Sunday, 6 February 2011
The New Inn at Backwell
It’s been 2 weeks or so since Michelin published their 2011 guide. As is now almost customary, I scoured the lists of restaurants, and held my head in my hands as once again Essex seems to be almost entirely unrepresented, not a single Michelin Star and just one Bib Gourmand in the whole frigging County. (George and Dragon at Kelvedon, I salute you). Entirely depressing. If it wasn’t for London having an embarrassment of riches when it comes to decent restaurants and being just a stones throw away, I think I’d sink into terminal depression.
However, I was startled out of my low spirits by suddenly remembering that this year I live on the other side of the country and the culinary problems of Essex although close to my heart are 175 miles away.
Happily, Bristol, and the surrounding area fared much better in the 2011 guide with the Pony & Trap at Chew Magna being awarded a star and The New Inn at Backwell getting a Bib Gourmand. It was the latter we decided to visit for lunch last Sunday.
Blackwell lies just outside Bristol; barely 10mins on the train from Temple Meads and then a brisk 15 min walk through a leafy and not entirely charmless village. So surprisingly easy to get to, even for people like me who are currently minus a car *sniff*
The New Inn itself is a lovely looking place, old, stone built and with character but obviously the subject of recent refurbishment, it all looks very neat, tidy and pleasant. The interior also looks brand spankingly decorated in muted grey contemporary colours, but the wooden floors and original fireplaces help to retain some age worn character. It all feels suitably cosy and relaxing. It was nice to see some locals drinking in the bar, I think there’s nothing worse than a place purporting to be a ‘pub or inn’ that is actually anything but.
Taking a seat in the restaurant area proper, beyond the bar we got our first look at the menu. My Initial thoughts were, ambitious inventive cooking and bloody cheap…. 3 courses for £19.50 – Hello!
Unusually, as the whole menu looked so interesting ‘E’ and myself decided to order a starter each and an additional one to share.
Despite having chewed and gnawed my way through some bloody awful Carpaccio style dishes in the past, (A lamb Carpaccio in Southend’s ‘The Glasshouse’ a few years back being perhaps the worst, three 50p size slivers of tasteless chewy meat sprinkled with dried packet herbs…£7 thanks very much). The New Inn’s Carpaccio of Long Ashton Fillet with Stilton Shortbread and Stout Cream, intrigued me.
The plate of food looked beautiful, serious food porn and the actual Carpaccio itself was awesome, meaty full of flavour and generously portioned. Unfortunately the Stilton shortbread was overcooked, and just a bit hard. So much so, that as I tried to cut into it, the end went pinging off across the table and onto the floor. It all tasted great though and it’s nice to see someone doing something really different and exciting with British food.
‘E’ had gone for something of a more classic yet conventional dish, Moules Marinières. There’s not a lot to say about this really, the pile of mussels cooked in garlic, cream and white wine looked attractive enough presented in a glass bowl, but if I’m honest it’s not something I ever order in restaurants finding it a bit unadventurous. Although to be fair to ‘E’ it was the only choice out of the starters for a Pescetarian.
A vegetarian would have been stumped for starters actually, as it turned out the only non-meat dish we’d ordered to share ‘Welsh Rarebit Mousse with Chicory, Apple and Red Cabbage’ contained Gelatine and ‘E’ could only look on aghast as I ate it all. It was really interesting actually, as with the previous dishes, it was beautifully presented, with all of the expected cheesy rarebit flavours present in the mousse, which contrasted nicely against the sharp and sour flavours in the accompanying salad.
So far so good, some minor niggles but really interesting food.
I love a nice bit of Pork Belly, so couldn’t resist some that was 12 hour roasted with crackling and braised cabbage puree.
Up it came, and bloody hell. It was a work of art. I don’t think I’ve seen a roast dinner as beautifully presented ever. There was even a sneaky piece of mystery meat, (which turned out to be duck), perched on top. A small pot of rich jus to pour over it all completed what to my mind looked like a perfect plate of Sunday lunch. I’m happy to say that it didn’t just look amazing, but tasted the part as well.
Almost in an act of vegetarian redemption for the lack of starter options, separate large bowls of superb roast potatoes were deposited on the table, mine cooked in goose fat, ‘E’s cooked in vegetable oil and a nice big bowl of seasonal vegetables.
‘E’s veggie choice of Baked Leek and Pine Nut Pudding with Roasted Parsnips was excellent, it’s really good to see some real thought going into Sunday lunch vegetarian options on the menu with ‘E’ constantly frustrated by the almost standard unimaginative restaurant options of dishes comprised of goats cheese in some form or other, or a totally inappropriate pasta dish.
Stuffed silly and bursting at the seams, but having caught sight of a dessert menu with yet more inventive dishes evident, so refusing to throw the towel in just yet, I ordered ‘Nougat, Pistachio and Hazelnut Praline with Salt Coffee Parfait’.
What an amazing dessert, the whole thing was delightful to eat, although I have to say the salt coffee parfait served in a jar was particularly good.
I’ve eaten in a lot of Gastro-Pubs, and more often than not the desserts are where things normally fall down. How many times have you seen Sticky Toffee Pudding or Crème Brulee on the menu? The same old dishes again and again and again, Isn’t it about time we moved on a bit?
Don’t get me wrong both of these examples can be sublime when done well, but enough is enough, I wish restaurants would put as much thought into their desserts as they do with the rest of the menu.
Happily, The New Inn hasn’t fallen into the rut that so many other places seem to languish in and their desserts are exciting, new and unusual. Even when a classic is served, it’s with a twist, the Rhubarb Crumble coming with the intriguing addition of Bay Leaf cream for example.
Across the table, ‘E’ was eating a well made ‘Bitter Chocolate Tart with Marzipan Ice Cream and Chocolate & Orange Sauce’, again something a bit different and a bit exciting, I can’t say I’ve seen Marzipan Ice Cream before and it was bloody good, maybe a bit sickly sweet after the excesses of the rest of the meal, but I’m pleased I tried it.
So, on the plus side The New Inn at Backwell gets a massive thumbs up from me. I can easily forgive the minor quibble of the overcooked Stilton shortbread as the food was generally amazing. My only real negative comment is that the starters need to include a real vegetarian option, if it contains gelatine it’s not actually vegetarian. But nevertheless really beautiful and interesting food, inventive use of quality ingredients, the best Sunday lunch I’ve eaten for quite some time and perhaps the most imaginative and exciting dessert menu I’ve seen in a gastro-pub for years. Oh and at £19.50 for 3 courses, it’s a total bargain as well. I can’t wait to go back to give the evening dinner menu a try.
The New Inn at Backwell
86 West Town Road,
Telephone: 01275 462199