Food review: 1792 more than cuts the mustard
I dread to think how much money has been spent refurbishing Hawkstone Park. My guess is that it’s somewhere in the region of loads. Probably more. And it’s been money well spent. A golf course and hotel that was once down at heel has become a sparkly destination where standards are high.
It is, of course, one of the county’s favourite destinations. The modern and stylish hotel, much loved by golfers and those on family breaks, is nestled in the heart of the stunning Shropshire countryside in 400 acres of beautiful scenery and English Heritage Grade I listed landscape. It includes the famed tourist attraction, The Follies, and visitors can make the most of the acres of space.
But in addition to golfers and holiday-makers, to those on corporate team building events to people getting married, Hawkstone is spreading its wings. Its restaurant is seeking to provide good food and good value to discerning diners who want to visit the venue simply to eat – rather than score a par five.
To that end, it’s spent a small fortune on its restaurant, the 1792 Bar & Grill. A recently built glass-fronted space, with huge amounts of light, provides a delightful and relaxing space for guests. And while there are plenty of hotel guests eating each evening, the venue is gradually stating to attract a discerning crowd who visit it as they would any other restaurant. A warm greeting is available to all-comers.
A genial restaurant manager provided friendly and engaged service when my friend and I visited for a midweek supper. Showing us to a table near to a vast, floor-to-ceiling window, so that we could revel in the views across a lawn, he was personable, polite and efficient.
A young team of staff who were on hand to assist were similarly well-drilled. Recruitment is a real issue for many restaurants in Shropshire, yet Hawkstone seems to have got it right.
A winning blend of youth and experience made for a pleasant evening.
1792 offers an all-things-to-all-people menu with guests able to eat throughout the day and evening in a relaxed and welcoming space. There are afternoon light bites, a full lunch service and evening meals. Beside the restaurant, there’s a comfortable lounge area where guests can enjoy an afternoon tea and pre- or post-dinner drinks from the newly refurbished bar, which stocks one of Shropshire’s largest selection of flavoured gins.
It’s important to keep a sense of perspective when assessing 1792’s qualities. It ought not to be compared with some of the county’s best restaurants. There are no AA rosettes or similar indicators of quality. It’s really not that sort of place. While businesses that focus solely on food have the luxury of investing more time in dish development, 1792 has hungry golfers and wedding guests to feed. It is busy day-in, day-out. And it also needs to create a menu that caters to those with conservative tastes, as many Shropshire golfers have.
To that end, the menu is an assembly of classic bistro dishes, with an in-house soup and chicken liver parfait alongside baked mushrooms and a twice baked cheese soufflé for starters.
The mains are also straight out of the book of bistro classics. There’s a choice of steaks – local sirloin and ribeye or a great-value flatiron – all served with hand cut chips, BBQ mushrooms, confit cherry tomato and tobacco onions. There are mains that everyone knows and loves, from pan fried salmon with saffron mash to fillet of cod with sweet potato mash, or from confit belly pork with crackling and cider jus to lamb rump with dauphinoise potatoes.
The vegetarian and vegan selections are impressive. The restaurant has six stand-alone mains and three stand-alone desserts for those who avoid meat and fish; more than most.
My friend was busy talking when the waiter came to take our order, so I ordered her starter while she thought about her main. It was an excellent choice, a twice baked cheese soufflé with pickled walnuts, endive and a blue cheese nut dressing.
The flavours were delicious and more-ish: sharp meets savoury, bitter meets sweet. And while the soufflé might have been a little lighter, the chef had made an impressive fist of it.
My confit duck with sticky red cabbage and pickled cherries was reasonable. It comprised a pressed duck terrine, made from duck confit, with a generously piled cabbage that had been cooked in sticky cider.
Mains were decent. She ate the pan-fried salmon with saffron mash, seasonal green vegetables and a mariniere sauce loaded with plump, salty mussels. The mash was terrific – streaked with strands of golden, aromatic saffron. The salmon was generously portioned and had been served with a decadently crisp skin. The sauce was well-balanced; it was an accomplished dish.
My main also showed glimpses of real skill. A chicken breast, served on the bone, had been elegantly cooked so that it remained moist and tender while having a deliciously crisp skin. It was served with dauphinoise potatoes, which might have been creamier and better infused with garlic.
A sage and onion daube was, in essence, a big, fat stuffing ball – and very good it was too. A carrot and pea puree was pleasant while a tarragon sauce – foolishly described as a veloute – was balanced and well-judged.
We stayed for dessert, being unable to choose – and so opting for three between us. A lemon meringue pie topped with Italian meringue was the pick of the bunch. The meringue was soft and dreamily smooth. It had just the right amount of sweetness and had been beautifully scorched. The pastry was reasonable while the lemon filling was sharp, tangy and citrusy.
A sticky toffee pudding with what-looked-like Bird’s custard was naughty but nice. The sauce was buttery and sweet, the sponge perfectly light. The pastry chef had done a good job.
A baked cheesecake was also perfectly light and creamy. The dinner ended on a high note.
1792 has provided a reliable offer to corporate and sporting guests over the years. And now it’s ready to open the doors to other diners.
It would be stretching a point to call it a special-occasion venue; but as an informal restaurant that provides bistro classics at great prices it more than cuts the mustard.