People who say “eating’s cheating” obviously haven’t marathoned through a day having breakfasted on Guinness, lunched on lager and afternoon-tea’d on Gin & Tonic. If they had, they’d recognise that eating is not only within the rules, it’s pretty much essential if you want to remember your own name. By 8pm the bladder had taken some hammer, and the teeth were feeling left out.
Granted, I didn’t expect to be mopping up my swilly intake within the stately confines of the Star Inn The City. The denouement of a day like this is, after all, meant to be marked with something covered in chilli sauce (me, usually,) and a morning-after of regret, self-loathing and Sunday Brunch (same thing) chucked in for good measure.
But in truth I was ready for a sit down and had sloped off from the stag-do I was with. Having long lost the ability to speak, I simply pointed at my aching stomach, slouched into a chair, and left the decision making to the kitchen.
Foie gras may be a divisive ingredient, but if we were going to go down that avenue I’d speculate that some of those kebabs being necked when we eventually regrouped may have been of questionable origin, too, so let’s swerve that debate for now.
The rich, creamy liver (delicious, to be honest) and thick disk of black pudding, with tart apple adding bite, was a hearty way to get things going.
You’ll find salt and pepper on the tables here, but given the pinpoint manner in which a piece of tender lemon sole and accompanying heritage potato had been seasoned, I doubt you’ll need them. Crab and coriander, lurking within, amped things up with zip and zing.
Before I started blethering about food on here and just ate the stuff, I had a piece of chicken at the Box Tree (best shirt, pressed slacks,) that was the first time I’d ‘got’ what a difference professional chefs and proper techniques can make to a bit of grub. It was juicy and relaxed and supple – a bit like me at 10.15am after my third can of Guinness and a packet of dry roasted.
As top-notch as that chunk of chicken had been, it had been a mild-mannered and placid Gary Barlow compared to this racy Howard Donald ‘The Dreadlock Years’ upgrade. A water bath had been put to good use, but it was a hot pan and half a pack of frothing butter that had finished the job nicely and added a bit of filth; the merest of taps causing the thing to ooze its plentiful juices. Like my arteries.
Sweet potato, often my nemesis, had been deployed as a fondant, which is possibly the kindest thing you could do with the stuff, and the leafy things turned out to be sweet and grassy popcorn shoots. Another layer of flavour arrived in the form of robustly charred, smoky sweetcorn. Yes, of course I dredged a finger through that meaty sauce.
As well as that bronzed bird, what I really liked was that as stylish as these plates looked, there was nothing superfluous being plonked on them for the sake of it. Less is more, plus a bit extra, I philosophised, in my wazzed state.
Someone here knows their way around a strawberry, transforming it into chewy macaron, breezy ice cream and, best of all, a sticky jam that threaded through a wedge of old-school roly-poly, elevating the dish welcomingly from ‘dessert’ to ‘pudding’. A thick crème patissiere custard underlined the point.
Four dishes of bold but balanced cooking came and (rapidly) went, delivered by a safe-hands, smart team at the front. I was about ready for a drink.
I left feeling sated and at one with the world; the yin back in my yang. I think I may have even started a bawdy sing-song on the coach home, before slipping into a motorway slumber.
(Starters: £7+; Mains: £14+)