We didn’t have a reservation. Fools that we are, we drove out into the night late on a Friday – the busiest evening of the week – thinking the restaurateurs of Shropshire would magic a table from nowhere. And, like all the best nights out, we were right. At The Fox Inn, at Much Wenlock, there was a spare table for two for dinner a deux. Bliss.
The Fox Inn is one of the county’s better gastro pubs. An historic inn offering traditional bedrooms, a bar, restaurant and beer garden, it’s been a family-run business since 2014 that prides itself on offering decent ales, friendly service and a warm and welcoming atmosphere for locals and tourists alike.
It’s got the balance between bar and restaurant just right. There are plenty of friends, couples and holiday-makers who enjoy large glasses of wine, a wide selection of drinks or enjoyable real ales while playing Scrabble or doing The Times crossword.
And the decent bar menu – from sandwiches to steaks – means people enjoy decent in-house grub when they’ve got longer to spend.
The venue is divided into two parts – a bar/snack area, where people quaff ales and chow down on simple bites. Then there’s a restaurant, which is neutral tones, unshowy tables and an extensive menu for groups or couples looking for a more intimate space. Together, those venues provide a pleasant balance.
The sourcing policy is good too. The Fox Inn works with the esteemable Andrew Francis butchers, at Ludlow, sourcing exceptional meat, while pies come from the brilliant Bridgnorth butcher Keith Alderson. Fresh fruit and vegetables come from Neil France, of Shrewsbury, who roots around at markets to find the pick of the day, while wines come from Addisons and Moydens.
All of which means The Fox needs only to get two things right to retain the loyalty of its customers – namely, provide warm and welcoming service and get decent dishes out to guests. And they do a pretty good job at both.
During our visit on a Friday evening, the bar area was packed while the restaurant was reasonably full. An unflappable and diligent front of house team were professionalism itself.
Polite, charming and moving with speed and efficiency, they kept all of their tables happy. Drinks were delivered in good time, guests were asked whether they’d enjoyed their food and the waiting team worked with smiles fixed firmly to their faces.
The kitchen did a pretty good job. Though the waiting time between courses was sometimes a little long, the food was well-cooked, presented prettily and had bags of flavour.
My partner started with a satisfying bowl of mushroom soup, which she adored. Well-seasoned, the dish had great texture and was generously portioned. My starter was equally good.
A group – will someone please tell me the collective noun for an assemblage of prawns, we’ll send you a badge or a T-shirt if you do – were served in butter, chilli, parsley and garlic.
The melted butter was rich and indulgent while there was just enough chilli, garlic and parsley to give the prawns a kick. Warm bread served as a butter mop and a clean plate left the table.
We went big for our mains. She had a salmon fillet, I had a fillet steak. Both were decent, without dazzling. The salmon was cooked with skill and served with new potatoes and an appealing sauce.
The steak was a little over-cooked – it came out medium, rather than medium rare, with the pinky/red centre conspicuous by its absence.
Two minutes less would have left it with a slightly lower core temperature and a pinker colour. Nonetheless, it was a decent piece of meat, beautifully caramelised on the exterior and well seasoned.
The chips that it came with were fine – a bit dull, to be truthful. I’ve no idea why people don’t make more effort and do something interesting – triple cooked chips, double cooked fries, chips in beef dripping. . . there are so many alternatives to the palatable but drab fry. A side salad was unnecessary.
Bitter summer leaves have no place on a winter table, especially when they’re covered with a viscous and mean balsamic drizzle. Ugh.
We skipped desserts. We’d been generously fed by a kitchen which knew the meaning of ‘Shropshire Portions’ and had no room for more. The bill was an absurdly low £45 for the two of us, including drinks – exceptional value when there are restaurants just 10 miles away that are banging out steaks at £35 a pop.
The Fox does a pretty good job and while it isn’t at the same level as the county’s best pubs, it’s deserving of attention and is reliably consistent. The atmosphere is wonderful and the interior has been thoughtfully designed and decorated.
The staff are fine to a man (and woman). Helpful and polished, they work hard and deliver good value as well as decent food. The kitchen might need to go a little quicker and could introduce a little more flair and pizzazz. But for an establishment that doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel and attempts to provide decent, recognisable pub classics cooked cleanly and tastily, it’s decent.
We were made to feel welcome, we enjoyed our couple of hours, the food was decent and the prices were more than fair. And in a market where so many pubs and restaurants fail with even those basics, The Fox deserves plenty of credit.
And so to marks. A four would be too generous, but it earns a rock solid three and a half. I’ve visited a few times in recent years and will look forward to my next. It’s got plenty going for it and is consistently decent.