Food review: The Charlton Arms, Ludlow
Local produce, tick, French inspiration, tick, beautiful views, tick. There’s only one place to go that ticks all these boxes, says Andy Richardson. . .
The Michelin Guide’s Twitter account made an interesting recommendation at the start of spring. It encouraged its 77,000 followers to check-out a delightful venue serving French-inspired bistro classics.
“Keeping Ludlow on the food map,” was how it described the *AA Rosette-holding Charlton Arms, in the picturesque south Shropshire market town.
In truth, there are a few restaurants that help to keep Ludlow on the food map and Cedric Bosi’s delightful Charlton Arms is just one of them. He has another pub a short distance away, The Church Inn, while the reborn CSons, at Dinham Weir, offers exceptional food at affordable prices. At the top end of the market, Karl Martin, at Old Downton Lodge, just outside Ludlow, is comfortably Shropshire’s best chef at present and serves breathless food that’s at Michelin Star standard.
Wayne Smith, at Mortimers, is another in that category, creating superlative dishes that make the best of seasonal ingredients.
So although the profile of Ludlow’s restaurants has changed considerably over the past decade – there are no longer any stars, though Old Downton Lodge is knocking on that door – there are still plenty of great places in which to eat.
Cedric’s Charlton Arms is a rare delight. Situated on the banks of the River Teme and built from the beautiful limestone that was created when the area sat beneath warm lagoonal seas – check it out, geology fans – it offers some of the best views in Shropshire.
Cedric is a fascinating character. He grew up with his well-known chef brother, Claude, in Lyon, in France. The boys were surrounded by great food and while Claude headed into the kitchen and later earned himself two Michelin stars, initially in London and then on two separate occasions in London, Cedric preferred to work in the front of house. A consummate professional and charming conversationalist, he developed a career as a restaurant manager and restaurateur.
In Ludlow, he initially worked at his brother’s restaurant, Hibiscus, where he intended to stay for a short time so as to improve his English. A decade or more later, and after short trips through Ireland and London, he’s still there. And rather than being the newbie who’s washing dishes, ferrying plates and taking orders for drinks, he’s become one of the most accomplished restaurateurs in the region.
Alongside his wife, Amy, Cedric runs a tight ship where chefs stick to menus that emphasise the best of abundant local produce in French-inspired dishes. There are plenty of tried and tested pub classics with steak and chips, burgers, beer-battered fish and chips, kievs, salads and more besides.
The desserts are a selection of sweets that have been popular since time immemorial. From chocolate fondant and sticky toffee pudding to bread and butter pudding and seasonal crumbles, it reads like a Greatest Hits list. And though there are nods to the global palate – a mango and chilli salsa here, a Greek salad there – the menu is dominated by dishes that people know and love.
My friend and I visited for a midweek supper and on a balmy Thursday evening in spring, every single table was full.
The diners of Ludlow have a reputation for being reasonably discerning and on that particular evening they’d voted with their feet, giving The Charlton a landslide.
Complementary sparkling water – saving us £4 before we’d even started – was presented at the table as my friend and I perused the menu.
I started with a duck and ham hock rillette with toasted brioche while he ate asparagus with a perfectly-poached, golden-yolked egg that ran across the grassy asparagus like magma. Indulgent, rich and deeply satisfying, it was an exceptional dish – and one that had featured on the Michelin Guide’s Tweet a week or so earlier.
The rillette was good too with buttery sweet brioche neatly scorched and a wonderful, elegantly-dressed grain mustard-infused salad. The rillette itself was robust, with large pieces of duck and ham combining to good effect. It was a flavoursome and filling way to start. My friend tucked into a chargrilled sirloin steak with aplomb.
Fries and a herb-crusted tomato completed a dish that made the most of high quality ingredients and had been cooked as he’d requested so the inside remained a little pink.
My chicken kiev with skinny fries and a Greek salad was equally alluring. The kiev was wonderfully buttery and contained a substantial filling of chopped garlic and herbs, which had flavoured the tender, moist meat. The fries were good and the Greek salad was full of salty feta, chopped olives and bitter leaves.
As appetising as the desserts sounded, my friend and I were replete and decided against being greedy, tempted though we were. Once we’d paid the bill, we repaired to the Charlton’s bar area so that he could enjoy a pint of decent ale in a space filled with atmosphere and plenty of true locals.
Cedric deserves enormous credit for making the Charlton one of Shropshire’s best-loved pubs – and, indeed, for similarly impressive work at The Church. Pubs and country inns in Shropshire have faced a tough time during the past two decades as increasing competition from supermarket alcohol sales and other parts of the leisure industry have eroded margins.
Many have fallen by the wayside and highly thought of pubs that were once part of the county’s dining scene no longer exist. Competition from national chains has made things all the more difficult and it’s been a struggle for some to survive.
Cedric, however, has set a different agenda. Leading from the front and encouraging his team to provide exceptional, personable service, he’s reignited Ludlow’s love affair with great pubs.
Serving a selection of well kept cask ales in a busy bar and an array of classic dishes in the restaurant, Cedric has placed The Charlton at the forefront of the town’s dining scene and – as Michelin says – he’s helping to keep Ludlow on the food map.