Katy Rink tries out a new tasting menu at The Haughmond and immediately wants to go back! This village inn on the outskirts of Shrewsbury gets every more ambitious, with a first class team of chefs running the show - with pictures by Andy Hughes.
The Haughmond, from the outside, looks like a rather unassuming place to eat. It makes no fancy claim upon the landscape, aside from a smart green sign with a stag head – and stands squat and firm – a solid, English country pub. And indeed it is.
Inside, the inn is comfortable and rather old-fashioned with heavy fabrics, plush carpet and wooden floors. You’d think you might be in for standard gastro pub fayre. You would be very wrong. The food here is exceptionally ambitious and the effort (oh, the effort!) that this hungry team of first class chefs take over every mouthful is absolutely astonishing.
In no way do those hours of input translate as overreaching. The elements of all six courses in the £59 tasting menu come together so delectably, they eclipse the sweat of process and assembly. As an experience chaser, I would always rather go for the tasting menu. ‘Basil’s Tastes of the Haughmond’, as it is called here (after a favourite dog, RIP) expresses the full gamut of culinary skills.
Designed by Executive Head Chef Gareth Howarth and executed by a team of five chefs, each with a different skill set, it really is a thing of beauty. You might not think you like smoked trout, but when it arrives looking like a Cartier brooch, with tiny clusters of gleaming passion fruit balls and wisps of dill, set against a lavosh flatbread crisp, it heightens one’s sense of appreciation.
All the more so when accompanied by a dill cocktail made with St-Germain, smoked salt and cucumber – an impeccable pairing suggested by chief sommelier and general manager Marcio Reis (who trained at Foxtrot Oscar, Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton in London). Don’t turn it down!
You’re in for a heady and adventurous ride from the get-go – bread usually comes and goes before you really fasten in but, at The Haughmond, the bread is a showstopper – onion bread swirled like a Chelsea bun, but ever so more refined, with a selection of flavoured butters. It gets an intake of breath every time. Who puts this much effort into bread?
“We come up with dishes that we would enjoy eating ourselves,” says 32-year-old Gareth, who was formerly Exec Chef at the Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park and a semi-finalist on Masterchef: The Professionals (2017). The Haughmond was awarded a third AA Rosette in 2020 and is one of only 10 Shropshire restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide. Surely a star can’t be far off for owners Mel and Martin Board and their team?
“We don’t really talk about accolades, we’re really about creating a product we’re all really happy with,” Gareth insists. “We keep our focus on the customer.”
Being in the heart of Shropshire, the chefs have no shortage of good produce on the doorstep. Even the truffles are sourced here – from a truffle orchard in Stapleton. The chicken and duck comes from Corbetts of Shrewsbury’s Market Hall.
Course after course followed, each presented with the same goggling attention to detail – each vying to be the favourite. Mine was the confit chicken with generous flakes of Shropshire truffle, beautifully curled leeks and a delicate cloud of goat’s cheese ice cream, which melts with a happy sigh into the medley of flavours.
My son preferred the halibut, with a rich oxtail base and heady roasted celeriac foam, created using soy lecithin (he’s got good taste – it’s the dish Gareth’s most proud of). The duck course (chicory, turnip, orange) was extra exciting – including turnip filled with duck leg with a hazelnut dressing – and caramelised chutney in a cabbage leaf. It begged for instructions on how best to assemble a forkful to do this remarkable dish justice.
The spiced Financier with glossy cranberries, apple balls and stem ginger was fabulously autumnal, multi-textured and heavenly to look at. The final claim upon our taste buds was a fig dessert with pear, honey and marigold leaf, from The Shropshire Microfarm, set upon dehydrated chocolate mousse. I couldn’t find anything to criticise – at a stretch you might find fault with the décor, which is a little outmodish – but who looks at the mantelpiece when the fire is burning so bright?
The Haughmond is on fire; this is daring, fun, lively food that never over-reaches and with a complete lack of pretension. Having recently been to a very expensive and well known spa resort, where the inexperienced staff treated customers with the brash contempt – young bucks herding in cash cows – it was a pleasure to be gently guided through the menu but sweet and knowledgeable waiting staff and to come away feeling genuinely surprised at the value for money on offer here.
Katy enjoyed the six course ‘Basil’s Tastes of the Haughmond’ menu – at £59 per head, or add an accompanying wine flight for an additional £35 per head.
www.thehaughmond.co.uk The Haughmond, Upton Magna, Shropshire, SY4 4TZ, (01743) 709918