Food review: The Pound Inn, Leebotwood
In recent years, The Pound Inn, at Leebotwood, has been one of the county’s more interesting restaurants. It’s been home to two exceptional head chefs and one impressive sous chef who’ve put it among the region’s top 10.
Superlative dishes under two separate owners have earned it a reputation for high standards and consistency. It’s been a place in which people celebrating special occasions have been able to book with great confidence.
The former owners who’d worked so hard to win accolades for their exceptional food had to shut up shop. A combination of factors – let’s call them bad luck; but poor health and a decision to close a road nearby that led to a colossal lack of takings meant the numbers stopped adding up and it was time to move on.
And so The Pound Inn has been reinvented in a different guise. Instead of competing with 2AA rosette restaurants, it’s now a simpler, more humble and more traditional pub. So instead of gourmet nights there are free gigs by The Ronaldos and quiz nights. Instead of occasional tasting menus and guest chefs, there are evenings that celebrate pies and pints or provide steaks with bottles of red wine. The Pound in 2019 is a very different restaurant to the one that went before.
And, in truth, it’s more likely to last the course. At a time when pubs are closing at a rapid rate, it’s gone back to basics by looking to appeal to locals first and foremost. It’s no longer a destination venue that people might wish to travel great distances to. These days, it’s all about whether you’d like chips or sweet potato fries, rather than fondant or dauphinoise.
But while it’s more likely to stay in the game than the previous incarnation, it’s hard to make a case for that making it ‘better’. As pleasant as my burger and chips was on a quiet Wednesday evening, it didn’t offer the same memorable dining experience as the food of former chefs John Williams or Neil and Sarah McCann with their youthful sous chef Harry Bullock.
The parfaits and baby beets have gone. The frangipanes are no more. And while that makes good business sense, it’s unfortunate that we’re in an era where good chefs doing all of the right things and using the best of local, seasonal produce can’t make a living.
That’s not to say The Pound Inn of 2019 is under par – far from it. As pubs go, it’s more than decent. While others around the county get away with poor service and low quality food, The Pound makes an effort to maintain good standards. And so my midweek supper, while not memorable, was decent enough and represented good value for money.
A gaggle of drinkers were at the bar when I arrived, supping pints of local ales, discussing the day’s football and work, eating nuts and engaging in light-hearted banter with two hard-working bar staff.
The same staff were waiting on the small number of restaurant guests – I counted five, myself included – who were enjoying the soup of the day, plates of sea bass and similar dishes.
The Pound Inn’s food offering is reasonably simple. There’s smoked salmon and prawn cocktail, chicken pate, creamy garlic mushrooms and olives or bread to start. Mains include fish and chips, burgers, steaks, curries and Shropshire ham with egg and chips. There’s also a daily specials board and I started my dinner with a dish from that; tempura chicken with an Asian salad. The batter was crisp and light, showing decent skills on the part of the chef, and the salad was an interesting slaw featuring a little chilli, grain mustard and thinly sliced vegetables. While it’s hard to get too excited about fried chicken in a basket, the chef elevated the dish and displayed decent skills.
My main was similarly proficient. An 8oz burger on a sourdough bun with mature cheddar, caramelised onion chutney and smoked bacon was served with rocket, a colossal, big-as-Saturn’s-rings onion ring and golden fries.
There was too much onion chutney. The smoked bacon and mature cheddar were overpowered by that, robust as they were in flavour. And The Pound Inn isn’t the sort of place where burgers are served pink and juicy – they’re cooked right through, brown to the centre, though the flavours remain decent. The bun was pleasant and the chips were exceptional; crunchy and a little over-fried. Delicious. The rocket wilted more quickly than ice cream in sunshine. Stuffing a burger with a leaf that can’t withstand heat is never a good idea. The onion ring was delightful and made the sound of car wheels on gravel as its impressive batter cracked under the knife.
I skipped dessert: who really needs a plate of sugar and fat after eating so much protein and fried food? Service was decent throughout. A female restaurant manager was swift around the tables and reasonably engaged while a less-experienced colleague did his best to please and was helpful throughout. It was at a basic level, there were no table visits to check that things were okay while food was being consumed – though there was a perfunctory ‘was everything okay’ to go with the smiles. In fairness, both were too busy at the bar to worry too much about the restaurant customers; they had, quite literally, got their plates full.
The fat lady was singing – and so was the fat restaurant reviewer – and it was time to pay a perfectly reasonable bill.
The Pound Inn has reinvented itself. Going back to the Old Skool is the way to make a buck and stay relevant in today’s era of intense competition and low margins and it’s doing a pretty good job. There are fewer risks associated with gigs, burgers and quiz nights alongside a pint of decent ale than there are with serving passion fruit parfaits. And the team running it are making a decent fist of things – long may it last.