Food review: Warm welcome is on the menu
Andy Richardson took a pre-lockdown trip to a restaurant situated in a great spot for those living in rural parts of Ludlow’s hinterland.
Who’d be the owner of a pub, or, for that matter, a restaurant?
Lockdown is ending in tiers. Actually, it’s not ending. That’s the thing. We’ve got at least six more months of this madness before Rishi pulls another rabbit out of the hat. A very Darwinian race for survival is about to unfold. Those that made it through the chaos of spring and feasted this summer now have to hunker down, work hard and hope for the best until making it through to the other side. There are no free passes, no easy answers, just hard work and resilience. The fittest will survive.
Oxford University Professor Andrew Pollard has warned that there is zero hope of normality until July at the very earliest, even if a vaccine is successful. Facemasks and social distancing will continue, a fact that we may all have to accept.
Hospitality is on the front line. A sector so important for our region’s economy can expect to face harsh restrictions as officials clamp down, despite there being the scantest of evidence that it is responsible for transmission rates. Indeed, logic would suggest the reverse is true.
Our hospitality sector is more secure than most. While you don’t need to provide evidence to track and tracers during a trip to the shops or when catching the bus, restaurants and pubs require such details and provide sanitisers and other mitigations. They are, by all accounts, the most secure social environments, not the least.
The Salwey Arms was all over such details when I visited for a midweek supper pre-lockdown.
Hand sanitiser was freely available. The lady who accepted my telephone booking made sure to take a name and number, in the event of track and trace being required, and there were clear route markers in place in the venue.
Punters weren’t allowed at the bar, masks were worn throughout the venue, except when eating at tables, while staff delivered drinks and food on hygiene trays for guests to lift. Everything that could be done was.
Oh, and yes, staff were wearing masks – a full face shield in the case of one employee, a mask in the case of the other. There was a feeling of security, a sense that rules were both understood and fully observed.
Not all venues in Shropshire are so diligent – but they ought to be. If the sector is to pull through, everyone has to get with the programme and minimise risk. It’s the only way through this madness.
Not that the need for PPE was an atmosphere-killer. On a rainy midweek evening, the warm glow of The Salwey Arms illuminated the short stretch of A49, south of Ludlow, where the road forks for Tenbury Wells and Leominster. Staff were polite and efficient; a well-drilled team. A strict bar manager and a warmer, gentler understudy were engaged with guests and provided good service.
The Salwey Arms is a vast building that provides space for large weddings, hotel guests, small business meetings and weary travellers passing through. It is also a convenient spot for those living in rural parts of Ludlow’s hinterland, a welcoming venue with a capacious car park and all-day menu.
It’s website accurately describes the additional anti-Covid measures including sanitisers at entrances, a one way system for staff, removed tables and the like. There is a huge beer garden and plenty of space throughout the restaurant so plenty of opportunity for guests to social distance from each other.
With outstanding local produce from Herefordshire beef to the award-winning Ludlow sausages and Shropshire cheeses on the doorstep, it aims to capture the flavours of our region and bring them to guests’ plates.
In the bar, it prides itself on local beer and cider with a wide selection of cask ale on tap throughout the year and a selection of guest beer.
Not that it competes with the area’s better gastro pubs. There’s neither the breadth nor quality, for instance, that’s available at Cedric Bosi’s Michelin-recommended Charlton Arms.
It is, however, a cut above other pubs and makes the effort to bring a little class to a menu of pub classics.
I started with a plate of pan-seared scallops served with butternut squash. The scallops were tiny, the sort that are dredged, rather than hand-dived. Three were cooked accurately, the fourth considerably over-done. The butternut squash puree might have had a little more seasoning while small cubes were a curious addition.
Interesting ideas were at play on the plate, though the execution could have been improved. It’s baffling, however, that chefs are still using pea shoots as we head into autumn. Yes, they’re grown in greenhouses in our region and are available all-year round. But do they add anything to the plate?
My main was filling. A rectangular slice of homemade lasagne had been placed into a serving bowl, with cheese rammed down either side. It had been shown the oven, so the cheese melted, bubbled and turned a beautiful golden brown. Fattening and indulgent? You bet. But utterly delicious. Yes.
The dish was a little light on sauce. Thin layers of good quality Herefordshire mince had been spread between the pasta sheets with just a little tomato. Again, it needed more seasoning, more herbs and more flavour to make the most of a decent ingredient. Good, but no cigar, and all that.
Both dishes were better than you’d find in a knock-about pub, but the kitchen might raise its game if it wishes to compete against those at a higher level.
Nonetheless, The Salwey Arms occupies an important location on the outer perimeter of Ludlow. It’s a warm and welcoming beacon off the main trunk road and staff are working hard to deliver. They, like so many other venues, need the support of locals to see them through this awful time. With filling portions, competitive prices, friendly staff and a welcoming environment, there’s every reason for us to provide it.