Sep 13th 2009
H & I unexpectedly found ourselves in Shropshire last week for a short break to celebrate his 40th birthday. (Unexpectedly as in, we should have been in Menorca – it’s a long story involving a lost passport, let’s not go there…). It’s a beautiful part of the country and, handily for me, we were staying relatively near Ludlow, apparently the centre of the Slow Food Movement in this country and marketed as a foodie heaven.
Having spent a few hours there, we felt disappointed and slightly let down. Admittedly we were a week early for the Food & Drink Festival which may have changed our view, and the local farmer’s market wasn’t on but it still felt like any other market town we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to a few now – you can tell you’re in one if you see a branch of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill!). We found the good cheese shop which was fun (and smelly), and the owner was kind enough to point out the unpasteurised cheeses which weren’t suitable for me, being pregnant. And we found a nice wholefood cafe to have lunch in which did the job of filling us up on broccoli and cheese bake and salads and scones. But any other signs of this being an amazing foodie town were seriously lacking. Maybe we were just looking in the wrong places and missed something really obvious, but it didn’t do anything for us.
So when it came to a choice of restaurant for the 40th celebration meal, we went for The Clive which is a ‘restaurant with rooms’ just outside of Ludlow in Bromfield. It has two AA rosettes and an ‘entry in the Michelin guide’ (which I’m assuming is not the same as getting a Michelin star). It’s also next door to Ludlow’s Food Centre which was the only sign we saw of Ludlow’s foodie credentials – a store selling local produce, surrounded by workshop areas where you can watch them making the bread, or butter, or meat or fish products, pies and so on.
We rang The Clive beforehand to check the veggie options and as there was no mention of mushroom risotto or goat’s cheese tart, we thought we’d give it a try. It turned out to be quite a sound choice. It had a comfortable, warm atmosphere with a nice bar area to enjoy a drink before (and after) dinner with a good choice of quality whiskey, much to H’s delight.
Our only criticism with the food was the inconsistent seasoning, mainly not enough but we figured that was better than too much. H started with a smooth, creamy white onion soup which was delicious but needed salt and pepper. I chose the potato gnocchi with gratin of leek and oyster mushrooms which also needed seasoning but was quite comforting, if a little over-filling.
H’s main course of strudel with lightly spiced summer vegetables on a bed of baby fennel was full of flavour, if a little too salty (might be where the salt from the first course disappeared to) and made a welcome change from the usual boring veggie options. His alternative choice of baked aubergines filled with chick peas, tomatoes and herbs with cous cous salad showed that the chef had some imagination when it came to providing for the non-meat eaters, which was refreshing.
My main course of chicken breast filled with ‘apricot and basil farce’ (whatever a farce is) with leeks and buttered mash nearly proved to be my undoing. Having filled up on gnocchi, the large sliced chicken breast nearly overwhelmed me but I gave it my best shot. It was moist, tasty, the apricots gave a nice tang, it but could have done with more basil as it was barely noticeable.
Not ones to go down without a fight, despite being completely stuffed we ordered sorbet for dessert. I always think that’s an easy one to ‘fit down the sides’ of the food already packed into a full belly! I went for pink grapefruit which was zingy and refreshing. H went for a scoop of lemon and one of raspberry. He didn’t think the lemon was sharp enough. I disagreed. It didn’t stop him polishing his off though, I noticed. And miraculously we found room for the yummy petit fours which came with the coffee at the end.
For a 40th birthday treat The Clive didn’t disappoint. And looking at its website, its rooms look pretty comfortable too. It reminded us a little of the Drunken Duck in the Lake District. Maybe one to keep on the list for a future visit, even if we don’t bother with Ludlow itself. There’s still all those bookshops in Hay-on-Wye to visit…