Food review: House of the Rising Sun, in Butcher Row, Shrewsbury
Opening a restaurant is decidedly difficult. There are many things to get right: the food, the service, the logistics, the finance, the staff – and that’s before restaurateurs even think about developing a loyal and sustainable customer base.
Unsurprisingly, many fail. But one Shrewsbury restaurant that has blazed a trail and firmly established itself on the county’s dining scene in recent years is House of the Rising Sun, in Butcher Row. Its owner, entrepreneur Sam Taylor, deserves all credit. He’s instilled good values into the restaurant – good staff, an ever-evolving menu and an exceptional interior – which has helped him to keep his business afloat and move forward over time. The county could do with more of his type.
The venue celebrated its fourth anniversary in October and thanked customers for supporting their Asian fusion emporium.
In some ways, House of the Rising Sun is a peculiar restaurant to have succeeded in sleepy, Middle England Shrewsbury. For it gives the town a slice of City Life, rather than more-of-the-same steaks, fish and fries.
When the venue opened, it do so in a blaze of publicity and high expectation. Rather than making itself a hostage to fortune, it delivered in spades and made itself an instant favourite. Standards were maintained thereafter as the venue established a place in the county’s dining firmament. And ever since, there’s been a tinkering at the edges as its sought to refine and gradually improve, rather than make the sort of quantum leap that it did when it first launched. And that’s to be expected. For House of the Rising Sun made such an outstanding start to life that further giant strides oughtn’t to be expected.
The venue is beautifully styled. The first floor has wood floors, dark leather bench seats and plush, red crushed velvet chairs alongside dark walls and plenty of cool photographs. The venue describes its inspiration as being turn-of-the-18th-century French and British colonialism, meeting subtly with Eastern opulence and beauty.
The downstairs is equally impressive with delightful Edison lighting and hard wood fixtures. Cool, contemporary and with echoes of South East Asia, it really is a delight. The bar is tiled in sea-blue, adding balance and contrast.
Staff are generally good. A pleasant waitress met us for our pre-booked table, though promptly disappeared and took too long to deliver menus. No matter. Other than that, she was charming throughout while a waiter who made numerous visits to our table was exemplary.
The food was decent, though there were moments of imprecision. A chicken dish had been overcooked while a Ramen dish was also a little awry. More of which later.
We called ahead of lunchtime to book a table for two. It was an unhurried service with few guests present: a few couples, a mother, son and grandfather and so on.
The ambience was cool and relaxed. House of the Rising Sun offers one of the more memorable restaurant experiences in Shrewsbury, providing the type of setting that’s more commonly found in the centre of Birmingham or corners of London. It’s slick and smooth, refined and relaxed.
The venue offers a range of menus – calling them ‘waves’ – I’m not sure why. The idea is to pick’n’mix, opting for tapas style grazing where all members of the table enjoy a taste of this and a bit of that.
The flavours are from the Pacific Rim, with Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Australian and others. It makes for an enthralling menu because, let’s face it, those nations – plus Vietnam, South Korea and similar – have the most exciting food on the planet.
We started with a few snacks. She ate a light and refreshing bowl of umami-rich miso soup while I feasted on edamame beans that were served still-in-the-pod. The miso was fabulous. It’s difficult to go wrong with it, of course, but it was served pleasantly in a black bowl that was emptied by a happy and satisfied diner. My edamame beans were sticky, sweet and hot. Each had to be pressed out of the pod with tongue or teeth and, in truth, I gave up halfway through. They were good, but not that good.
Our starters were the best courses of the day. A small platter of prawn toasts with a Thai vinaigrette were presented to me on a long, slender plate. Encrusted with white and black sesame seeds, they were a delight. Crisp and golden, bursting with sweet and salty flavours and offering plenty of crunch, they were a delight. The mildly-acidulated vinaigrette was the perfect counter-balance to the oleaginous prawn toast. It was a delightful dish, showing how simplicity can be the best thing on a plate.
My partner chose mushrooms on toast, which were earthy, fragrant, creamy and rich. Cut into quarters and served in a rich garlic and tarragon cream sauce, the sautéed chestnut mushrooms were bursting with flavour. They sat atop a slice of griddled artisan bread and were a meal unto themselves. Comfort food at its finest, we wondered whether we might have over-ordered by committing ourselves to another course immediately after.
Our mains were pleasant, though a little underwhelming. My partner’s ramen featured togarashi-spiced tofu in a rich miso based broth served with a soft boiled egg, pickled ginger, spring onion, beansprouts, yakisoba noodles and nori. It was pleasant, but something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was the heavy hand with the togarashi, which too-strongly flavoured the dish with chilli and pepper, I’m not sure. Certainly, it was just wide of the mark.
My penang curry was also good-but-not-great. The sauce was very hot – and I kinda liked that – and there were plenty of vegetables with slices of carrot, beansprouts and broccoli. But the chicken – thighs, I think – was a little overcooked and left me underwhelmed.
Service had been good while we ate and our bill was pretty reasonable; House of the Rising Sun offers affordable flavours of the world rather than extorting too high a price.
In its four years, the restaurant has become an essential landmark on the county’s culinary scene. It’s generally very good and at other times – as with our lunch – still good. Sam Taylor and his team do a good job and the restaurant offers enjoyable and exciting casual dining.