My friend and I had finished dinner. The food had been reasonable, the service okay and having consumed desserts I asked for the bill.
We waited a while, then our waitress brought it to our table. The normal protocol would have been for her to let us check the ticket while she walked back to collect a card reader before returning to take payment.
Except she didn’t. And as time wore on, it was evident she’d forgotten. All fine, this time, as the conversation was flowing and we were entirely content to sit there for 20-or-so minutes while the waitress was busy doing other stuff. Or just forgetting.
She re-appeared much later, ever so apologetic, and took payment. She giggled, bless her, sweetness itself.
And the end of a pleasant evening where The Cliffe at Dinham just about got away with it, without ever really impressing.
No, that’s not quite right. We ordered a side of triple cooked chips, which were stunning. But those aside, it was all a little fingers and thumbs, an evenings of ifs and maybes.
The Cliffe is located in an idyllic spot at Dinham, in the shadow of Ludlow’s magnificent castle.
It’s earned two AA rosettes, which is generally the point at which food gets good. Though, truthfully, our evening was nearer to one AA rosette than two.
We arrived early, at 6pm, when there was only one other table in use.
The evening quickly became busy, however, with most tables full for a brisk Friday evening service.
The dining room was clean and modern, though it felt a little bare and might have been improved by artworks here and there. Midway through dinner, a jazz band struck up. It was odd. Jazz is great late at night but during the middle of an evening when conversation is beginning it feels somehow wrong, like an inkspot in a well.
Dinner began with a small snack, an unidentified mousse on a half-soft, half-crunchy cracker.
The waitress didn’t tell us what was in the mousse and left it to our own detective work – we think it may have been a very creamy mackerel number, but weren’t entirely sure.
Canapes are supposed to give the chef an opportunity to show what he or she is made of. Our first impressions – of food and service – were so-so.
My friend started with a red pepper, tomato, basil and crème fraiche soup that was pleasing. Adequately seasoned and well presented, it was a utilitarian bowl that had reasonable depth and was enjoyable.
My poached pear salad with sticky walnuts, Roquefort and a red wine dressing was also okay. The cheese had been left in the fridge, rather than out at room temperature, so was more cloying and less flavoursome than it would have been if stored properly for service. The red wine dressing was fine while the abundant sticky walnuts were generously served.
My friend ate a roast cod dish as her main. It was served in place of hake, which was unavailable, alongside confit potato, samphire, spinach and a caper beurre noisette sauce.
The food was classic without being classy, a good attempt where the execution was almost there.
My seared guinea fowl with spiced lentils and smoked bacon alongside savoy cabbage, turnip and red wine was also decent, without hitting any high notes.
The guinea fowl was a little overdone, though the skin was mostly crisp. The lentils were good with ample bite, the sauce a little too thin and the cabbage and bacon fine.
It was decent food, though it would be disingenuous to rave about it.
We ordered a side of triple cooked chips, however, which were the star of the show. It’s hard to beat a good chip and these were exceptional. Golden and crunchy with fluffy insides that were softer than duck down.
They exploded with a puff of steam as the soft potato yielded its delicate inner.
There’s an art to cooking an excellent chip and the chef ought to give a masterclass.
We stuck around for dessert and enjoyed a lemon crème brulee with lemon gel, crisp sponge and candied lemon.
The brulee was second only to the triple cooked chip, a great dessert that had been executed with aplomb.
The caramelised top was thin and had a perfect snap. The sponge was a nice addition, filled with flavour, while the gel was also sharp and intense.
It was a decent effort that showed some promise.
And that was that. A long wait for the bill from a sweet young waitress who was trying to do her best but found herself flustered. Bless her.
Service was fine throughout the evening, though drinks orders weren’t quite right and there was a sense of not quite being on the ball throughout.
It’s difficult to sing the praises of The Cliffe too highly.
There are other, better restaurants nearby where standards are higher, execution is more accurate and mistakes aren’t made.
Still, it’s a tough gig and Ludlow needs such restaurants, offering pleasant food and friendly interactions at a fair price.
A little more attention to detail would help to elevate standards.