Food review: The Riverside at Aymestrey
The Riverside experience begins the moment you pull up onto the car park at one of the region’s finest pub/restaurants.
The River Lugg babbles merrily beside the property, transporting customers to another place and helping to induce a mood of calm and relaxation. It is situated deep in the heart of countryside just on the southern edge of the Mortimer Forest, still close to Ludlow and Hereford.
The adjacent property has a similar effect.
The Riverside is an authentic and atmospheric 16th century black and white building surrounded by natural beauty.
It’s run by Andy Link, a chef-patron who took over in 2016. He’s done a magnificent job in setting and maintaining high standards. Consistency is king for discerning restaurants and that’s something that Link has achieved. Whether it’s a relaxed lunch, blow-out dinner or convivial Sunday lunch, visitors can look forward to big flavours, reliable standards and value for money.
Little wonder Link has started to attract awards. Last year, The Riverside at Aymestrey was named winner of Visit England’s ‘Best Tourism Pub 2018’. Link took over after spending 10 years behind the pass. His passion for his kitchen garden, sourcing local produce and menu innovation remains at the heart of his work.
It’s more than just a pub-restaurant, of course. The Riverside has accommodated guests since 1600 – at that time it was mainly sheep drovers who were stopping at the River ford (there wasn’t a bridge in 1600). Other awards have been conferred for that offering.
It’s the two AA rosette food, however, that attracts most guests. Link makes sure that everything is made and cooked freshly on site; from garden honey, oat and yogurt soda bread to lemon verbena ice cream.
Sustainability and ethical sourcing is important and the venue scores well regarding food miles for British produce and Fair Trade sources for imports. The kitchen garden is an important ingredient in the creation of Link’s menus and the chef-patron and his team prepare the ground, sow and reap the seasonal vegetables and fruits.
I’ve eaten Link’s a la carte menu previously, on that occasion with Michelin star-owning friends. Both were impressed by his standards – and who are we to argue against those who’ve achieved the culinary world’s highest honour.
This time, we were set for a Sunday lunch to see whether Link’s as good with a deliciously pink piece of rarebreed Shropshire Long Horn beef as he is with a duo of pork aside walnut and cider sauce.
The answer, happily, was a resounding yes. From the moment we entered until the second we left, we were treated to good service and impeccable food. Garnishes were flavoursome and inventive, protein was expertly cooked and delightfully seasoned, sauces were rich and expertly cooked. There was nothing we didn’t enjoy.
We started with Link’s exceptional soda bread, which was light and appetising and made for a delightful start. My partner ate a smoked haddock arancini to start while I made short work of a flat mushroom with goat’s cheese and a pea shoot salad. The arancini was elegantly plated though the rice had gone a little too long, so it was soft and mushy rather than al dente. The minor disappointment regarding texture, however, was balanced by wonderful flavours that made the dish an exciting way to start. My mushroom with goat’s cheese was earthy and packed a flavoursome punch. The light pea shoot salad added balance and colour to the plate.
Our mains were all first class. I ate roast chicken, my partner roast beef and our friend roast pork with crackling and apple sauce. We all enjoyed meat that had been sensibly cooked; so the chicken was moist, tender and yielded to the knife; the beef was deliciously pink, soft and luxurious and the pork was just-cooked and as tender as the chicken.
The garnishes were pretty good too. A bowl of shredded pickled cabbage seemed to be a favourite, crushed root vegetables were a flavour of winter, winter greens added green and iron-y flavour while our friend’s apple sauce looked so delicious that we all wanted to tuck in. The roast potatoes were the only addition that didn’t really pass muster. Small and insufficiently crispy, they didn’t quite cut the mustard.
We stayed for dessert. I ate an apple crumble with malted milk ice cream, rather than the advertised crème anglais. The crumble was decent, if not a little too hard and insufficiently short. The apple was tart and the ice cream delicious.
My friend had a similar dish but with the crème anglais, which she pronounced excellently, while my partner ate a chocolate mousse with passion fruit jelly. Diminutive in stature, it was well constructed, offered complimentary flavours and brought down the curtain on a wonderful afternoon’s dining.
Service had been good throughout. A youthful but eager-to-please team had been quick around the dining room, ferrying plates from a full room and making sure drinks were topped up and customers were happy.
And while there were a few elements that might have been even more refined – the arancini, crumble and roasties – we’d all been enthralled by Link’s delightful cooking and hospitable venue.
Oh, and before we forget, the prices were excellent. Sunday lunch comes in at £18.50 for two courses or £22.50 for three, which is frankly absurd. Eating food that’s as reliable, tasty and honest at such low prices makes The Riverside a steal for all discerning diners.
Okay, so it’s just over the county border into Hereford and requires a little drive. But the countryside nearby is utterly spectacular and Link’s food is worth the extra effort. Finding decent pub-restaurants is largely a mug’s game; many offer much then flatter to deceive. Link’s Riverside, however, scores full marks for value, cooking, sourcing and service. It’s a rare example of high standards and offers guests a place in which they can relax and unwind while enjoying genuinely pleasant food.