Food review: River Town at Number 11, Fish Street, Shrewsbury
What lies behind the doors of one town building, nobody knows as its chef changes day by day. Andy Richardson visits a pop-up restaurant. . .
By the time you read this review, you’ll no longer be able to visit the restaurant that is described.
That’s because it’s already packed itself away, never to be seen again. The discerning diners who enjoyed a nine-course taster menu at Number 11 Fish Street, in Shrewsbury, will have consigned the experience to their memories. And the chef who was behind the stove that night will be back doing his day job, cooking someplace else.
We’re not deliberately trying to confuse you with a Mad Hatter-esque riddle.
And we hope we’ll have provided sufficient intrigue for you to read on.
For Number 11 Fish Street is, in fact, a revolving restaurant that features different chefs on different days of the week.
It’s Shropshire’s first dedicated pop-up space, an area where cooks can do a star turn every once in a while, where bakers can rustle up one-off bakes, where amateurs can realise their dreams by running a restaurant of their own and where food photographers and other industry professionals can host workshops on using Instagram or capturing the perfect spot. Chefs from other parts of the county can host evenings in Shrewsbury to broaden their appeal. It’s like a mini-revolving food festival, a gastronomic circus that never leaves town.
Nº11 describes itself as a fantastic space ready to make dreams a reality. It’s based in a superbly restored Grade ll listed medieval building finished with a modern touch. Chefs and foodies can rent the space with as much commitment as they’d like to trial and push their ideas to the next level, from a day to a week to a month. And given the vibrancy of Shropshire’s gastronomic scene, it’s a fabulous idea. Docket 33, from Whitchurch, has already hosted a successful pop-up at the space and my partner and I recently dropped in to enjoy dinner from one of Shrewsbury’s newest dining clubs, River Town.
River Town is run by the team at Shrewsbury’s Mytton and Mermaid: chefs Chris Burt and Liam Tinsley and restaurant manager Kirstie Lewis. The USP is pretty simple: local ingredients with an Asian slant. And when we visited there were nine courses of culinary pyrotechnics to enjoy.
River Town had selected the ideal venue for their operations for Number 11 is a fabulous space. Located just off the beaten track, on a small, narrow, cobbled street, there was a sense of expectation and excitement as guests started to arrive. The rave generation – now two decades older – had found a new way to meet at a secret address for a night of fun.
Prosecco with raspberries was served as a welcoming drink as people converged on the black and white timbered space, which was beautifully but simply decorated with minimal wall hangings, tables and chairs and softly-lit candles. The ambience was just so.
Number 11 offers eating across two levels and we were with a large group of guests on the top floor – pitying the waitresses who had to ascend from the basement up two flights of steps for each of the nine courses, literally making more than 100 journeys to serve us. Who needs personal trainers when you can have enjoy a tone-up stepping session at the town’s coolest restaurant?
Events are advertised on the venue’s www.atnumber11.com website, where people can find details of supper clubs, workshops, ethnic food and much more.
We were shown to our table by the delightful maitre d Ms Lewis and enjoyed the atmosphere as guests arrived to enjoyed the unexpected.
River Town chef Chris Burt brought each of the nine courses into the main dining room, giving guests a brief explanation and offering the personal touch before customers tucked in. It was a nice idea, making the event feel like a celebration or bespoke party, rather than an evening in a restaurant.
The food was big on flavour and the evening’s highlights came from the savoury courses.
We started with a bowl of crackers that had been topped with small pieces of Mangalitsa pork which had been doused with a sweet, hot and sticky Asian marinade. It was delightful. The crunch of the crackers allied with the savoury meat and umami-rich sauce made for interesting eating. A wonton bomb provided guests with an archetypal course. Chris had sourced hen of the woods mushrooms from a local owner of a wood. They’d been deftly cooked, packed tightly into won tons and deep-fried. Truly, local food with an Asian slant.
Two of the evening’s highlights followed as poke – pronounced poke-eee – provided a complete sushi-course in one bit. Seasoned sushi rice had been topped with a little peppery wasabi, slither of egg roll and piece of salmon before being garnished with caviar. My partner listed it as being her favourite course of the evening.
Mine followed. Chris made a yuk sung using Welsh wagyu beef, which was served in small lettuce rolls. The wagyu was melt-in-the-mouth tender while the deep, rich, sticky Asian dressing was utterly divine. It was a stand-out dish.
Som Tam followed, adding a little spice to the preceding, before wagyu made a fuller appearance on a Peking-inspired dish. The sauce was so-so but the meat was truly marvellous. Wagyu is heavily marbled and originates in Japan. The streaks of fat that run through the meat render during cooking, giving it a buttery texture and thrilling taste. Chris had lightly scorched the small pieces of wagyu and let the ingredient do the talking. It was outstanding.
Desserts followed, running the gamut from a sticky, deep-fried cake to a deconstructed bounty and as the sun started to set, diners reflected on a happy evening. River Town had provided a lunch service earlier in the day before a new party of guests had eating to their heart’s content at supper.
It had been an evening to enjoy Chris’s inventive and experimental dishes, great service and an attractive new addition to the county’s dining scene.
Shropshire has a sufficient number of artisans, wannabes, chefs looking to spread their wings and others to make Number 11 work. The idea of there being a space at which people can experiment, trial and test is highly exciting. Who knows what it will showcase next.