Shropshire Star

Food Review: Pub classics and Gallic flair at The Church Inn, Ludlow

There’s an advert doing the rounds on social media. It was filmed for Charlie’s Bar, in Northern Ireland, and cost £700 to make – though the money that Charlie’s Bar will recoup will far outweigh that, with the advert going viral and being featured in most national newspapers and on endless TV stations.

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A bacon cheeseburger

Charlie’s Bar is the oldest family-run bar in Enniskillen, and its festive video has been likened to a John Lewis ad, while clocking up a cool one million views on Instagram.

It follows an elderly man who is spending Christmas alone. Filmed on an iPhone by staff members, the video begins with a man laying a bunch of flowers down on a grave.

He then walks into his local town but gets ignored by those who pass him. The man then heads into Charlie’s Bar, passing a couple with a dog on his way in. As he takes his seat, the friendly dog comes to sit with him. The couple soon join him and they share a drink together, laughing and talking.

The ad ends with a quote from the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats: ‘There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met.’

And it’s a little like that at The Church Inn, in Ludlow, where the atmosphere is warm and where regulars and first-timers are welcomed as though they were part of a big, extended family.

The Church Inn offers a warm welcome

That sense of friendliness comes from the owner down and is transmitted through well-trained staff who welcome customers with a smile and who are keen to provide warmth and hospitality.

So on the evening that I called in for an unbooked supper, there were elderly couples enjoying a dinner for two, farmers talking about the state of the nation’s agricultural industry, lifelong Ludlovians discussing the state of Britain’s criminal justice system, and assorted newcomers who were just passing through and had stopped off at a welcoming venue.

The good leadership comes from the restaurateur Cedric Bosi, who acquired the pub some years ago with his brother, Claude, the Michelin-starred chef, who is based in London but formerly earned two stars at Hibiscus, in Ludlow.

When Cedric took the reins, he did so having skin in the game. He’d formerly worked at The Church as a bartender, having moved from France to improve his English.

Working without pay on many occasions, he wanted to get a taste of British hospitality and used The Church to learn the ropes, while working at his brother’s restaurant at lunchtimes and during the evening. There were no plans at that stage to become the boss, but he quickly rose from unpaid intern to proprietor.

He did so because of an innate skill for hospitality. Just as his other Ludlow pub/restaurant, The Charlton Arms, is an exemplar for hospitality across the county, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and being habitually full, so The Church is a terrific local pub.

It sells great ale from microbreweries, has an exciting range of drinks, not least the local gins, and provides a menu that encompasses such pub classics as fish and chips, steak and chips, and a decent burger, but adding a hint of French flair.

On midweek days, booking isn’t necessary and I was shown to a table after walking in unbooked.

A couple beside me had just enjoyed an early evening supper and were purring about the standard of food and I just joined their chorus after starting with a dish of garlic snails.

Snails are an underrated delicacy and the ones on offer were delicious. I always think of them as being like mushroomy shellfish – with all of the earthy, umami notes that you’d get from the forest floor, rather than the sweet/salty taste that shellfish offers.

They’d been drenched in garlic and parsley butter and had been cooked gently, so they were still soft, gentle, and easy to eat.

Snails to start offered an earthy flavour

The six snails came with a nicely dressed side salad, which offered a welcome hit of acidity, while a dense, hot baguette provided a vehicle to mop up the copious amount of hot garlic and herb butter.

And so from humble beginnings, the chef fashioned a good quality starter that delivered on flavour and packed a real punch.

After a short pause, I moved onto the house burger, with a side of deliciously crisp fries. The burger was substantial, though might have been cooked a little less, to remain just pink, rather than cooked through.

It was served with Swiss cheese, an odd choice that didn’t quite work. The stronger flavour and higher melting point made it a less-inviting proposition than the traditional, meltingly gooey variants that most use.

The smart and unfussy interior layout

The bacon was magnificent. Good ingredients cooked with skill is what makes a great dinner and rashers of streaky had been cooked so that the fat went crisp and developed a golden brown hue.

The burger was colossal, showcasing good quality beef and coming with a so-so brioche bun. There were the usual slices of tomato and lettuce to finish, though it felt not-quite there, somehow, and lacked a little sauce and acidulation.

The fries, I should add, were delicious. Cooked with roughed-up edges until golden and crisp, they were on-point.

As, indeed, was the service. A helpful waitress was quick in taking orders and delivering food while a colleague made a trip to my table to ensure everything was fine and that the food had been enjoyable.

I’d intended to enjoy dessert, though having eaten so much buttery baguette alongside the snails, followed by the heft of a substantial burger, it was time to pay the bill and make my excuses.

It had been a pleasant and welcoming interlude, one in which I’d been made to feel welcome, just like the old fella in the advert for Charlie’s bar.

Owner Cedric Bosi deserves substantial credit for making The Church such a welcoming and hospitable place.

It’s well furnished, well run, eminently friendly – and the food’s not bad too.