REVIEWS OF THE RAVEN HOTEL
Star rating: **** Let’s talk gravy. The savoury brown sauce served at The Raven, in Much Wenlock, was ambrosia, writes Andy Richardson.
It was sticky, slightly sweet and imbued with subtle flavour. When my dinner plate was returned to the kitchen by our ever-so-attentive waiter, not a trace remained.
But I do the gravy a grave disservice. It was, in fact, cider gravy sauce served with a rhubarb and pear chutney, which gave the viscous liquid a tart, sweet flavour.
If the gastronomic gods had been looking for an instinctively brilliant accompaniment to the Tasley pork fillet, served as my main course, they could have done no better.
There was more, of course. The pork sat atop a skillfully baked Portobello mushroom and a thin layer of sweet apple sauce. An accompanying dish of vegetables contained oven-baked butternut squash, new potatoes, cauliflower – that most underrated vegetable – broccoli florets and batons of carrot.
It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a lesson in culinary excellence.
But let’s rewind. My wife and I arrived at The Raven with not particularly high expectations. It had been recommended to us by a friend, though we were unsure whether their enthusiasm had distorted their normally-objective view.
The Raven is located in Much Wenlock town centre. It’s a delightful bijou hotel, recommended in the Michelin Guide, with a bar that epitomises shabby chic. Big comfortable armchairs filled the room while the hotelier was the personification of charm.
A waiter brought menus and pre-dinner drinks as we settled into the welcoming seats. It was the perfect start.
The menus were textbook Shropshire. They placed a premium on local ingredients, exercised restraint but combined complementary ingredients.
There were meat dishes, fish, poultry and options for vegetarians.
Provenance, flavour and flair were in evidence. There were five starters, five main courses and a similar number of desserts – I could happily have eaten any of them.
As we perused the menu, our waiter brought us an amuse bouche, to accompany a small dish of beautifully tender black olives. There was a chilled strawberry and mint soup, which abounded with summery tastes. A creamy two-bite-sized goat’s cheese tartlet, garnished with a quarter of a grape. It was smooth and light, serving to whet our appetite.
The youthful but skillful waiter took our order, collected our drinks and showed us to the main dining room.
We took delight in its understated charms. There were huge oak beams and pretty picture windows, affording views across the street at clematis-fringed cottages. The walls were painted a sophisticated stone colour, there were huge garlands of flowers in front of a giant mirror and the room was tastefully lit.
On the table sat a bowl with floating candles, a pepper mill containing black and pink peppercorns and another filled with sea salt crystals. It was as impressive a non-Michelin-starred dining room as we’ve seen.
Home-baked bread arrived and we started to relax in the salubrious surrounds.
My wife started with a confit duck leg with sesame, soy and orange. It was a winner. The rich duck was moist and easily yielded beneath the knife. Its Asian-inspired dressing and fruity orange accompaniment made it stand out.
An empty plate and purring wife were evidence of its success.
My starter was equally enjoyable. I opted for a carpaccio of yellow fin tuna with crab claw, langoustine jelly and wasabi mayonnaise.
The yellow fin tuna was heavenly and unctuous. The crab claw invoked tastes of the cleanest seashore while the langoustine jelly offered an authentic hit of fresh, oceanic essence. The peppery wasabi cut through the in-tune flavours. It was a tour de force.
We enjoyed a welcome pause before our main course was presented to us.
My fruity pork with gravy and vegetables was utterly delightful.
My wife, meanwhile, opted for the vegetarian dish. She smiled as a colourful smoked cheese and butternut squash filo tart with olives and croutons was deftly placed before her.
Many Shropshire chefs betray themselves when they cook vegetarian dishes. They fail to extract sufficient flavour, often overcook vegetables and offer inept combinations. The chef at The Raven, however, was spot on. Smoky cheese with sweet, nutty butternut made for a divine match.
The dessert menu appeared and my wife declined, having enjoyed thoroughly her dinner and not wishing to over-indulge.
The temptations proved too strong for me, however, and I choose the pineapple tartin with coconut ice cream and black pepper tuile. The pineapple was warm and sweet. It contrasted well with the black pepper tuile. The coconut ice cream melted over the tartin and imbued the exotic dish with creamy delight.
Coffee and petite fours followed, including a scrumptious white chocolate and raspberry confection and a dark, intense truffle. Then we reclined in our seats and lingered a while, savouring the delicious tastes and exquisite service of the evening. Simply, we enjoyed the moment.
The Raven provided the finest, most artful and technically accomplished dinner that I’ve enjoyed in any of Shropshire’s non-Michelin restaurants.
The service was great, the hotelier was supremely attentive and the food was a bravura display of knock-your-socks off skill by an accomplished chef.
Ingredients were of high quality, their provenance was good and combinations worked.
So, why not a five out of five rating?
Well, I’ve only eaten at two Shropshire restaurants where the dinners and service have been flawless. They were Mr Underhills and the former Hibiscus, both in Ludlow.
Did The Raven measure up to those? Not quite.
There were minor details that could have been improved upon; an over-iced ice cream, pork being ever-so-slightly overcooked – we’re talking by a few seconds – and cutlery, was good rather than fine.
So, I’d give it four-and-a-half. It’s a whisker away from the highest standard.
The AA inspectors have missed a trick in not awarding it two rosettes, for it’s infinitely better than other restaurants with that accolade. It’s also heartening to see a restaurant in the east of the county give the more renowned south a run for its money.
Our bill was around £70, which was exceptional value. The Raven is an entirely impressive restaurant at every level.
The Shropshire Star
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