I really do like to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt but just once in a while they don’t help me. Recently I visited The Wine House in Lichfield for the second time. I had been expecting great things on the first occasion as it had been recommended to me as serving some really interesting, well presented food. In a way, the description was right: I had some very pretty dishes and there were some clever techniques but the dishes themselves just didn’t match the presentation. You see this all the time on Masterchef where the foams, smoke and sous vide provide a feast for the eyes but disappoint the palate.
We visited again for a quiet family Sunday lunch and I was hoping that a return to basics would show the real cookery. The menu looks to have changed a little – there were some roasts but also plenty of steaks including a 7oz wagyu fillet steak at an eye-watering £65.
My wife is not a fan of roast pork and so I tend to eat it regularly when we eat out. In Staffordshire Packington Estate prom is renowned for its consistency and flavour. After contemplating the pork belly I opted for roast pork and crackling. My fellow diners opted for the rib of beef.
First impressions are good – two decent slices of roast pork on a dark plate. Unfortunately no crackling appeared. There was a sticky skin still left on the outside of the pork fat but in no way could this be called crackling. Apple sauce was not initially forthcoming and the waiter seemed a little surprised that I asked but, to his credit, it arrived and was decent. The pork was excellent and well cooked, full of flavour and texture but, for me, half of what I ordered was missing. When something as key as that is missing off the plate you look closer at the other ingredients. The greens side dish was tasty, colourful and fresh but the roast potatoes were soggy and flavoured with tarragon. Tarragon is certainly not my favourite herb and this should probably have had a mention on the menu. There is a basic loss of trust when you can’t be sure that what you see on the menu turns up on the plate. This works against the restaurant because when I was at school we were always told to read the question and answer the question that is on the paper – you get marks just for doing that. Don’t waste time and energy answering a different question. No matter how clever everything else on the plate is I fundamentally want what was promised and, to me, crackling is an essential part of this.
For dessert I ordered the Chocolate Orange Ganache with chocolate soil, white chocolate truffles, orange gel, and glazed orange segments. What arrived was a square of decent chocolate orange ganache and some other ingredients – noneof which matched what was on the menu. The “gel” was a slightly bitter orange purée which carried on to fill the white chocolate shells (definitely not truffles). There was no soil and no orange segments. I did tell the waiter about this and he said he would give my “feedback to the kitchen”. The advertised dish contained the things this really needed – some sweetness and creaminess to offset the bitter dark chocolate ganache. It summarised what I feel about The Wine House. It is full of ‘flash’ but it is missing the basic consistency and flavour design which is essential in any restaurant. Because of this I could never imagine trusting them with £65 of wagyu. They need someone to come in and design the menu and then a kitchen regime that executes it over and over again.
I do commend them for their choice of ingredients – lots of local produce with the meat and the cheeseboard. I’m sure I will eat there again but I don’t think it will ever be by my choice based on my two experiences. Two courses for three with a couple of drinks came to around £70. Service was friendly but they seemed as surprised by what came out of the kitchen as we did.