For anyone that follows my tweets, or knows me on a personal level, they will know that The Potting Shed in Crudwell is my favourite place in the entire world. The gastropub, in the truest sense of the word, in my opinion is pitch-perfect. It’s rustic (there’s dog biscuits next to lollypops on the bar), it’s eccentric (the light hangings are made with reclaimed wheelbarrows) and the food is a gastronomic blend between pub classics and fine dining (most of the vegetables are sourced from the kitchen garden out the back). Oh, and the seasonal cocktails are damn good too.
So, it may be a surprise to hear then that in my three years of patronising The Potting Shed, I have never been to its sister hotel (found over the road), The Rectory. But TOH was back from London and it was his birthday, so off to The Rectory we went.
On first inspection, the hotel shares that charming sense of quirkiness. The furniture is intentionally higgledy-piggledy, the cushions are mismatched and there is a giant tea cup in the dining room. The gardens are also rather special, too: no wonder there are so many weddings here. The dining room is definitely more formal than The Potting Shed but the staff are strangely dressed the same – jeans with Abercrombie and Fitch style striped shirts. There are no crisp white shirts and black aprons; but, I liked it. Fine dining without the pretension. The Friday-night menu is available for £26.50 for two courses, or £31.50 for three courses.
I started with seared scallops – three to be precise. They were served with a Granny Smith apple and ginger puree and little boudin noir. Classic flavour combinations, good textures: a good start. TOH opted for the chicken liver parfait. This surprisingly came as quite a substantial wedge (although evenly pink the whole way through) with two small slices of truffle-buttered game toast. This was superb (I had a serious case of plate envy). The deeply aromatic and earthy truffle matched with the delicate, sweet liver was moreishly good. My only complaint was that there was no where near enough toast for the size of the parfait. (Not that it stopped us eating the parfait on its own).
I was surprised at how quiet the restaurant was considering it was a Friday night. We were one of only two or three tables, the rest being couples. As a result it was a little subdued in atmosphere, which made the lack of music almost deafening. Funny how you never really notice background music until it’s not there. Lucky our bunch is quite a rowdy lot then…
Next up was my chump of lamb. When ordered we were told it was going to come “rare” by the waitress. Actually it was blushing, but for me that is how lamb should be cooked anyway. The lamb was packed with real mouth-watering flavour and the side of herby potato dauphinoise and turned root vegetables were very good. It was arguably a little wintery for our August dinner but luckily, and predictably, the weather was actually rather rotten, so it suited the evening perfectly.
TOH had chosen surf and turf. There wasn’t shrivelled scampi or a leathery steak in sight. A fillet of cod was the star: crispy skin and beautifully soft, alabaster flakes which fell apart. This was paired with the stickiest, richest and most succulent braised oxtail. Clean fish with deep beefy flavour. Heavenly. This was served with spinach and baby turnips.
It’s worth saying that The Rectory has mastered that great skill of portion control, meaning after homemade bread and delicious butter, two courses and some champagne, we were still hungering after the desserts. TOH had the Eton mess. The meringue was wonderfully chewy and sweet, the strawberries were incredibly fresh and the cream just whipped. Light, billowy and quickly devoured.
My strawberry panna cotta was delicious, too. Carry-On-style wobbly, silky smooth and packed with sweet strawberry flavour. It was served with a couple of marinated strawberries (yum) and some balsamic vinegar ice-cream. This is one of my favourite flavour pairings (we live off British strawberries steeped in vanilla and balsamic vinegar at this time of year at home) but sadly the ice-cream just wasn’t punchy enough. If I hadn’t been told it contained balsamic I would have struggled to detect it.
A cheeseboard and an argument about Manchego cheese later (don’t ask) and we were done. So, the verdict? Pretty good, actually. I still think I am a Potting Shed girl (I like to be able to turn up in heels one night and wellies the next) but for special occasions The Rectory is a divine treat indeed.