Food review: Drapers Hall, Shrewsbury
It’s an impressive building with many historic connections and a mix of old style and modern decor. Andy Richardson enjoys a meal out. . .
It ought to be one of the most exclusive restaurants in Shropshire. Drapers Hall has so much going for it that it should be a go-to place for the county’s most discerning diners. And yet somehow it flatters to deceive, promising more than it delivers.
The restaurant is under new ownership for the first time in 18 years and perhaps that will elevate its status. And, having eaten at the venue for the first time in some years, it’s clear that Drapers Hall only needs minor adjustment rather than major overhaul to function at a higher level for there are many things to enjoy.
The restaurant promises beautifully crafted modern classics with an easy going attitude. It suggests a new world of simple elegance with the finest British produce including local organic meats, wild game, seasonal fish and shellfish from North Wales.
It is located in Shrewsbury town centre, at St Mary’s Place, and is a marvellous place in which to dine. It has plenty of historic connections, dating back to the 15th century.
The present hall was built in 1576 with a meeting room and great chamber. It remains deeply impressive. The dining room boasts beautiful wood panelling, a vast stone fireplace and long dining tables at which parties would once have gathered.
Stepping into Drapers is like entering another world. For while the bar is all modern and snazzy, with cowhide chairs, teardrop speakers and fashionable touches, the dining room is entirely different proposition.
My partner and I sat at a corner table, near to a window, and enjoyed a slightly elevated vantage from other diners. Service was decent, without impressing. The restaurant manager had good control of the dining room and was quietly confident and self-assured. She was attentive and engaged without being intrusive. She managed her guests efficiently. A waiter was slightly less confident and needed constant reassurance from his boss while a waitress put in a decent effort.
We visited on a Friday evening and the restaurant had six other guests – a relatively low number for one of the busiest times of the week. In fairness, however, most restaurants suffer a quiet time in New Year and perhaps people were busy looking at their online credit card statements, rather than splashing out on £16 starters and steaks at up to £35.
We enjoyed a drink at the bar while perusing the menus: she had a glass of fizz, which was fruity and effervescent, while I stuck to fizz of a different kind – a trusted bottle of mineral water.
Having been shown into the capacious and decidedly impressive dining room, we were brought a small basket of four bread rolls with a pat of butter. The rolls were pleasant, though there was no wow factor or knock-us-dead skill.
Our starters were much better. A good, six-dish menu offered ample choice and she enjoyed a thick and hearty pumpkin and lentil soup with pumpkin seeds, curried jelly and pumpkin oil. The rich and satisfying winter flavours were warmed by the curry while the seeds added crunch and made it a dish of contrasting texture. The lentils gave the soup robustness and body. An empty bowl was returned to the kitchen.
I opted the scallops, which were delightful. Five scallops were served with two miniature parsnips, an onion seed crumb and a honey vinaigrette. A crispy chicken wing advertised on the online menu but not the restaurant menu failed to show – though there were five scallops and perhaps the chef added extra to make up for the no-show chicken element. The scallops were pretty good: they’d been left in a pan of foaming butter sufficiently long to earn a deep, golden, caramelised crust while they were still translucent and just-cooked in the centre. Two were large and perfectly cooked. Three, however, were far smaller and – presumably having been cooked in the same pan – were a little overdone.
Our mains were disappointing. She ate a cod fillet with noodles that was also slightly overcooked so that the fish flakes were white and a little cotton wool-like. My ballotine of chicken and chestnut mushroom was a wasted opportunity that had been cooked for far too long. The chicken was white, chalky and lacked moisture. It was dry – the result of too much time in the oven. The accompanying chicken skin was also poor. It too had been overcooked so that it had become bitter and was a deep, dark brown colour, rather than golden. Accompanying vegetables were pleasant – a swede boulangere was great and shredded cabbage had been lightly cooked. A thick, sticky and rich jus was also wonderful. It was almost the texture of Marmite and had an umami flavour that wasn’t far off. If only the chicken and chicken skin hadn’t been overdone, it would have been a good dish.
Desserts got us back on track. I had a ginger and pear crumble with clotted cream. And while the absence of ginger was notable, the dish remained perfectly edible and I enjoyed it thoroughly. She had the best dish of the evening, a Champagne jelly with elderflower foam, cranberries and lime sugar. The elderflower was sharp and zingy, the Champagne jelly had just the right wobble and the cranberries cut through the dish with a hint of sharp-sweetness. It was absolutely fine.
Our bill came to £85 including drinks, which was a little higher than we might have wished for. Drapers tends to price dishes a little too high at times: its steaks might be 35-day aged, but £35 for a 7oz fillet remains steep, while £29 and £27 for sole and halibut respectively also induce a sharp intake of air.
Dinner had been pleasant but by no means thrilling. The venue remains storming, one of the most intoxicating and beautifully bewildering dining rooms in the county. The front of house team were pretty good, with a solid restaurant manager.
The food was most enjoyable but with too many inconsistencies: when venues are charging top dollar for food they need to be consistent and deliver without avoidable fault and silly errors.
I imagine the new owners will move quickly to put their stamp on Drapers Hall and all would wish them well. It’s an important cog in the county’s dining machine and a restaurant that competes with the county’s very best would be good for all.