Star rating: * There was a greenfly on my knife. It lingered a while, realised it was unlikely to receive nourishment from the cheaply made Korean cutlery, then headed in the direction of the bar, writes Andy Richardson.
Star rating: * There was a greenfly on my knife. It lingered a while, realised it was unlikely to receive nourishment from the cheaply made Korean cutlery, then headed in the direction of the bar.
Soon, a bluebottle landed in the space vacated by its tiny mate. Our food had not yet arrived and we were already thinking seriously about leaving.
My wife and I went to the Lion and Pheasant, in Shrewsbury, on a Saturday evening for dinner. There were only two other tables in use. My wife surveyed the dismal menu, inspected the dreadful, crammed table and assumed this was a fiendish retribution for some domestic misdemeanour. It was not, of course.
Only once have we ever been so underwhelmed by our first impression of a Shropshire restaurant. That was at a pub, near the Wolverhampton border, an evening that remains in my memory like an ugly scar.
The Lion and Pheasant sits at the bottom of Shrewsbury's Wyle Cop. There are plenty of comfortable leather sofas and that, unfortunately, is its one redeeming feature.
The view from the window is of a car park and busy road, there is constant noise from the street and even the bristling energy and enthusiasm of the poor, overworked waiters fail to adequately compensate for their lack of experience or erudition. It was, quite simply, our worst night out in years.
We visited shortly after watching a BBC2 programme called Great British Menu. The episode had championed British cuisine, focusing on creative chefs and dedicated producers who bring high quality food and drink to market.
The staff at the Lion and Pheasant, one suspects, had not seen the same programme. Their menu, a greasy printed A4 sheet of paper - one between two - was woeful. It was a lesson in blandness and reminded us of all that is bad about British food.
There was no style, no invention and no imagination. The kitchen's job was simply to process ingredients from fridge to plate, rather than cook.
We struggled to find anything that we wanted from the menu. The mussels were my preferred choice. But, having just holidayed in France where we'd cooked fresh mussels and enjoyed vast prawns, oysters and other straight-from-the-sea treats, I couldn't bring myself to eat them.
Instead, I opted for the melon with sorbet and a fruit coulis. It tasted of nothing at all, just water. I've nothing against chefs keeping things simple and offering dishes that require no skill. Though, you have to ask, what's the point of being a chef if all you do is slice a melon into strips.
But I do object to food with no flavour. And this had none. We're in the middle of summer, in a county with scores of expert fruit growers. Our market towns groan with ripe fruit and vegetables from around Europe. But this tasted like a hot-housed sponge from the local supermarket. The sorbet melted in seconds. It was dire.
My wife opted for the soup of the day, which was tomato. She said it tasted as though it had come from a can, much to her relief. Her accompanying bread appeared to be a bake-at-home roll. The outside was cooked, the inside was stone cold.
There was little to excite on the menu for our main course. I decided against fish, unconfident that it would have pleased. Lamb chops, gammon and a peculiarly-named Mexican rump also failed to excite.
So I opted for the safest choice, a fillet steak with chips. My wife followed. The steaks were fine but the chips - which earned an extra point for being home cooked - were limp and soggy. There were no crisp edges.
The vegetables were similarly limp while the side-salad on our plate was woeful. It comprised half a tomato, a few slices of cucumber and a shredded lettuce leaf. There was no dressing. Why did they bother?
The plate came with a quartered closed-cup mushroom and a few soggy onion rings. The onion rings were the funniest part of the evening. They'd been inexpertly made so that the batter failed to adhere to the onion. What arrived on our plate were thin rounds of fried onion, with an almost imperceptible crunch from the residue batter.
I dreamed about them the following night, they were that bad.
There was no written dessert menu or blackboard featuring selections. Instead, our nervous waiter announced the choices like a worried sixth former at a school prizegiving.
I opted for a treacle pudding with custard. It tasted like it had been bought in, which, given the onion ring experience, gladdened me.
My wife opted for a strawberry gateau. It was the most hideous thing presented to us for years. It was obviously mass produced with a chemical jelly on top, a thin, dry, white sponge and fake cream.
There really is no point eating such things. There's nothing to enjoy and no nutritional value.
The bill, including a couple of drinks, came to £50. As we left, I chatted to one of the restaurant staff. In his thick Midlands brogue, he said he distinguished an accent not dissimilar to his and asked where I'd been born. My answer was greeted with an "Oh man. Now that is a rough hole."
It was a fantastic moment of inglorious vulgarity. Even the script writers of Fawlty Towers wouldn't have got away with it.
We won't be returning to the Lion and Pheasant. The decor is drab, the tables cluttered and the food abysmal.
There's no reason to eat at a venue that simply heats and serves food with unimpressive provenance. Even the worst home cooks can do that. There are plenty of venues nearby serving better food at the same price.
We probably dine out about 30 times a year. I'll eat my hat if we go anywhere else this year that's half as bad.
Lion and Pheasant, 50 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury
Tel: 01743 236288
Mussels (£5.95), Prawn cocktail in a poppadam basket (£5.50), Crabcakes with sweet chili dip (£4.20)
Baked cod with poached egg and spinach sauce (£10.95), Stuffed salmon in balsamic vinegar (£12.95)
Garlic bread with melted cheese (£3.95)
Fruits of the forest cheesecake (£3.50), Chocolate fudgecake (£3.50)
Funereal. The Lion & Pheasant is a not a venue for people who are passionate about food. It was quiet and there were many empty seats, even on a Saturday.
Clumsy and amateurish. Young waiters tried hard but were out of their depth, even at this level. Need training.
Have a portable ramp but no disabled toilet. Staff help those who seek assistance.
By Andy Richardson