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Breath of fresh air at Fishmore Hall, Ludlow

Fishmore Hall Ludlow

Fishmore Hall Ludlow

In recent years ludlow has lost it’s spark – or should I say ‘star’ – and all appeared lost, until now. However, the heat is back on in the kitchens that once boiled, sometimes over, with the shouts and musings of Chefs who have now moved on to pastures and kitchens a-new – The Gastronomic Who’s Who including Shaun Hill, Claude Bosi and Will Holland have all spread the seeds of Shropshire elsewhere, even Glynn Purnell spent some time amongst the Shropshire stoves under the tutor-ledge of Claude, but he too is pushing for World media domination from his Birmingham bunker. All have risen from the ludlow flames to continued acclaim, leaving their establishments behind – some closed, some set to re-open including la Becasse under the patronage of Alan Murchison, who himself is not a shrinking violet, so let’s see how the local butchers and unassuming customers warm to his effervescent style.

One venue that has quietly simmered though all the changes is Fishmore Hall – located just outside Ludlow, peering majestically over the fields down to the picturesque Town. Once a private (or is it Public?) boys school, this Edwardian Stucco-style fronted building provides tranquility and a feeling of ‘an air above’ without appearing inaccessible – maybe that’s due to the down to earth approach of owner Laura Penman who herself has won accolades for customer service and business acumen – including the coveted Acorn Award which highlights young stars in the industry – One also being awarded to a young Will Holland in the same year!

A recent invitation to meet new Head Chef Andrew Birch was met with some trepidation as our inbox is littered with invites to experience an innovative new approach to cuisine by various establishments across the region, only to find that by missing the launch invite date, by the time we do make our own reservation, the chef has moved on to pastures new due to ‘irreconcilable differences’ (or an over egged CV, or kitchen tantrum as he cant have the latest bit of kit) – But this time we were intrigued to meet a new ingredient in the Ludlow stew of ‘fine dining’ establishments, who has recently been awarded three AA rosettes after just five months in the job, so off we pottered.

A passionate Welshman, Andrew himself has achieved greatness for his country. Originally from Swansea, Andrew has previously been awarded Welsh Chef of the Year in 2004, Young Chef Apprentice of Britain in 2005, Young Chef Apprentice of Europe in 2005, and was a finalist in the Roux Regional Scholarship in 2006. He has worked at Michelin starred Montagu Arms in Hampshire where he gained a wealth of experience with famed chef Matthew Tomkinson. Also a stint at Cafe Royal in London, Head Chef of Lower Slaughter Manor in the Cotswolds and Head Chef of the Grange Hotel in York, so why sleepy Ludlow that arguably has gone off the boil?

“I love Ludlow” enthused chef “every street, every corner, every courtyard is littered with food outlets – I don’t mean your usual false brands, but real, passionate individuals who know about food, and live for food, and serve it in their shops, delis, and source it through local suppliers. The quality is astonishing – I always knew that the town had many great butchers, but there are also great bakers, fresh fruit and veg shops – one even selling local micro herbs – and even the egg guy has an opinion and challenges convention, you can’t help but get excited” Chef Andrew is a great supporter of local produce, but only for the right reasons “local is great, but it’s not always the best, so I will always seek to get the balance on the menu. Fishmore Hall is a premium venue and customers expect, so I deliver the best. I’m a Welshman, but I am serving Shropshire lamb, why? Because I like my lamb to have the best flavour – I use two local butchers and they know I like my meat with fat, fat means flavour – I live on a farm, and they are breeding lambs at the moment, over 600 of them, so I respect how hard it is to rear livestock. Chefs have it easy in comparison – so it’s important to respect how hard it is, right through to the plate. If I get a saddle of lamb with a think coating of fat, I know that lamb has been well bred, fed and will reward you with good flavour – whether it’s slow cooked, or flashed in the pan and glazed in the oven, it is key to good quality meat, so I like to respect its breading and origin and leave the fat on to add the flavour for our customers – they love it.”

Speaking with Andrew is refreshingly not like speaking with a conventional Chef – he truly believes customer is king, yes, not king preceded with an “F” (as there is no shouting and swearing in his kitchen, he assured me), but instead he professes that without the customer he does not have a business, and it works both ways – “as a customer to my suppliers I challenge them and they give me the best they have, and I expect our customers at Fishmore Hall to challenge us, if they don’t like what we will do, if it’s wrong we fix it, if it’s feedback we improve – only that way can you genuinely build your customer loyalty – at the end of the day it’s a business, but people can choose where they dine and how often, I want them to want to come to Fishmore Hall, and return with their friends as we cook food how it’s meant to be.”

The proof of the pudding?
So after all the ideologies it all boils down to what is Chef Andrew’s food like? To me good food is all about flavour – flavour comes from good ingredients and not messing with them. Whether it’s pulled pork, a great steak, fresh fish, street food or top end nosh. Being clever doesn’t always translate to the plate. Andrew is clever – he knows not to mess.

The tasting menu he created for us was exemplary – flavours certainly shone through, delicate where needed bold when called for – he even adapted for dietary needs by creating complete new dishes worthy of the main menu iclusion, which other diners were jealous of. The style is not leading edge, but more of an updated style on classics, with a clear focus on each element of the dish, and each coming together beautifully. For me it was the ‘incidentals’ dishes that particularly shone through, the ‘cauliflower cheese’ amuse – beautifully crafted and presented, ‘burnt’ cauliflower with ‘Tanworth’ soft cheese from Wiltshire, giving a real salty kick, complimented by the coriander, as well as the pre-dessert of prune and dark chocolate layered with yoghurt – beautifully light and refreshing – worthy of a place as a dessert in itself.

So if you decide to give Ludlow a visit, by all means stroll and consume the medieval town centre foodie-boutiques, but it’s maybe worthy a trip out of the town to experience a meal out of the ordinary where the basics are the best, the traditions respected, and the rolling country views from the Forelles Restaurant conservatory (and from the chef) speak for themselves.

www.fishmorehall.co.uk

Editor James Day was invited by Fishmore Hall. April 2015. © ETM

Samples From the  Tasting Menu

Fishmore Hall Chef Andrew Birch

Fishmore Hall Chef Andrew Birch

Goats Cheese Yoghurt Granola

Goats Curd Yoghurt Granola

"Cauliflower Cheese"Fishmore Hall

“Cauliflower Cheese” Fishmore Hall

IMG_2300

Rissotto

Spiced Diver Caught Scallop, Cauliflower Puree, Coriander, Cumin Veloute

Spiced Diver Caught Scallop, Cauliflower Puree, Coriander, Cumin Veloute

Duck Breast, purple sprouting, chicory, pickled red cabbage, peppered sauce

Duck Breast, purple sprouting, chicory, pickled red cabbage, peppered sauce

Banana Mousse, Hazelnuts, Caramel Cremeaux

Banana Mousse, Hazelnuts, Caramel Cremeaux

Set Chocolate Custard, Orange Puree, Kirsch Cream
Set Chocolate Custard, Orange Puree, Kirsch Cream

 

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