Andy Richardson enjoys food artistry and ambience at a real rising star’s restaurant.
There are many things to be thankful for as a food critic in Shropshire. But the greatest joys are probably not the ones you’d expect.
It’s a treat, of course, to be able to dine out once a week; sampling some of the best food in the UK. And it’s humbling to work for a well-respected independent newspaper group that dispatches reviewers anonymously to restaurants; thereby ensuring credible reports front line.
But in this writer’s opinion, the greatest joy of all is watching the progression of the people who create delicious food and drink in Shropshire’s restaurants.
Rooting out the bad is a necessary evil, praising the good is reason for celebration. But the best part of our work is seeing hard-working, creative people blossom over a period of years.
One local chef who has undergone a transformation is Marcus Bean, who runs the New Inn, at Baschurch, with his wife, Jenny, and a small-but-talented group of staff. He is a chef whose star is in the ascendancy, not just at a local level – but nationally.
If you’re looking for easy reference points, consider this: Marcus is Shropshire’s Jamie Oliver. He’s personable and warm; unfussy and cool. His food is about great flavours on a plate, presented with a flourish.
He’s not aiming to join the ranks of Michelin-starred cooks, though his food is among the best in the county. And, like Jamie, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and other celebrity cooks, he’s passionate about provenance.
My first dinner at the New Inn was several years ago. Marcus and Jenny were establishing themselves as well-respected village pub landlords, with a winning line in gastro classics.
I remember our dinner now and it was pretty good, though indistinct from other venues. My second visit was an improvement, the menu had become more skilled and the service had gone up a notch.
I was joined by a friend for my third visit, during a pretty busy midweek service, and we were both dazzled. Great value, winning flavour combinations, artistic flourishes, wonderful service and delightful ingredients made for a pleasurable evening. Oh, yes, and it didn’t break the bank.
Marcus and Jenny have developed their business; improving all the time. They’ve not been content to rest on their laurels: each year, they’ve worked hard to take small steps in the right direction.
When my friend and I visited, we were greeted warmly by the head waitress whose experience belied her tender age. She showed us to a table in the light, airy dining room and we decided to order a mixed platter of nibbles while we pursued the menu.
We received an assortment of breads, all of which had been made freshly that afternoon, and root vegetable crisps.
The platter was a smorgasbord of delights, comprising home-pickled shallots, chorizo, a wonderfully smokey ham and chicken terrine, a small spiced apple chutney, slithers of Shropshire cheese, flavoured butters and delicious Scotch eggs that were crisp on the outside, moist within their bronzed shell and featured wonderfully gooey, golden egg yolks.
My friend opted for a vegetable soup to start: it had a wonderful thick texture, was expertly seasoned and tremendously filling.
“I’d happily get the bill now,” he said. “The platter and soup were a meal in themselves.”
I opted for seared scallops and crispy pork belly, served on a smokey cauliflower puree with micro leaves. It was exceptional.
The scallops had been cooked with real skill, the fat had been rendered out so that the meat was moist and tender. It was a real treat.
My friend choose sea bass for his main, which was served on a bed of vegetables and had been cooked so that the flakes fell away with ease.
My oven-roast partridge was served on a herby potato cake with a red wine and bacon jus. The partridge was packed with savoury winter flavours and was a highlight.
We waited a while before dessert, enjoying the relaxed ambience in the bar.
There was a delightful assortment of desserts but both of us opted for a mini chocolate fondant with blood orange marshmallow, homemade honeycomb and a chocolate mousse.
It ate like a deconstructed Crunchie bar, with the fondant offering luxurious silky indulgence and the blood orange providing an acid hit that cut through the rich chocolate.
Marcus and Jenny Bean are enjoying a rise: and it’s richly deserved. They are hard-working, diligent, tenacious restaurateurs who are personable and have great skills.
Their staff are well-drilled and provide a great experience for diners. With Marcus increasingly busy on TV and at his cookery school, it’s worth booking while you can – The New Inn is a treat not to miss.