It must help if you have the county’s best restaurateur and the county’s best chef in charge of operations.
And it must help even more than the aforementioned are brothers who have a track record of thrilling customers and providing an unrivalled gastronomic experience.
The Church Inn is run by brothers Cedric & Claude Bosi – the former is an exceptional restaurateur who also owns The Charlton Arms, just half a mile away. And, lest we forget, The Charlton Arms is Shropshire’s only Michelin-ranked venue, holding a Bib Gourmand. It was recently named one of the top 50 dining pubs in the UK by Estrella Damm.
Big brother Claude is the man who scoops up Michelin stars like confetti after a wedding. He won two in Ludlow for Hibiscus, two in London’s Mayfair for Hibscus and two in Chelsea for Bibbendum. Little wonder he’s considered one of the greatest in the UK.
And those, my dining friends, are the men who run The Church Inn.
They’re not alone, of course. Claude’s wife, Lucy, has ample experience of the restaurant trade, as does Cedric’s wife, Amy. Together, they form a remarkable team who have helped Ludlow to retain something of its culinary sparkle.
At The Church Inn, they’ve turned around the fortunes of a 14th century pub that had become run down under its previous owners. Now, it’s the most popular in town – a place that welcomes all-comers. Locals sup ale, fancy gin and more at a well-lit bar, those who fancy something more substantial move further into the venue to eat at one of the many stripped-back wooden tables.
Cedric is an ever-present. He flits between The Church Inn and The Charlton Arms, managing staff, welcoming guests and ensuring everything is running shipshape and Bristol fashion. There are few people operating at Cedric’s standard. A brilliant restaurateur, he moved to the UK many, many years ago to improve his English.
He grew up in Lyon, where his parents ran a bistro. While his brother was busy helping his mother in the kitchen, Cedric helped his father out front. He’s inherited considerable skill and is now a force to be reckoned with.
Remarkably, when he arrived in London he worked at The Church Inn free of charge. His intention was to improve his linguistic skills by interacting with local customers.
Now he owns the joint. What a fantastic, good news story that is. And the customers at The Church can consider themselves lucky that they’re in such safe hands.
Claude, meanwhile, is busy chasing a third Michelin star and spends most of his time at Bibbendum. He is, however, a regular returnee to Ludlow and can occasionally be spied in the kitchens of The Church Inn.
He’s not cooking when he visits, of course, but he is passing on 30 years of knowledge and wisdom to the young brigade at The Church Inn. They couldn’t be a better mentor, a leader better able to inspire and motivate a new generation.
With the Bosi brothers at the helm, it’s little wonder that The Church Inn is perennially busy. And when my friend and I called in for a midweek lunch, the place was pretty much full. While other restaurants across the county were peering out of their windows, looking for customers, The Church Inn felt like it was in the midst of a Friday night service.
The menu is wonderfully inventive. So while there’s a brilliant fish and chips and other traditional dishes, they come with a twist and are served alongside alternatives that stimulate both mind and palate.
My friend started with a perfectly delicious dish of scampi and chips. Except this one didn’t come in a basket with overcooked scampi and soggy chips. Instead, the scampi – vast, king size prawns – were served in a light breadcrumb coating with sharp, sweet, acidulated pineapple salsa to amplify the sweet-salty crustaceans.
The chips were gun-barrel straight and as crunchy as car wheels on a gravel road. They were served with a pot of disgustingly good curry sauce; the sort you can buy at chip shops on a Saturday night after you’ve had one drink too many. Naughty, but nice.
My chicken cordon bleu was similarly memorable; a chicken breast had been stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese, so that the cheese had melted into a gooey, flavoursome liquid. It was served with delicious creamed leeks and a generous portion of sauté potatoes. Delicious.
Desserts were fabulous. My friend ate a light bread and butter pudding with a pot of custard. It was perfect winter food, the sort that puts warmth in the belly and a smile on the face.
My pear and almond tart was the dish of the day. Short, buttery pastry was filled with a creamy almond frangipane. Across the edges of the pastry case, the frangipane had bubbled over and become caramelised, so that it had a little chewy crunch – like the best parts of a meringue. The pear was the perfect counterbalance while a pear sorbet provided a cold contrast to the hot tart. The patisseries of Paris and viennoiseries of Vienna would have been proud to serve something of that quality.
Service was exceptional throughout. Those who are led by the charming Cedric Bosi can consider themselves fortunate to be working for one of the region’s industry leaders. At The Church Inn, it’s clear they’ve picked up many of his good habits. There were frequent visits to the table to make sure we were enjoying our food; staff were engaged, polite, efficient and well-mannered.
The Church Inn has undergone a huge transformation since being purchased by the Bosi brothers and there are few pub-restaurants as good – with the exception, of course, of Cedric’s nearby Charlton Arms.
The menu provides good value and plenty of imaginative dishes, the staff provide service with a smile and the food continues to excite. What’s not to like?
Chorizo Scotch egg, paprika mayonnaise, £6
Breaded scampi, pineapple salsa, curry sauce, £7.50
Chickpea, bulgur wheat, harissa, crusty bread, £6.50
Bacon cheeseburger, rhubarb ketchup, skinny fries, £11
Battered haddock, chips, minted peas, tartare sauce, £13.95
Chicken cordon bleu, creamy leeks, sauteed potatoes, £12.95
Pear and almond tart, pear sorbet, £5.95
Apple and berry crumble, custard or vanilla ice cream, £5.50
Warm chocolate fondant, mint choc chip ice cream, £5
The Church Inn
King Street, Ludlow