Food review: The Boathouse, Shrewsbury
On the banks of the River Severn, The Boathouse is ideal for a warm evening. And the food’s great too as Andy Richardson finds out . . .
Man cannot live on burgers alone. Though given the current state of the county’s dining scene, he might well be expected to. For burgers and curries seem to dominate most towns as the gourmet burger revolution gathers pace.
The man who invented brioche buns and deluxe beef patties must be raking it in as local pubs and restaurants pimp their burgers to within a gherkin slice of their life.
There are out-and-out burger joints, restaurants that do burgers in all shapes and sizes – boar, anyone? – not forgetting the slew of pubs and bistros that offer variations on the theme.
The Boathouse, at Shrewsbury, is among the crowd, offering three different types. There’s the Cider-Pulled Burger with burnt apple sauce, crisp onions and mustard mayo; the BH Burger with Monterey Jack cheese, streaky bacon, gherkins and slaw then there’s the vegetarian Spicy Bean Burger, with red onion jam, garlic mayo and baby gem. Blimey. Who’d have thought a dish that may have originated in Hamburg, Boston, Connecticut or New York – depending who you believe – would become so ubiquitous?
Happily, The Boathouse offers more than a posh beef pattie with bells and whistles. It’s a riverside grill with a menu that sticks to tried and tested pub classics without veering too far off piste. So there’s a decent interpretation of fish and chips, with beer batter and crushed peas; an 8oz chargrilled steak with peppercorn sauce and skin-on fries and a decent slow-cooked pork belly dish with apple and vanilla purée and mash. And you can’t go wrong with that.
The Boathouse is situated on the banks of the River Severn, near to a delightful bridge that links local homes with The Quarry park. It’s stunning location is pleasant all year round, though summer and autumn bring vast numbers to the venue to enjoy its sun-drenched terrace and magnificent views. In winter, it’s equally welcoming. A log fire is always lit and there are hearty grills and roasts to keep the hunger pangs at bay.
It has a good front of house team. Former chef Lee Maddox has graduated from the stove to the front of house, where he patrols the floor and brings a keen sense of professionalism to proceedings. Attentive and engaging, he marshals eager troops to ensure customers are greeted warmly and efficiently catered for.
I visited for a midweek supper, deciding to walk-in without booking a table. The venue was busy with plenty of early evening drinkers and a small number of diners, growing busier as the evening wore on.
The menu sticks to the sort of dishes that pub regulars like. So there are peri peri chicken wings, a roasted parsnip and apple soup or sautéed wild mushrooms on toasted sourdough to start. During the daytime and early evening, there are also sandwiches as decadent and generous as a Philip Green party. There’s a nod to flavours of the world; I ate an Asian-inspired starter followed by a main from the Middle East and a good old-fashioned British pud.
My chicken spring rolls were a little clunky, in truth. They were a little too large – leaving one undercooked in the centre – and the pastry was a little flaccid. That was a shame, for the filling was a well-seasoned mix of shredded chicken and vegetables that had good texture and bags of flavour. Served with a pot of teriyaki sauce – delicious – and an underwhelming side salad, it didn’t quite hit the spot. Rolled more thinly, so that the centre was as hot as the outer and the pastry was entirely crisp, and it would have been a winner.
The main, however, was first rate. Three large lamb koftas sat atop a citrusy, herb-infused mound of couscous while a deliciously light yoghurt and cucumber dip, generous side salad and toasted pittas completed a vast dish. It would have been enough to feed two. The lamb was sensational. Tender, still every-so-slighty fatty, so that the juices dribbled on to the couscous like ice cream spilling down a waffle cone on a blazing summer’s day. The fragrant couscous was delicious – a dish that can be devoid of flavour was wonderfully worked by the kitchen, while the pitta and salad, though unspectacular, added contrast to a pleasing plate of food. Three koftas was probably one too many – just as two big spring rolls were to start.
I left a little of the main – and felt guilty about it. I hate waste but wanted to leave room for dessert. I’m glad I did. The pudding was as good as the main. A hot treacle tart was served with a delightful, rich and creamy vanilla ice cream with small shards of homemade honeycomb and dots of fruit purée. It was a delightful combination. The ice cream took the edge off the hot, rich and filling treacle tart, while the tart fruit saue cut through it all, adding a different dimension. The pastry was fantastic. Short, buttery and crisp, it was the sign of a good cook. There’s an art to keeping things simple and doing a good job with the classics – and with its main and dessert, The Boathouse had done just that.
Before the present owners took on The Boathouse, the place was in a mess. Run down, shambolic and with a student-pleasing menu comprising cheesy chips and little else, it was underperforming. And then came the transformation. A light and airy dining space with neutral colours, ramshackle chairs, stripped wooden tables and very few frills made it contemporary and cool. Lee and co injected some much needed TLC and made guests feel valued. The menu was ripped up and replaced with decent versions of traditional pub dishes, et voilà, The Boathouse is habitually full.
It has an excellent sourcing policy. Ingredients are sourced from such suppliers as Wenlock Spring, Moyden cheese, Brockhall Farm, Rob Swift’s Bakery, M&J Seafoods, Rowlands and Lakeside Meat. And it has staff who give a fig. Throughout my three-course dinner – just under £30, including drinks – the youthful crew of waiters and waitresses visited the table to ensure everything was just fine. With the exception of one slightly iffy course – outgunned by two that were superlative – it was. And so, with good reason, The Boathouse earns itself a highly commended four out of five.