Bistro 7, Ludlow - food review
Once the spot for fine dining, the mid-market restaurant trade in Ludlow is now booming. Andy Richardson visits one such establishment...
The joint was jumping. Actually, it wasn't. But that makes Bistro 7 sound lively. And lively it was. So let's stick with that, shall we.
The joint was jumping as though Fats Waller was playing piano in the corner. While restaurants across Shropshire were enduring a quiet midweek service, Bistro 7 was hitting the ball way out of the park and heading for a home run. So when I called in for a Billy-no-mates dinner-for-one and imagined there'd be a sea of tables from which I could choose, I was as wrong as a Housing Benefits tenant spending the rent on scratch cards.
"I'm sorry, we've got no tables," said the restaurant manager.
I thanked her and made to leave. There'd be a dodgy restaurant that'd take me in someplace else. I figured it was my loss, not theirs.
She tapped me on the shoulder. "Unless you'd like to take one of the stools in the corner?"
She showed me to an area where glasses were being polished and menus were being stacked. "We wouldn't want you to go hungry. Is that alright?"
They cleared a space near to the bar and pulled out a stool. Bless that woman. And have an extra mark for thinking on your feet and offering good service – as well as taking care of your bottom line. Good work, Mrs Restaurant Manager. Where there's a will there's a way – and where there's a corner stacked with glasses, there's a table waiting for a hungry restaurant critic.
Ludlow's dining scene has changed beyond recognition in recent years. While once the town's offering seemed to be divided between the highs and the lows – a flotilla of Michelin-starred fabulousness and a battalion of budget basement eateries – these days it's all about mid-priced independents.
There's still a good selection of places in which to enjoy the best of fine dining: Mortimers, in Corve Street, is a supremely exciting restaurant under the tutelage of Chef Wayne Smith; Old Downton Lodge, at Downton, is presently the best restaurant in Shropshire thanks to the exceptional team of Chef Karl Martin and owner Willem Volk; while Chef Andrew Birch has consolidated on his early promise at Fishmore Hall, just outside town. And while it's in a different price bracket, lest we forget the superlative Michelin Bib Gourmand-holding Green Café, at Dinham Green, and the breathtaking food of Carl Davis.
But those restaurants aside, Ludlow has become a place where there are plenty of mid-price options for people who want decent food but don't want to shell out a fortune. And Bistro 7 is pretty much the best of the bunch.
It's housed in Ludlow's former Post Office, on Corve Street, and is all big windows, high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Owners James and Beverley Croft-Moss – I'm pretty sure it was Mrs Croft-Moss who found room for me at the inn, as though I were Joseph and Mary on Christmas Eve – have been around the block.
They gave their venue the name Bistro 7 because they are situated at Number 7 and their restaurant is their seventh catering business. They have both been in the catering industry since the age of 17, working in hotels, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, private catering and corporate hospitality. There's no substitute for experience, and James and Beverley have it in spades. Their teamwork makes eating out at Bistro 7 an unexpected pleasure.
Dinner was delicious. Three courses, all delivered in good time by a kitchen that was more efficient than a German car plant. I started with a flavoursome, cheesy ravioli dish with a deliciously light, creamy sauce. It was fabulous. The pasta was silky and had been cooked to some sort of al dente perfection: there was a little bite, but not too much. The sauce was seasoned exquisitely and the portion size was spot on. It was delivered to the table by a smiling young waitress who was following Mrs Croft-Moss's lead and delivering good service as well as pleasing food.
My main followed in quick time. A confit duck leg was beautifully cooked so that it was tender and moreish. The fat had been slowly rendered from the bird, leaving the meat savoury and delicious. The skin was a little crisp. Three slices of fillet sat atop a well-cooked mash while greens were lightly cooked and still had plenty of texture. The sauce was sweet and fruity, making for a mighty fine plate of food. I couldn't manage the side of veg, pleasing on the eye though it was.
The wait for desserts was similarly short. A quartet of profiteroles with orange, chocolate and white chocolate sauces arrived in good time. They were decadent and rich, mixing sharp, sweet fruit with slightly bitter, rich chocolate. Little pieces of strawberry and raspberry and swishes of a crème Anglais completed the dish, offering body, colour and a hint of creamy luxury.
The speed of delivery was thoroughly impressive. It suggested a kitchen that had spent hours prepping, so that guests didn't have to wait around while the chef rummaged through a cupboard to make something he should have done earlier. The front of house manager's experience was matched by the professionalism of the kitchen, which offered accurately cooked food that was well-seasoned, beautifully presented and delivered to the table in quick time. Frankly, they could have done no more.
It's been a while since I've visited Ludlow's former Post Office and I'm pretty sure it was in different hands back then. Under its new guise and in the same hands of the talented and skilled Croft-Moss family, it's come on in leaps and bounds.
It's an exceptional mid-market restaurant that offers delightful homemade food from locally-sourced ingredients. It runs like clockwork, the front of house team are warm and engaging and the chef knows his onions better than Onion McOnion, the famous Onion Farmer from Onion Town, in Onionsville, Onionshire.
Oh, and before we forget. The breads were excellent. A focaccia was light and sublime, a white bread beautifully aerated with a delightfully good crust.
The restaurant, its owners and the team deserve an unequivocal recommendation. It didn't miss a beat. Smile, cook, serve is Bistro 7's motto. It's a good 'un. And they more than live up to it.
By Andy Richardson
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