Food review: The New Inn, Baschurch
A beautiful husky was lying at the bar. Surrounded by a gaggle of local drinkers, he lazily raised one eyelid, thought better of it and went back to sleep.
A fire was roaring in the corner, warming a cold spring evening, and the restaurant was full of happy guests. It was an enjoyable scene.
The New Inn, at Baschurch, is one of Shropshire’s finest country inns. It’s long had a reputation for decent food and has been home to some of Shropshire’s best known – if not, necessarily, ‘best’ – chefs.
It’s been in business since 1841 but while the building is steeped in history the decor and furnishings are kept tastefully modern and understated, creating a welcoming mix of old and new.
As The New Inn’s website proudly declares, a roaring log burner provides an inviting and warm ambience throughout the colder months whilst the pleasant beer garden invites guests to sit outside and enjoy their food and drinks on lovely summer days.
Sounds good, doesn’t it. And it is. When I called in for a single table on a what I’d imagined would be a quiet late spring evening, the restaurant was pretty full while the bar – including the adorable husky – was also packed. The tables welcomed a mixture of singles out for supper, dating couples, husbands-and-wives (are they dating couples too?) and old friends catching up for a natter.
It’s perhaps not surprising that the pub is so popular, it’s run by one of the county’s savviest restaurateur couples while the guy in the kitchen is among Shropshire’s top ten chefs.
Chris Conde oversees the kitchens at the New Inn and its sister restaurant, Henry Tudor House, in Shrewsbury.
A BBC Masterchef the Professionals quarter finalist, Conde joined newcomer Henry Tudor House in 2013 gaining a Michelin recommendation the following year.
He once spoke ambitiously about converting that to a star, though, in truth, that’s unlikely to happen. Good though it is, his food isn’t at that level.
And yet, Conde is perfectly attuned to the rough and tumble of a busy gastro pub kitchen.
He’d previously cut his teeth at The Inn at Grinshill and it was no coincide that its fortunes waned when he moved on.
He has a passion for well-sourced, robust dishes and my first visit to the New Inn in five or so years was eminently enjoyable.
He’s not the only person who makes eating there a good experience. Two front of house staff were polite, engaged and efficient throughout the evening. Drinks were promptly delivered, menu recommendations offered (and ignored) while service was carried out with a smile. They were a credit to the venue.
Dinner was a game of two halves. A brilliant starter was followed by a decent-ish main and a damn awful dessert. I was still banging on about the New Inn’s berry crumble two days later. My partner had the best solution to that 21st century anxiety. “Shut up,” she said. I did.
The brilliant starter was a brilliant combination of trend and tradition. A pork pie made from brittle water pastry was filled with delicious and well-seasoned pork shoulder and served alongside a glazed check, pickled pineapple and a pork pie sauce. The pastry was magnificent; Conde ought to conduct masterclasses, it was that good. The pineapple was lightly acidulated, so as to cut through the dense, unctuous richness of the pork, while the sauce was delightfully savoury. The cheek had been slowly cooked so that it fell apart under the knife. And had the chefs continued in that vein throughout the evening, they’d have earned top marks.
They didn’t, however, and while a stuffed guinea fowl with duxelle, braised leg meat ragu and anna potato was good, it didn’t trip the light fantastic. The guinea fowl was a little overcooked, the potato not as dreamy or luxuriant as it might have been and while the earthy duxelle and ragu was splendid, it didn’t quite pass muster. It was a take-it-or-leave-it dish; good, but no cigar.
Dessert was awful. An apple and winter berry crumble featured a granola topping made from oats, pumpkin seeds and not much else. In a concession to healthy eating and catering to those with dietary requirements, it was, in effect, an underwhelming, butter-free granola plonked on top of a pile of berries, which, happily, were better than the topping under which they lay. Crumble is one of the classics of the British larder and heaven knows why this version had been stripped of the very things that makes it enjoyable.
It was a loveless marriage, an orchestra without a conductor, a grey day in Morecombe. It was the sort of thing you pick up from Pret on January 2 when you’re full of good intentions about going on a diet before cracking three days later and eating something nice.
But while the crumble is a no-no, the New Inn deserves credit. It has an exceptional caters-to-all menu that ticks just about every box, from curry to pizza via burger and pies and onto fine dining. Conde’s one of the few chefs in the county who can pull that trick off; he’s got silky skills when he’s at his best and is able to conjure culinary magic from simple ingredients.
It’s not just his food that makes the pub worthy of recommendation – crumble aside.
Service made dinner an enjoyable experience while the TLC that the venue’s owners have foisted upon the venue has been money well spent.
There’s a good, happy atmosphere at the pub too; as locals mix with those who’ve travelled from further afield to eat competitively-priced and well cooked food.
And there are dishes that really stand out.
The pork pie starter was the best example during my dinner, but there are other dishes of intrigue and interest that will be worthy of investigation on subsequent visits.