Saturday, 18 November 2017

Rediscovering meat is a carnal delight

ALMOST a year ago I started eating meat again after a quarter of a century of abstinence.

ALMOST a year ago I started eating meat again after a quarter of a century of abstinence.

There’s no need to bore you with all the whys and wherefores, but it’s worth mentioning because re-discovering meat in its many guises, with all its different flavours and textures, has been such a pleasure it’s hard to believe anyone could deprive themselves for so long. I feel like a nun who’s ripped off her wimple.

One of the greatest pleasures is examining a menu at length, like a little girl in a sweetie shop, savouring the knowledge that you can choose any one of the dishes laid before you rather than settling for one of the two veggie options, a choice which used to take about two nano-seconds.

The dinner menu at the pub in the Quince Tree last Monday proved particularly pleasurable in this respect as there was something for everyone — fish and chips, fish pie, pork tenderloin, steak and ale pie, a selection of steaks — good, hearty, traditional pub food but with a gastro twist.

What to choose? For a brief moment my eyes lingered over the red lentil loaf... but no, it will be at least another five years before every different permutation of meat has been sampled and ticked off. Eating a meat main when dining out is, for the time being, mandatory.

Having said that, the vegetarian selection was impressive, and the creamed wild mushroom soup with truffle and artichoke ravioli just kept leaping off the starter menu, so I plumped for that while my partner chose the spiced lentil, seed and nut Scotch egg with a pickled pear and Cashel Blue cheese salad. I hasten to add that he has always been a carnivore and has never been influenced by my eating habits. There was another Scotch egg starter with meat, but he said he fancied something a bit different.

My soup bowl arrived bearing three hand-made ravioli and a little mound of wild mushrooms, and the soup was poured over from a steaming jug. This was truly delicious; the soup thick and creamy and luxurious in a way you would never dare make at home, with just the right balance of earthy mushroom and truffle flavours. My partner’s scotch egg was spicy and substantial.

For main course he chose the roasted fillet of brill which came with crushed squash, charred leeks and spiced lentils, while I opted for partridge breast with bacon, potato gnocchi, onions and mushrooms. I’d never tasted partridge before — yet another bonus — but also, game just seems so right for this time of year.

The two podgy little breasts arrived on a pile of greens and beans, with plenty of bite-sized braized white onions and little tubes of squashy potato, everything doused in a gamey jus. Actually, I don’t know if the chef would call it ‘jus’ or gravy. To my mind gravy is always thick and viscous, whereas this was thinner and more delicate with a slight fruity zing to it. The partridge was a good option: not as strong in gameyness as pheasant or venison, but more flavoursome than poultry.

The brill was equally good, a firm white fish fillet with a golden crust, accompanied by a side order of chunky chips.

The food here is like the décor and the service — stylish and elegant without being overly fussy or pretentious. It is quintessentially English, and good value for money.

Oh and not to forget the dessert. We shared a Tiramisu warm chocolate pot served with coffee ice cream, mascarpone foam and tiny cubes of masala jelly.

The mocha-style pudding came in a little ramekin bearing a crusty top but good and gooey inside. It was quite simply to die for.

Restaurant: The Quince Tree, Stonor

Prices: starters £6 — £11, mains £12 — £18, steaks up to £26

Contact: (01491) 639039, email home@thequincetree.com, visit www.thequincetree.com

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