Shropshire Star

Food review: The Church Inn, Ludlow - Four stars

It’s been two years since Cedric and Amy Bosi took over Ludlow’s best-loved pub. Before they acquired The Church Inn – with a little help from Cedric’s Michelin-starred brother, Claude, and sister-in-law, Lucy – it was down-at-heel. It needed the sort of clean-up that would have made TV cleaner Kim Woodburn blanch but hard work and enough elbow grease to float a cruise liner set it afloat just before Christmas 2016.

Venison sausages

It’s early menus were focused on pub classics. There were burgers and dogs, fish pies and steaks, and there was also a decent selection of local ales so that it continued to appeal to drinkers and diners alike.

Fast forward two years and The Church Inn has come on in leaps and bounds. The menu is a little more refined, a little more French, and the bar has continued to improve. It now serves scores of artisan gins alongside an exceptional range of real ales while service is efficient and polished.

Cedric’s association with The Church is fascinating. He started there as an unpaid weekend worker who had offered to work behind the bar free of charge in order to improve his English. Having grown up in a bistro in Lyon, he was ready for the hustle and bustle of the pub trade and he learned quickly.

After leaving to run pubs with his brother in London, tour Ireland and more, he returned to Ludlow to buy The Charlton Arms, a picturesque pub-restaurant on the banks of Ludford Bridge. He transformed the fortunes of that venue, earning it a prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand as he created a palatable menu featuring winning dishes at affordable prices. And he’s doing something similar at The Church.

The improvement in the menu during the past two years is notable. So while there are still such tried and tested classics as rump steak and chips with mushrooms, peppercorn sauce and onion rings; bacon cheeseburger with baconnaise and skinny fries, or chicken kiev with Greek salad and skinny fries, there are also dishes with a little more thought. Baked aubergine with miso glaze and spiced noodles rubs shoulders with confit duck and puy lentils, and spinach and ricotta tortellini with butternut squash and aged Parmesan.

The Church retains a warm and inviting atmosphere; it’s as welcoming as a winning lottery ticket on a Saturday night. And the prices are as competitive as anywhere in Shropshire – whisper it quietly, but I reckon Cedric could add £1 to every dish without customers batting an eyelid. Food of such quality usually comes with a higher price tag and diners are getting a bargain compared to The Church’s rivals.

My friend and I called in for a midweek supper and sat at a stripped wooden table. He enjoyed a gin and tonic featuring one of the Church’s many artisan brands of liqour while we perused the menu. His mature cheddar and bacon Scotch egg was served with a small side salad and was well received. Scotch eggs have undergone a transformation during the past decade or so. While once they were only ever encased in sausage meat, the modern variety is enveloped in disparate coatings. The cheese and bacon idea was good; leaving my friend to work his way through a delicious outer coating of molten cheese before he broke into a perfectly cooked egg with a liquid yolk.

I started with the spinach and ricotta tortellini with squash and Parmesan. It was delicious. The pasta was silky, the filling light and the small cubes of oven roasted squash delightfully sweet. Strong, punchy Parmesan completed the dish, which was dressed with a little olive oil. Good combinations, precise cooking and complimentary flavours made for happy eating.

Our mains were perfect autumnal fayre. My friend opted for two thick Andrew Francis venison sausages with swede mashed potato and onion gravy. Filling, rich and enough to put hairs on his chest, my friend manfully worked his way through the dish, relishing each forkful.

My confit duck with puy lentils and new potatoes was the dish of the evening. The duck was absurdly good; exceptionally seasoned so that it had a salty taste and with meat that literally fell off the bone, it was mesmerising. The puy lentil ragout below was equally good. Nutty and with plenty of bite, it was served in a rich sauce with small pieces of carrot and celery. I’m not sure what the new potatoes were doing in there; a concession to British tastes they might have been but they were unnecessary.

Scotch eggs and venison sausages left my friend unable to enjoy the delights of dessert – though my lighter dishes left room for a pear and almond tart with pear ice cream. A pleasant idea with mild flavour, it brought a fitting end to the evening. And though the pastry might have been a little shorter and broken with a snap, it was thoroughly pleasant. The pub was busy throughout the evening while, one imagines, other pubs and restaurants across the region were far quieter as they fished for trade.

Cedric and Amy have worked wonders with The Church. And if there were a Shropshire award for publicans of the year, they would surely win it. For nobody does pub-dining as well as them. It’s in Cedric’s blood, of course. He’s been around bistros since the year dot and years of learning have crystallised in the magnificent Church Inn.

The venue is nicely decorated and nods to the venue’s 14th century past while bringing it into the modern era. His team are well-drilled, polite and attentive; serving food efficiently, avoiding intrusiveness and making sure dishes are served with a smile. The menus are eminently satisfying and offer high quality pub food at exceptionally competitive prices. And there’s a sophisticated range of drinks that appeal to the connoisseur as well as the everyman drinker. It avoids the gimmicks of gaming machines and sports TV screens that bespoil other family pubs and offers exceptional food in convivial surrounds.

Cedric’s achievement in winning a Michelin Bib Gourmand at his other pub, The Charlton Arms, was a significant feather in his cap. And the way he’s developing the Church Inn, you wouldn’t bet against him repeating the feat in years to come.