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The Jews House, Lincoln

This, our first visit, was for dinner on the 25th February 2016. We were with two good friends who had already visited once and were keen to repeat and share their enjoyment with us.

The Jews House has limited space in a very old building. It is suited to fairly intimate dining. I'll put in the spoiler straight away and reveal that we had a terrific evening. Some might even have gone so far as to say it was 'pleasant' (private joke... sorry). The food was lovely and constantly distracted us from being in such very good company.  If you look away from the centred text below it will spare you being given the menu before your visit. 

We took the 'Surprise' Tasting Menu which comprised the following:

Butternut Squash Soup, Cheese soufflé

Citrus Cured Sea Trout, Salad of Crab, Avocado and Pink Grapefruit

Pork Belly Miso, Melon Sorbet, King Prawns

Wild Turbot, Jerusalem Artichokes Roasted in Beurre Noisette, Belper Knolle, Truffle and Madeira Sauce

Roast Lamb Rump, Provencale Shoulder Slow Cooked with Chorizo

Dark Chocolate Mousse, Caramelised White Chocolate Sorbet, Turron and Praline Biscuit

Passion Fruit Cream, Pineapple, Sweet Chilli and Coriander Salad, Coconut Sorbet

Front of House, Samantha Tomkins, made sure that there were no allergies or dislikes before we proceeded. The tasting menu was not truly a 'surprise'. Each course is available on the A la Carte menu. All the cooking could be achieved at home, with the important proviso that you would need a couple of week's planning and prep to achieve it!

Although chef, Gavin Aitkenhead, didn't stretch any boundaries he did just what he promises and concentrated on flavour. The combinations are mostly familiar but they are executed along with nice contrasts of texture and temperature and delivered with a sure hand by a confident kitchen. The small size of that kitchen might go some way to explain the limit on choice. Great variety is still provided within a single dish. 

Highlights for me included the concentrated flavours of fish and meat sauces. Sweet and sour aubergine and a rich tomato confit underpinning, and almost undermining, the lamb. A smoky artichoke purée was perfect with the turbot ('The Big Green Egg' had been on barbecue duty the night we visited). Oh, that melon sorbet was a winner with the pork. A fresh, tropical finish was the proper end to our meal. It was carefully placed after a rich chocolate dessert which would have otherwise swamped it. The richness was in all those endorphin-producing elements which we treasure through childhood and beyond. However, any excess here was perfectly understated and never became cloying. The salt-struck caramel confirmed chef's control.

There were a very few moments when flavours seemed too subtle. That could well be down to my struggling palate which had been challenged by so many other delights so that I'm observing rather than complaining... We had enjoyed a great meal with truly accomplished cooking.

I have still not managed to be so clever as to concentrate on the merits of both challenging food and demanding wines at the same time so it suited me that Samantha did not lead us on much of an adventure with her recommendations from the wine list. The selection there will change, so you might well be guided to enjoy new offerings. Here is what we agreed on:

2013 Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa

2012 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret

Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest 201?

All went down very well... especially with two men who had the terrible task of drinking the major part to compensate for the restraint of their lovely wives!

Samantha seems well-equipped to explain, suggest and recommend with knowledge and confidence. There is much on the wine list to explore. I try not to fret too much about restaurant wine pricing. We don't really go out quite often enough for it to be a threat to our finances. But bottle prices can certainly be a source of worry and dis-satisfaction, with potential for over-shadowing the enjoyment of eating out. If this article is anything to go by, it seems that 'The Jews House' are on track with a 'Good' mark-up of around 200%. 

Let me end by repeating the enjoyment that this visit gave to all of us. We were looked after by discreetly attentive servers and experienced food from a very assured chef and kitchen. The price we paid for our meal might just be beaten elsewhere but it was still excellent value. Lincoln has a modern-day success in a lovely historical setting. I know that we will return. Thank you to all involved.

Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop Café

Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop Café

We visited on 10th December 2015, arriving for lunch and an afternoon visit to the house in its Christmas finery.

I had not expected an adventurous menu and was proved right. This mattered little as we simply needed something to fuel us for the crisp weather and walk to the house.

Chef’s burger of the day was beef, which my wife and I ordered. Our young-at-heart (and not so very much older than us) aunt wanted the toasted ciabatta filled with barbecued pulled pork.

I really don’t think that the pork was all that good but I was completely distracted by the terrible burger offerings. A soft, lifeless white bun with no hint of toasting cushioned a truly repugnant patty of meat. Steak, ground so fine that there was no discernible texture, had been given awful treatment. The burger had been left too long in a pan and reduced to a uniform mass of dry and chewy lifelessness. The pan had not even been hot enough to caramelise the surface.

My wife and I spent some time open-mouthed wondering why any self-respecting cook would allow such a thing out of a kitchen.

Around us, we saw confirmation that we were not alone in our plight. Grey, dry slabs of indeterminate meats and dull, anaemic vegetables were on show. Our aunt asked us to look over our shoulders. At first I thought the unfortunate lady behind was holding up a dishcloth between two forks. It was, in fact, a rough lacework of connective tissue from her roast beef. Completely inedible.

Our server’s assertion that she had not received any complaints must be taken at face value. There was, however, plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.

Sensibly, we were not asked to pay for the burger meals. I think we were sensible too in avoiding the dessert menu.

This does not purport to be high end dining but the kitchen should at least be able to deliver a decent, edible meal. Quality ingredients and any cooking ability are all totally lacking here.

Of course, this reflects very badly on the entire Chatsworth experience. A couple of years’ ago I was pleased to find damsons in the farm shop after a quick drop-in on our way home from holiday. This time I was keen to explore the rest of the ‘foodie’ elements on offer. Instead I paid a visit to the meat counter and confirmed that the utterly disappointing burgers were supplied by them. Looking at the rest of the meat products it was obvious that poor quality was the norm. If the sausages were hand-tied they were presented in a scarily regimented, almost robotic precision. More importantly, their barely pink whiteness attested to a high fat content. Yes, fat for flavour but this was taking things too far.

I had the over-riding impression that average quality was being presented at inflated prices. There are other producers who get a look in at the shop but they are somewhat unfairly tainted by association with the estate.

Oh dear, let me finish on a relative upbeat. The house and darkening gardens were full of much more honest effort and delighted us enough to talk about them more on our journey home than the lousy food and produce from earlier in the day.

Avoid the café... and be wary of the farm shop.

Damning evidence of our visit

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