Reviewer's rating: *** Andy Richardson finds much to commend this venue but also some clear issues to address.
Reviewer's rating: *** A recommendation from a local encouraged me to book lunch for two at The Talbot Inn, in Ruyton XI Towns, writes Andy Richardson. "You'll have to come," said the man, espousing its virtues. "It's been completely renovated and it's a great spot for a bite to eat."
My expectations were raised and, dutifully, I repaired to the picturesque village, north of Shrewsbury, to see whether the venue lived up to its billing. There are few pubs as pretty or as well set as The Talbot Inn. Set back against one of the village's main thoroughfares, Church Street, it was comfortable and reasonably chic inside.
We ate there on a Thursday and a small room set aside for diners was full; a good sign. The youthful, flame-haired barman was polite as he took our drinks order and within moments the assured and confident maitre d had shown us to our table.
Traditional pub fayre cooked, sourced from local producers and served at a reasonable price and in ample portions seems to be The Talbot's unique selling point. The menu comprised pub classics like battered cod and chips, steaks and other traditional English dishes. It lacked originality or flair, but was competitively priced.
We decided to skip the starters, conscious that we'd be unlikely to find intestinal room for The Talbot's gargantuan portions, and instead elected to eat a main course and a dessert.
My dining companion opted for bangers and mash with gravy while I went for the house special, a spaghetti dish with prawn and chorizo.
"I'm not sure about this," said my partner, as we waited for the chef to weave his magic. "I'm very particular about my mash. If it's got lumps, I'm done."
The mash, thankfully, was perfectly smooth, though it lacked a little butter and didn't have the luxury texture it might have had. The bangers were vast and perfectly cooked, so much so that I considered nicking the third, uneaten one that was left over as my partner failed to finish her over-sized portion.
"I could put it in my pocket, and eat it cold, at 6pm," I mused. My companion looked askance, indicating that should an action would be as weird as putting a cat in a wheelie bin. Then a smile formed. "But, you know, we all have moments like that, don't we; when we think ' . . . shall I just do this?'" We laughed, the devil hopped off my right shoulder and the uneaten sausage was returned to the kitchen.
My main course of prawn and chorizo spaghetti was unmemorable. The spaghetti, bizarrely, seemed either to have been broken or chopped in half. Each wriggly little strand was about half the length it might have been, which made it a devil to eat. The tomato-based sauce lacked seasoning or depth, though the prawns and chorizo were pleasant.
My partner opted for a chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream to finish. The creamy, smooth and unctuous pistachio ice cream was the star item. Delicately-flavoured, wonderfully-coloured and delightfully tasty, it was head and shoulders above all else. The chocolate tart was also pretty good.
My rhubarb and raspberry parfait was underwhelming. It had been insufficiently blended, so that when it was frozen small strands of rhubarb had separated and settled in the bottom of the mould, where they had frozen. The homemade biscuits were a treat, but otherwise it failed to impress.
Without doubt the finest element of our experience was the service. The attentive, polished, charming and deferential waiter returned often, but not too often, to enquire whether our food was enjoyable. His service was restaurant-standard and made our visit all the more enjoyable.
There's much to commend about The Talbot; its prices, the quality of its ingredients, its service and the extraordinarily good value for money. By the same token, however, there are areas where it needs to improve. The portions are too big: the kitchen is wasting money sending out over-sized platters that are unmanageable.
The cooking requires more attention to detail, better seasoning and methods that allow the flavours to stand out. It has the potential to go on to become a four out of five venue. However, for now, there's work to be done and it's only slightly better than average.
The Talbot Inn, Church Street, Ruyton XI Towns SY4 1LA
Phone: 01939 262 882
Duck spring rolls with plum and pineapple sauce (£4.95); Chicken liver pate with freshly-baked walnut bread and homemade chutney (£4.95)
8oz sirloin steak with hand-cut chips and choice of sauce (£14.95); Shropshire sausages with mash and red onion gravy (£8.95)
Apple crumble with homemade custard (£4.50); Raspberry and rhubarb parfait with fruit coulis and shortbread biscuits (£4.50)
Very convivial. It has a wonderful 'country inn' ambience.
Exceptional. Above and beyond what might be expected. Faultless.
There are accessible toilets and staff help customers to navigate very small steps.