Saturday, 24 November 2007

Review: The Venture In, Ombersley

If walls had ears then dining room walls, along with confession booths, would probably have the most diverse and interesting conversations to eavesdrop on.

From the breathless chatter of ladies that lunch to the uncomfortable pauses that punctuate an unsuccessful first date. The gravity of multi-million pound business deals to the inebriated debauchery of late night stag parties. The hiring, the firing, the celebrations, the commiserations. Words ricocheting off the plaster at high volume and tempo, or quietly hovering above plates, heavy with meaning.

All of life is here.

Dining rooms with history, those that have weathered the passage of time or played host to moments of infamy would have the most compelling stories to share. What the News of The World wouldn't pay for a kiss and tell by the walls of the The Ivy. How we would lap up a word-for-word account of the Ramsay v Gill handbag fight in 1998, or the Blair/Brown pact at Granita in 1994.

But walls don't have ears or mouths, and so discretion is assured. It is left to the diner to visualise the events that might have taken place throughout the lifetime of any given restaurant, to picture the bottoms that may have graced its chairs, or to imagine the conversations that may have risen above the chinking of glasses and cutlery.

I'm guessing that a dining room built in the 15th Century would probably have seen and heard more interesting things than Yo Sushi! in Brent Cross. The Venture In is situated in the Worcestershire village of Ombersley, a Medieval hamlet so perfectly English that it could be used as a blueprint for a Hollywood period set. Any minute you expect to see a film crew appear from behind one of its timber beamed buildings and some peasant wench throw a chamber pot of slop from an upstairs window as Brad Pitt (the goody) is chased through town by Alan Rickman (the baddy) on horseback. It's a picture postcard of perfectly preserved buildings and rather fortuitously, four of them happen to be pubs. Except the Venture In isn't really a pub, it's a very accomplished restaurant.

It's a telling sign when a village restaurant offering fine dining is full on a Saturday lunchtime. People will clearly travel to this place and with good reason. The food is simple but gutsy and perfectly executed with a lunchtime menu featuring nearly as many specials as standard dishes. A starter of lambs kidneys with caramalised onion tartlet was rich, sweet and warming on a cold autumn day. Elsewhere around the table, seared home-smoked salmon was cooed over and a roquefort souffle was equally praised. Of the mains, two specials stood out- hake larded with pancetta on a wild mushroom risotto with red wine sauce, and a pot roasted medallion of lamb. The medallion was more like a discus in size and was melt-in-the-mouth tender. The hake, which on paper sounded a tad girly, was anything but. If it was girly then it was Fatima Whitbread girly. It was given a massive slug of manliness by the truffled risotto and a powerful red wine sauce, and ended up doing an emasculating job on my main course, a ribeye of beef with wild mushrooms. I must confess to food envy and it serves me right for playing it safe. Desserts were sweet and crumbly and a fitting end to the meal. At £25 for three courses, it was excellent value for money too.

Looking around the low-ceilinged room it was interesting to think of the generations that might have eaten here over the past 500 years. What was on the menu during the English Civil War? Who huddled around the cosy fire while London burned in 1666? Were any Elizabethan food critics or actresses thrown out by an irate cook? Probably not. What is for sure is that if these walls had ears last weekend, they would have heard eight very satisfied diners full of compliments for a faultless lunch.

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