and airy, the sauce sweet and sticky and the cream gave it a hint of luxury. It was a perfectly palatable end to a pleasant evening.
During the evening, the Coach House gradually filled so that there were around 14 dinners by 9pm. Service was exceptional throughout; the maitre d’ was experienced and keen to ensure all of her customers were content.
The venue’s sourcing policy is clearly astute. Good products are taken into the kitchen for the chef to cook. But the Coach House also needs to improve.
Overcooking prized ingredients is poor form and there’s no excuse for not getting the basics right: the main courses for my friend and I were both served on cold plates.
It’s to be hoped the Coach House will thrive. A few tweaks here and there and more precise cooking will give the town a great steakhouse where people can enjoy steak and chips and a bottle of wine for around £40.
The Coach House, 46 Hospital Street, Bridgnorth WV15 5AR
Tel: 01746 765515