Shropshire Star

Food review: I visited a remote restaurant in the Michelin Guide - and it was worth the long drive

Let’s talk about chips. Because I’ve a feeling that although the three courses served by The Baiting House were all exemplary, I could happily fill 1,000 words just writing about the golden, crisp-edged, duck fat chips. And, yes, you heard that right: duck fat chips.

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Spring on a plate – lamb with asparagus

We all love a good chip, now don’t we? And for me, the love affair began when my grandmother would cook a plate of beef dripping chips on Saturday lunchtime, with plenty of bacon and sausage.

Funny how food memories stick, and her simple and unhealthy lunches were ones that left me humming, contentedly, as I cleaned the plate.

And then came Bird Cage Walk, in Dudley, where the humble Maris Piper was elevated to a new level. Crisp, golden, and with frilly edges that were bronze and crisp, they became an epicurean dream.

Others followed, whether it was The Hardwick, in Wales, amid the hullabaloo as chefs were inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s triple-cooked chip – which remains the best way to cook them. More prosaically, battered chips in Tipton and Stourport and at the Pie Factory, in the Black Country, presented potatoes that were almost as unhealthy as the stuff you might get in Glasgow.

There’s a seaside town I visited a couple of times a year, where the fryer uses beef dripping and the chips have a silken, velvety taste.

And then there was a French restaurant, some years ago, where they cooked duck fat chips on an open fire in a huge, black kettle, filled with broiling fat. Delicious.

And yet The Baiting House, I suspect, has gone one step beyond all of those.

The Baiting House in rural countryside

Located just beyond Tenbury Wells, just over the south Shropshire border, it’s a delightful place that features in the Michelin Guide and was launched by a wealthy restaurateur who employed chefs from Ludlow’s Michelin-starred Mr Underhill’s.

It’s been consistently brilliant since its inception and remains so.

The Baiting House has a working bar, which attracts locals, agricultural workers, and those looking for exceptional real ales. And then there’s a restaurant offering a selection of food that people like to eat – cooked well. Assured, British flavours are cooked with precision and balance – much in the way they were at Mr Underhill’s, all those years ago.

And when I paid my most recent visit, they’d added a new spin on their menu – with a side of duck fat chips.

So let’s start there. For once, the picture does them justice.

The world's best chips

They were crisp and crunchy, with roughed-up edges like paper that’s been quickly torn. Just beneath the crunchy outer layer was a small pocket of air and then there was soft, slightly sweet, yielding potato.

The colour was that of a wedding band while the flavour was beyond the luxury of a beef fat chip, with a silkier, deeper, richer flavour. They’d have made a meal in themselves, the way an oyster gives diners a luxuriant hit, the way caviar elevates a dish to a new high, or in the same manner that foie gras adds a velveteen, luxurious edge to any sort of dish.

So there we go. Chips. Who knew? A moreish addition that put the luxe into luxury, that elevated a simple, frequently-overlooked, often-neglected element into the realms of culinary fantasy.

We’re halfway through. We ought to go back to the beginning.

Set in beautiful, undulating countryside, The Baiting House is the type of venue that’s worth the long drive – and, with its position in the middle of nowhere, it’s a long drive for just about everyone and anyone who goes.

The exterior is delightful. A pub that had become run down was reinvigorated at no little expense and old stone walls remind visitors of a bygone age.

The interior has been sympathetically restored with plenty of solid, hard wood, combined with snazzy, knowing décor.

Country furnishings at The Baiting House

The service is habitually good and while the staff change, the standards don’t. On this occasion, on a Thursday, two guys were running front of house.

Both made guests feel welcome, engaging with customers, taking responsibility, and driving service forward.

And so to dinner.

I began with a plate of in-house bread with Marmite butter. Or, at least, I would have done, had it been delivered it after it had been ordered. Instead, it was brought it at the same time as the starter, a molten-hot cheese souffle, leaving me wondering whether I was supposed to make a sandwich?

The bread and Marmite butter to start

It was the only slight error of the evening – guys, if someone orders nibbles, take them to the table, so they can, erm, nibble.

The souffle, incidentally, was exceptional. With an onion marmalade beneath, crunchy bits of fried stuff, finely chopped chives, and a deep, rich flavour, it was light, expertly caramelised, and rich in flavour. It didn’t go between the two pieces of bread – one of which was eaten, the other left as the main arrived.

Caramelised cheese souffle was faultless

A shoulder of lamb had been pulled, compressed, and coated in a brilliantly balanced, lightly acidulated gel. Black garlic puree, lamb jus, fat and juicy sultanas (I think), and new season asparagus were placed around the plate, as well as slices of scorched courgette.

It was a taste of the season, book-ended by those magnificent chips, and served with a smile.

Dessert was great. A baked cheesecake was light and vanilla-infused, while a raspberry gel and a raspberry sorbet cut through the richness.

A baked cheesecake with raspberry gel

With the exception of the delayed bread, it was a faultless evening, with great service, brilliant food, and one or two memorable moments.

The Baiting House remains more than good enough for those who fancy the long drive to the middle of nowhere.