Wednesday, 13 June 2012

King John Inn, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire

The King John is a brick and flint coaching inn, set in the picturesque village of Tollard Royal, right on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. It's a lovely rural pub; mixing style with tradition, and attracting a mish-mash of eccentric villagers, Range Rovers, corduroy, wet dogs and Guy Ritchie. (His Ashcombe Estate is just up the road, and, having yet to read a review that doesn't mention this fact, why buck the trend?) And thanks to my mum moving here a little under three years ago it has now become a local away from home.

Despite having set up camp at the bar on several precious visits, and enjoyed some lovely alcoholic afternoons and Christmas drinks (with Guy, no less. Well, he was there too...) thanks to Alex and Gretchen the owners, we had never actually managed to eat a proper meal; rather a bone of contention as my sister and her boyfriend had been to eat there just after my Mum moved down to Wiltshire.

With the Jubilee weekend coming, and a whole four days off work to overdose on cake and bunting, my mum and Sam invited us down for a few days. Lured by the promise of a meal at the King John and a lighting a beacon on the highest point of Cranbourne Chase, we packed up a tin of the Ewing's homemade scones for the WI church tea, and set off.

The menu is short and concise; a choice of half a dozen starters and seven mains. The steak and souffle are a constant presence, while the other options vary with the seasons. One thing that's central to their cooking is local sourcing, the provenance of all the main ingredients is shown on the menu and none is from further that a county border away.

Good house baked bread and local butter to nibble on .

My scallops, cockles and lobster sauce. Exquisitely sweet bivalves and a wonderfully deep, glossy reduction. My only real complaint was their wasn't enough of it. For eleven quid it would have been nice to have seen a couple more cockles an a little extra watercress adorning such a huge plate. As you can see, I made pretty light work of this one.

The Portland crab, my Mum's favourite dish on the menu and the Ewing's choice on our visit. The camera does lie in this case, with the ball of sweet, creamy white meat being a little larger than the picture suggests; and the perfect amount for the crispy, oily toast it sat upon.

I can quite see why my Mum raves about this so much; for my money crab from the South coast rivals that to which I've eaten anywhere in the world. Trips to Lymington to eat crab baguettes with my sister was a favourite treat back when we were students.

My rump steak with salad, fries and Bearnaise sauce. This decent chunk of pavé de coeur was as local as you could hope for, hailing from Iwerne Minster, just across the fields from the pub. I found it a little strange that the lump of hot meat had been positioned on a bed cold salad leaves, rendering them a little warm and soggy, but a careful bit of repositioning managed to salvage most the greenery.

A good couple of inches thick, and well charred all over, the steak looked rather past the rare I requested when I first cut it to it, but leaving it to rest for a further few minutes saw a rosy blush reappear. The flavour was wonderful; deep, smoky, nicely chewy and properly beefy. Exactly what you want from a simple piece of meat, even when slightly overcooked for my liking.

The fries and Bearnaise were both exceptional. Although the ramekin of sauce seemed a little miserly at first, it was so perfectly rich, glossy and buttery that it provided the perfect amount for dipping the impossibly crisp and fluffy potatoes. Certainly worth the calories.

My mum and Sam chose the lobster thermidor, fair value at £22.00 for a decent sized, locally caught crustacean. The Poole Harbour lobster half was big and sweet, the chunks of buttery meat standing up well to the rich, cheesy sauce. The plentiful dish of chips were the same ones I had enjoyed, a very good vehicle for any left over bechamel or seafood juices.

The Ewing ordered the roe venison haunch salad, and was rather surprised and intrigued to received this. It was more like a late spring Sunday lunch in a bowl, with caramelised baby carrots, greens, roasted beets and bacon sharing the space with some butter-soft venison chunks.
Despite being a little tricky to eat from the enamel dish, this was a very enjoyable plate of food; the mixture of sweet, bitter and salty working together nicely. There was also a goodly amount of rich gravy, perfect for mopping with the crusty bread. A nice, simple idea for the warmer weather.

My Rum Baba, a firm favourite that is seldom seen on this side of the Channel. Apart from its rather non-traditional rectangular shape, this was my pudding perfection. The buttery yeast dough was saturated with a rich rum syrup and dried fruits, and came with a scoop of gloriously smooth vanilla ice cream and an extra shot of golden rum.

While I was gently groaning with syrup-soaked pleasure the Ewing was having a similar reaction to her chocolate terrine with a shot of Turkish coffee. The terrine was impossibly rich and thick, just like the centre of a very decent chocolate truffle, and heaven for a confirmed chocoholic. The glass of coffee provided a needed bitter counterpoint for the sweet stickiness of the pud.

Overall a lovely dinner and, with the rather sizeable bill, a very generous treat from my mum and Sam. Although some of the portions may be a little on the bijou side, the flavour, presentation and quality of the food meant we all waddled away sated and happy after our meal.

The chance to recline and digest our meal at leisure was cut somewhat short by having to rush straight off after the last mouthful of pud, so we could catch the mini bus up to Win Green and see the beacon being lit for the Golden Jubilee celebrations. Bottle of red in hand it was a rousing end to a very nice weekend.

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