Paolo Tullio: From the garden to the plate
I was back in the Midlands this week, filming a new series of 'The Restaurant' in the beautiful surroundings of The Wineport Lodge. My fellow critic Tom Doorley and I stay across the bay in The Glasson Golf Hotel, so there's no risk of us running into the celebrity chef. That's the same reason that keeps us away from the Wineport during the day while they're filming.
Which meant that we had time for lunch. We'd heard that Feargal O'Donnell, who was executive chef in The Wineport Lodge, had opened his own pub and restaurant in Glasson. The pub is still called The Village Inn, but the new restaurant is called The Fatted Calf.
A few years ago, Tom and I had lunch in Grogans, which is directly across the road from The Village Inn. What is surprising is that Glasson, though quite small, now has at least three places to eat because, just up the road from the two pubs, there's also the Glasson Village Restaurant, which we haven't tried because they're not open for lunch. You could say that when it comes to food, Glasson is well served.
Inside the Fatted Calf we found an old-world pub atmosphere with a blazing open fire, which created a real welcome. We took a table next to the fire and went through the menu, which has taken a leaf from Marco Pierre White's by starting with a 'Roast of the Day', priced at €12.50 including seasonal vegetables and potatoes.
Tuesday is roast pork, Wednesday roast beef, Thursday home-cured bacon, Friday confit lamb and Saturday tandoori chicken. We arrived on a Wednesday, so the day's roast was roast rib of beef.
The menu is then full of interesting dishes: aromatic confit duck with spiced pineapple pickle; Lissadell mussels with coconut, coriander and lemongrass; beetroot risotto with Glasson mushrooms and a Bellingham Blue beignet; Jane Russell's beef and Guinness sausages, and buttermilk-fried spiced chicken.
If, by any chance, this wasn't enough of a choice, there was a blackboard with the day's specials. The two main courses were seared pigeon breast with foie gras, and loin of venison with butternut-squash orzo. All these choices, plus the knowledge that we had to eat a full dinner just a few hours later, meant that we had to think carefully.
Eventually, we chose the seafood chowder followed by a hot roast-beef sandwich for Tom, and the parsnip and apple soup followed by the rib roast for me.
Like the menu, the wine list shows the hallmarks of Feargal's pedigree. It's a well-chosen list that's fairly priced, beginning at €20. Almost all the wines fall into the €20-€30 bracket, although if you want to spend more there are two wines from the Californian winery Sequoia, the Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon, both priced at €47.
We ended up drinking three bottles of sparkling water at €3.50 each. If you're a beer drinker, there are nearly 20 bottled beers to choose from.
Our soups arrived with good bread. I liked my soup -- it was tasty, warming and nourishing. Tom quite liked his chowder, but wasn't enthused. His enthusiasm came in spades with our next course.
Tom's roast-beef sandwich and my roast rib were from the same joint, which was described on the menu as Donald Russell beef. It turns out this is a brand name operated by Keypack, one of the big meat processors. If you see this name on a menu, my advice is to go for it at once.
Both Tom and I were in agreement: this was utterly superb beef, with a taste that reminded me of the flavour of the roast beef I had as a child. Apart from being tender, it had a full, deep flavour that left us both impressed. In truth, I'm not sure if I've ever seen Tom quite so impressed.
As for the accompaniments to our main courses, we had some excellent chips and greens. But what left us truly contented were the potatoes roasted in duck fat. If ever a simple thing was designed to get me on side, potatoes roasted like this will do it.
We did look at the dessert menu, which offered a chocolate-chip pavlova, a lemon and apricot steamed pudding, a pecan and apple crumble, a sticky-toffee date cake, a chocolate brownie, and a pear-and-almond frangipan tart. All very tempting, but in the end, we settled on a coffee each.
Tom went off to do a little writing, and I stayed a while as Feargal himself came out of the kitchen and we got to chatting. He took me out back, where there's a large lawn that serves as a beer garden, and beyond that there's a field and a paddock.
Feargal has plans for this. The paddock will become home to some Tamworth pigs, which, along with hens for eggs, will mean food metres rather than food miles. The pigs will be useful converters of food waste from the kitchen and so will make a real ecological contribution as well as a gastronomic one.
It occurs to me that this might well be the direction that country restaurants could take. Even the vegetables that Feargal uses are all from local suppliers, so the green ideal of eating local food becomes a closer reality.
All in all, an excellent lunch, full of local ingredients and with suppliers listed on the menu. This is surely a major plus for Glasson's hospitality.
Our lunch brought a bill of €44.25.