Food Review: Dive into lunch at county gem Csons At The Green Cafe
The guys who run The Mill on the Green would probably be embarrassed at the idea that other chefs and restaurateurs ought to book a table there to see how things are done. They almost certainly wouldn’t baulk, however, at the notion that customers unfamiliar with it should also book a table to get a sense of how good things can be. Both propositions are true.
While venues muddle over securing good ingredients, offering menus that tick all the boxes and finding staff who offer service with a smile, Csons at The Green Café nail it. The menu offers a vibrant and tasty selection of dishes that draw from all corners of the globe and elevate simple dishes by using bold, seasonal ingredients. More of which later.
But first the history – or, if you’re just interested in the food, skip now to the end.
The Green Café grew out of a project by Ludlovians to create a way to celebrate the Millennium. Funding was secured to create a picturesque green beside one of Ludlow’s tumbling weirs, where people could play ball, splash in the shallows, eat picnics or hang out. A team of community-spirited types brought the project to fruition and in doing so revived a building that had fallen on hard times.
The Green Café was initially used to serve ice creams and coffees and then flourished under a foodie/chef called Clive Davis.
Davis was at the helm when the premises opened as a restaurant/bistro in 2009 and it was he who put the Green Cafe on the map with his take on modern British café-style food.
He won accolades for his work, including a rating from Michelin, before deciding to move onto pastures new.
Davis was, however, a man who earned his place in Ludlow’s foodie folklore, just as such characters as Claude and Claire Bosi, Chris and Judy Underhill, Shaun and Anja Hill and Will Holland had done before him.
He might not have reached quite the same lofty heights, but when it came to café-style food, he had it down to a tee.
Just as Rose Gray created an icon with her River Café in London, so Clive Davis created a more modest interpretation on the banks of the River Teme, in south Shropshire.
When he left, it felt like a natural handover that The Green Café be taken on by Csons, four brothers with the surname Crouch who were inspired by locally sourced food.
Head chef Josh Crouch had previously worked alongside Clive at The Green Cafe, but left in 2015 after five years to set up the still-fabulous Csons Shrewsbury, in Milk Street.
The thing is, just as the brothers Crouch created an exceptional restaurant in Shropshire’s county town, so they’ve built on the redoubtable work of Clive Davis in Ludlow.
We should start with the location. Since the closure of the neighbouring, former Mr Underhill’s, in Ludlow, there’s probably not a better-located restaurant in the county.
The Green Café sits riverside in an idyllic spot and a terrace outside the dining room that provide a magnificent view of Dinham Weir. Inside, the café is light and airy.
Staff are wonderfully friendly. There seems to be a certain type attracted to working at Csons’ three Shropshire venues – or perhaps they all just get great training? – and that type is warm, friendly, polite and engaged. Booking is easy with a fool-proof online system that ensures efficiency and accuracy at the click of a mouse.
The menu is a work of art. Most dishes come scaled-up or scaled-down, to be eaten either as a starter or a main, depending on your preference.
And so, when I called in for a Saturday lunch, I started with a delicious plate of West Midlands organic mushrooms, opting for the smaller plate rather than the all-singing, all-dancing version. Having happily eaten my way through it, I was pretty well replete.
The mushrooms were served with bulgogi, chilli, kale, sesame and cashew and combined great tastes and textures in an incredibly inspiring dish. The bulgogi gave the dish flavours of Asia, with plenty of sweet and spicy notes, while the chilli was delicate, the kale crisp and the cashew added an element of luxe.
The dish was magnificently seasoned and combined creaminess with earthy mushrooms in a blitzkrieg of flavour. It genuinely doesn’t get much better.
My main was The Csons Burger, an aged Longhorn beef patty cooked medium-rare, so it was still decadently pink in the middle.
A slice of Moyden’s 1665 cheese sat on top, gently melting down the sides, while pickled courgette added a touch of mild acid and chipotle mayo offered creamy indulgence and a little heat.
A quality brioche bun encased the feast, which made for great eating.
The burger was served with a side order of buttery, roasted new potatoes and a brilliantly dressed salad of seasonal leaves.
Csons have a great sourcing policy and some of the region’s finest producers were showcased in exceptional food.
I left a little of the main to keep room for dessert, which was a bowl of Wye Valley strawberries with Hollowdene egg meringue and elderflower cream. It was a game, set and match dish. The strawberries were plump, as red as a summer rose and surrounded by fragments of sugary, light meringue. The elderflower cream was exquisite; the perfect companion to the sweet, seasonal fruit.
There’s a real art to doing the basics well – and The Green Café manages that and then some. It’s beautifully located and staffed by a friendly, helpful bunch.
The food is clever – offering flavours from around the world with not an inch of pretence or showiness.
The ingredients are as good as you’ll find in any restaurant and the cooking is perfectly on point. So, whether you're a customer or someone in the trade who wants to see how it should be done, it’s hard to think of a better café in the county.