If restaurants are all about location, location, location, then The Jolly Frog should have gone bust years ago. Located in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on a windy road near to absolutely no neighbouring towns or villages, it’s a decent drive from anywhere.
And yet The Jolly Frog has stayed afloat – ribbit – for years, and under successive owners, because it’s offered one simple thing: consistently good food. And that has meant customers have been more than willing to make the drive out to it over time. The venue has long been renowned for two things: a great selection of fish dishes and a Francophile attitude to food.
New owners took over the venue in March and, as the French say: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” For those of you without Google translate or an A-Level in French, that’s: “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”
The new owners have rejigged the furniture, getting rid of a few tables here and there and installing a casual seating area. The bar has shifted from a ground floor level to a slightly higher point. But it’s pretty much as it was: the food, service and interior remain as they once were. The new bar is the only significant difference. Chunky wood and what look like polished scaffolding tubes give it a rustic feel and fit in perfectly well.
The owners have experience in local restaurants; having worked across Herefordshire and Shropshire over the years. Renting The Jolly Frog is their big opportunity, one imagines, to distil the lessons they have learned and put their own stamp on a place.
It feels much friendlier these days. When my friend and I arrived for a midweek supper, we were greeted by both owners in the car park. Foolishly, we’d attempted to gain entry via the wrong door – the layout is a tad confusing – and both were quick off the blocks to shepherd us to the dining room. They were utterly pleasant and a happy 15 minutes passes as we discussed the merits of bespoke gin, day boat fishing and similar concerns.
Day boat fishing is apposite at The Jolly Frog, for much of its catch is as fresh as a daisy. The restaurant receives twice weekly supplies from two one-man-band fishermen; one off the coast of North Wales and the other in Cornwall, in addition to daily top-ups from a national supplier. That means it gets the freshest and most sustainably caught catch, in addition to a consistent supply that means the menu doesn’t need to chop and change. Indeed, one of the most popular menu items at The Jolly Frog is a seafood platter, featuring a towering selection of langoustine and other crustacea alongside small portions of fish.
Not that we were buying.
Instead, we started with six oysters; three that had been fried in a light, crisp tempura batter and three that were served with either shallot vinegar or lemon. They were deliciously fresh, tasted of the sea and were wolfed down before you could say: Shellebration.
The Jolly Frog offers an a la carte and bar menu, so those seeking a tian of crab with basil mango and apple are catered to just as adequately as guests looking for a Margherita pizza.
We decided to mix and match; sampling dishes from either menu to see whether the chef could cut the mustard. Happily, he could. My friend enjoyed a decent G‘n’T as we browsed the menu; enjoying the acidulated taste of a bespoke, grapefruit-infused brand. The designated driver stuck to the hard stuff: a bottle of fizzy Radnor Hills water that had been extracted from a borehole within driving distance. The bread was underwhelming. It looked as though it had been bought in from a supermarket, rather than made on site, while an olive oil and balsamic dip featured vinegar the consistency of tar.
In contrast, the starters were a delight. He ate a twice-cooked mackerel soufflé while I tucked into a game terrine. The soufflé was light, delicate and had just a trace of mackerel running through it. It was subtle and delicate, like a ballerina stretching against a barre, rather than over-powering or being dominated by fish. The terrine was terrific. Pulled strands of venison were paired with a light salad comprising interesting, bitter leaves and small dots of apple gel.
There was a welcome pause as the restaurant manager allowed time for our food to digest before bringing the mains. My friend ate a medium fillet steak with cooked baby tomatoes, triple cooked chips and a pink peppercorn sauce. The steak was a delight and he made light work of it. The exterior had been scorched on the griddle so it had neatly caramelised criss-crosses atop while the meat was deliciously pink and had been well-rested.
I ate my weekly allowance of carbs in one go, opting for a small bowl of fennel tagliatelle with a side of triple cooked chips. They were both pretty good, with the flavours of the pasta the highpoint. The fennel had a sweet, aniseed flavour, from being roasted in the oven, and the grated parmesan and drizzled lemon juice added bags of flavours. The pasta itself wasn’t much to write home about, in truth, but the fennel, lemon and cheese worked well. The triple cooked chips were also decent, rather than drop dead gorgeous. The secret to a decent triple cooked chip is to steam or par-boil the potato before starting to fry, which roughs up the edges and makes them extra crunchy. These tasted nice but lacked a little crunch. They were a decent effort, but far from being the best.
We skipped dessert while muttering false promises about hitting the gym and paid a bill that was a fraction under £80.
The Jolly Frog remains one of Shropshire’s most reliable venues; providing rustic food, fresh fish and great service in picturesque countryside. It still has plenty of room for improvement; tweaks here and there, a little more refinement and greater kitchen skills would add much to it. However, it deserves a nailed-on four out of five for delivering good service, reliable food and the warmest of welcomes.