Food review: Rustic style a winning recipe at the Mytton & Mermaid, Shrewsbury
Brunning & Price, the new owners of the Mytton & Mermaid, have a great track record. For many years they’ve successfully run venues across the county, with The Armoury, at Shrewsbury, being a long-standing favourite, and The Fox, at Newport, also earning its spurs.
There are others nearby, including the Woodbridge Inn, at Coalport, and the Oakley Arms, at Brewood. All have rock-solid reputations and provide a level of service and a type of food that endears them to locals.
The Mytton & Mermaid was acquired after facing challenges during and after Covid. It was closed, underwent an extensive refurbishment, and secured the pubs chain its highest ever sales when it re-opened in June.
Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength, and on a filthy, rainy, and cold mid-week evening, on a day – Tuesday – when most restaurants are empty, it was reasonably full. That’s what acquiring a good reputation does.
The premises were built originally as a private house on the banks of the River Severn, which may have dated from as early as 1725, commissioned by Richard Hill of Tern Hall, which would later become Attingham Hall, a stunning National Trust property open to visitors that sits opposite.
Since then it has had many names, the Talbot Arms, the Berwick Arms before settling on the unusual Mytton and Mermaid in the 1930s after being purchased by the famous architect Sir Clough Williams Ellis, who developed the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales.
Sir Clough converted the building to a hotel and chose the name Mytton after a local character ‘Mad Jack Mytton’ a gentleman who squandered his fortune in the most spectacular way, and the Mermaid came from the crest of the Portmeirion hotel.
The building is surrounded by beautiful patios and sits on the banks of the river, providing plenty of places to sit and enjoy the sunshine, when the area is blessed with it. There is a private dining room that seats up to 18, perfect for family gatherings and small meetings, and 10 bedrooms for those who’d like to stay overnight.
The business has changed radically. Once it had a sparsely filled restaurant but a large number of rooms that catered for weddings. Now the dining room is teeming and providing great food and drink has become the axis.
The joys of Brunning & Price pubs is that you can usually be sure to get a table. They’re no fuss, they’re reliable, the food is consistent and a number of dishes appear across the group so if you’ve got a favourite – and in this hungry reviewer’s case, it’s crispy beef with a sweet chilli salad – you can eat it at different venues.
I booked a last-minute table. An unexpected chat with a friend had inspired a ‘let’s go out for dinner tomorrow’ conversation, and tables were available.
Service was great. Brunning & Price have a young team and staff are well trained. The restaurant manager was polished, assured, confident and high quality.
When my friend asked a question about a particularly producer, she rattled off a long, impressively knowledgeable answer.
Similarly, the young team supporting her were great. Well-dressed, polite, and with good people skills, they were attentive, efficient, and added to the evening’s experience.
They also looked happy in their jobs – service with a smile makes all the difference and their ability to engage was welcome.
The refurbishment has brought about quantum change. The earlier version of Mytton & Mermaid was fine. It earned accreditation from AA, it was reasonably smart, there were moments of creditable achievement.
The new version is a vast improvement. The dining space has been smartened up and opened up. It’s in keeping with the cool, rustic, rural chic that features at similar venues, making it a comfortable, desirable, and ever-so-slightly aspirational place in which to eat.
It feels as though the refurb was overseen by owners with deep pockets and exceptional knowledge about how dining spaces work. It runs like clockwork, it’s comfortable, and there was a good ambience when we visited for supper.
The food, of course, has to be the equal of the environment and the service and happily it was.
I started with three wild mushroom arancini with a pickled mushroom salad. They were decent. The arancini was still a little moist and the rice al dente. It was earthy and full of umami flavours that were nicely undercut by a marvellously acidulated salad. The dish was balanced, both in terms of flavours and in terms of textures.
My friend’s BBQ jack fruit bao bun was served with a pineapple salsa that was a carnival on the plate. Sweet and spicy, soft and yielding, it was a light, flavoursome, playful way in which to start.
Our mains were great. My friend ordered a brilliant, moist sticky lime and ginger chicken breast with a red Thai curry sauce, coconut rice and pak choi.
The chicken was magnificent, the sauce creamy and warming, the rice and veg on-point. My crispy beef salad with a sweet chilli sauce, roasted cashew nuts and leaves was delicious. Top marks for both.
Desserts were decent – a light, feathery, indulgent sticky toffee pudding, and an intense dark chocolate tart with a sharp, sweet, sorbet – and the standard of service remained high through the night. The bill was eminently reasonable; prices are spot-on, neither too high, nor too low, and we’d had a thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable evening.
There are some who’d rather Shropshire were dominated by small, independent restaurants, rather than the all-conquering colossi of such chains of Brunning & Price.
They have an argument, which is eloquently articulated on WhatsApp conversations, in pubs, in restaurants, and elsewhere. And yet, such debates about business can’t be factored into a simpler question which is this: but is it any good?
The answer in the case of the newly-refurbished Mytton & Mermaid is a very strong yes.
The project has been executed with great professionalism and skill. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of where it used to be and will be successful for a very long time.