Food review: The Baiting House, near Tenbury Wells
Food writer Andy Richardson enjoys a fabulous meal at a restaurant with the ‘Aston Martin’ of kitchens, in an area renowned for great produce.
The mail bag is overflowing. There are readers who think we’re being too harsh on restaurants and readers who think we’re being too kind. Like a Sky News political reporter accused by the left of being too right wing and accused by the right of being too much of a leftie, views span the widest spectrum.
It’s easy to understand why some feel we ought to root out mediocrity like a pig hunting truffles; after all, our recommendations affect the money that people spend in restaurants during the most uncertain of times.
And while those who think we should be soft in the extreme have their hearts in the right place, they may find that we frequently are.
It’s hard to find a review where we’ve been anything less than positive in recent years; much less one where the score dips below 5 or 6 out of 10.
Like the student who gets a pass for simply writing his name on the test paper, we habitually focus on the good stuff, though don’t overlook the bad.
There’s a simple answer, of course, to the question of why we don’t award 10 out of 10 to restaurants that, for instance, don’t make guests feel they take Covid seriously or can’t organise a menu without missing out on half of their regular dishes. It’s this: The Baiting House.
Based near Tenbury Wells, it’s one of the region’s finest pub-restaurants.
And were we to award also-rans marks of 8, 9 or 10, we’d probably have to award The Baiting House 15, 16 or 17. When you’re scoring restaurants out of 10, that would be challenging.
Like Liam Dillon’s brilliant Boat Inn, at Lichfield, it offers exceptionalism as standard throughout the day – though, in truth, it doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights. Service, however, is slick.
A well-drilled front of house team are professional and skilled.
There’s no learning on the job, no forgetting to put out knives and forks, no making people feel unsafe by forgetting we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
The chef runs a kitchen that’s the gastronomic equivalent of an Aston Martin. Powerfully-built and able to cruise through the gears with ease, it allows guests to purr with approval.
Not that The Baiting House scores our top mark. It’s awarded a nine, rather than a ten; the result of a too-clever pastry on the final course that was the equivalent of a horse falling at the final hurdle of the Grand National while 50 metres ahead of the pack. More of which later.
The Baiting House is a rural idyll. It’s a short-ish drive from the Shropshire border, located in undulating countryside that might reasonably be described as beautiful.
Located in an area renowned for brilliant produce – when my partner and I visited, the trees in neighbouring gardens hung heavy with ripe apples and pears – it has access to a bountiful larder.
It offers a compelling menu, focusing on four starters, five mains and three desserts, while also offering a selection of cheese for those with appetites like 18-year-old rugby players.
While my partner and I could have happily eaten any dish from the menu, we eventually whittled it down and began with a twice-baked cheddar souffle and smoked haddock fish cake.
The souffle was magnificent. Light as air and as fluffy as a Stephen Fry joke, it sat on top of a small, delicately sweet beer and onion jam and was surrounded by a moat of strong cheese sauce.
Garnished with herbs and cooked so that the caramelised jam stuck to the sides of the dish, the souffle was feather-like and intensely flavoursome.
All chefs worth their salt ought to be able to master the classics; my opening dish augered well.
We’d already been treated to exceptional bread; a Guinness and treacle number that had been served with an umami-rich onion and yeast butter.
The sweet, punchy bread and strongly-flavoured butter had whetted our appetites and served notice of the chef’s skill.
My partner was similarly dazzled by her starter; a smoked haddock fishcake with coriander and a curry sauce.
The sauce was delicate and sophisticated while the beautifully cooked fishcake was encased in the crispest shell and was exceptionally seasoned.
Our mains were stunning. She ate a lamb shoulder and rump, served with an intense tomato garnish which had sufficient sweetness to match the tender, pink meat.
A cube of shredded shoulder appeared to have been finished on a BBQ so that it was scorched and ever-so slightly smokey.
It was served with green vegetables and a potato rosti, which was golden brown and crunchy like car wheels on a gravel road.
My rump cap with beef fat onions, beef sauce, vegetables and a parsley emulsion was stunning.
The rump cap was visibly marbled with streaks of fat providing unctuous flavour.
Skilfully cooked and served with golden, triple-cooked chips, it was the work of a chef cooking with aplomb.
It takes considerable skill to be able to make great food look easy, we were both dazzled.
We stayed for dessert. I enjoyed a creamy mango kulfi with lime meringue and coconut sorbet.
The exotic flavours combined sweet and aromatic with a hint of citrus on the wafer-thin shards of meringue. Light and refreshing, it was a perfect conclusion to dinner. My partner’s dessert was a case of close but no cigar.
A lemon tart had a swoonsome lemon crème and tart raspberry sorbet but rye pastry was a trick that fell flat.
Like cardboard around the fabulous crème, it was entirely out-of-kilter with an otherwise sublime dish. Stick to shortcrust, chef.
Service was magnificent. A confident restaurant manager was well supported by a waiter and waitress who were efficient, helpful and engaged.
The truest recommendation, of course, isn’t a mark out of ten.
It’s whether or not a customer returns to spend money on more. And, in the case of The Baiting House, we’ve already started planning our next visit.
Chicken Liver Parfait, Blackberry, Duck Fat Granola, Toasted Brioche - £8
Smoked Haddock Fishcake, Coriander, Curry Sauce - £8
Twice Baked Cheddar Souffle, Beer and Onion Jam - £8
Brisket of Beef, Parsley Emulsion, Beef Fat Onions, Beef Sauce - £19
Gressingham Duck, Red Pepper, Roasted Carrot, Duck Sauce - £20
Pork Shoulder, Crispy Skin, Granny Smith Apple, Pork Sauce £19
70% Dark Chocolate Cremeux, Salt Caramel, Sesame, Vanilla Ice Cream - £7
Lemon Tart, Rye Pastry, Raspberry Sorbet - £7
Mango Kulfi, Lime Meringue, Coconut Sorbet - £7
The Baiting House
Upper Sapey, near Tenbury Wells, WR6 6XT
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