Let’s talk about staff. They’re the people who make or break a business and they are increasingly difficult to find.
Since Brexit, there’s been an exodus of workers so that acclaimed restaurants have had to reduce the number of hours they work, limiting services at times that would otherwise have been both busy and profitable.
They are not alone. While the Michelin boys of Birmingham are unable to fire on all cylinders – the food and service are still great, but there are fewer opportunities to enjoy it – closer to home, the picture is the same.
There are restaurants here in Shropshire that are limiting the number of services they provide. An industry that relied on highly skilled and highly motivated young European workers is instead relying on homegrown talent – and there’s not always enough to go round.
So pubs and restaurants in the region are having to cut their cloth to suit – a recent call to a renowned pub-restaurant to book a table was met with an apologetic response that they were only able to cook for people before 7.30pm due to staff shortages.
A visit to The Church Inn, at Ludlow, therefore, helped to restore some faith – both in restaurateur’s abilities to navigate their way through the current crisis and also in the willingness of youngsters to grasp the opportunities that are in plentiful supply. A pleasant, midweek dinner for one was characterised by exceptional service and high quality food that shows some are rising above the fray and showing others how to carry on.
The Church Inn has been an exemplary example of a great Shropshire pub for some time. It’s run by the brilliant restaurateur Cedric Bosi and part-owned by his brother, Claude, who continues to hold two Michelin stars in London, at Bibendum.
Cedric used to work at the pub when he first arrived in the UK from France. He’d complete shifts without taking a wage so that he could improve his English as he started to fit in with the Ludlovian way of life.
What an inspiration that some years later he took on ownership of a venue at which he’d started by working for free.
He runs it brilliantly, of course, fitting in with the locals by providing great ales, a comfortable dining environment and the sort of exceptional menu for which the Bosi family is renowned.
On a chilly midweek evening when the winds were howling and rain was lashing down, The Church Inn provided respite.
Warm and comfortable, beautifully styled, its tables were still full as the streets outside were empty.
Inviting and welcoming, on a cold winter’s evening the venue was filled with friends talking and discussing football over a pint or three, visitors enjoying a winter holiday in Shropshire, couples enjoying fabulous food and those sensible enough to de-stress by playing Scrabble, cards and other board games. Bliss. If only life could be so relaxed and happy more often.
Service was great. When I called to make a late reservation, the young lady who took the call was polite and efficient.
Details were duly noted, she asked whether there were any food allergies and said they’d look forward to welcoming me soon after, which they did.
Upon arrival, I was shown to a reserved table, menus were proffered, drinks were ferried to the table and it all happened in the blink of an eye.
There was no awkward wait, no tapping of fingers on the table in frustration.
Organised, welcoming, polite and efficient – top marks all round.
The menu was terrific. The Church Inn stays in its lane, offering a great menu of pub classics and never getting above its station. It does, however, follow the golden rule of hospitality: if you’re going to do something, be the best at it that you can be.
So while it offers fish and chips, burgers, steak and more, it does so with aplomb.
I started with a simple platter of crispy fried squid with a coconut and chilli dressing. The batter was simultaneously light and crisp, breaking off in golden shards.
The squid had been gently cooked, so that it remained tender.
The dressing, meanwhile, was gorgeous, so much so that I rubbed the squid pieces through it with such vigour I thought I might drill through the plate. Yum.
My main was a ridiculously indulgent cheese and bacon burger with fries. The fries were golden, crispy and had plenty of rough edges that crunched when I ate them.
The burger was a work of beauty. Were our old friend Elvis alive and on his comeback tour, with a poorly-attended show at the town’s Assembly Rooms drawing a crowd of 157, I’d like to think he’d have settled into the Church for supper.
A soft, buttery, slightly sweet brioche bun concealed a thickly cut slice of real, butcher’s bacon – not the rubbish stuff people buy from supermarkets that leaves white residue in the pan.
The bacon had been cooked well, so that the fat had turned golden and crisp.
Above it was a thick slice of cheese, which had melted so that it oozed from the side of the brioche.
And then there was a thick, meaty burger that had been cooked so that it remained a little pink and had plenty of flavoursome, beefy fat.
If you’re going to die, die happy – as the King of Rock’n’Roll probably thought while munching on his seventh bacon cheeseburger.
Pickled gherkins cut through the richness while slices of sweet tomato and crunchy lettuce finished it off.
There was no room for dessert – though other customers made approving noises as they tucked into theirs.
The Church is leading from the front as hospitality struggles to get to grips with the many challenges it faces.
Young staff who are keen to work, who are personable and professional, a knock-‘em-dead menu of classics and a brilliant and experienced leader who sets the example – what’s not to like?
The Church Inn,
King Street, Ludlow,