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Our eat-the-midlands guest writer Philippe Boucheron discover a country inn with a touch of the exotic

Philippe Boucheron

Philippe Boucheron

The New Inn at Stonehall

There can only be one reason to go to the Inn at Stonehall and that is to experience Chef/Patron Harshad Chavda’s sensitive interpretation of fusion cooking.  His delicate style is so subtle that many diners may not realise that what is making their dish so exciting is a touch of the mystic east.

Stonehall Common lies in a triangle of roads with no number between the M5 and A44 from Pershore to Worcester, not too far from Littleworth. It would be safe to say that if you just happen to pass by, then you are undoubtedly lost.  However it is a destination that is well worth discovering; set your Satnav to WR5 3QG and trust to luck.

Harshad – known to all as Hash – and his financial partner, Joanna Coull, have transformed the old Fruiterers’ Arms into a an elegant gastro-pub whose open, airy layout and comfortable décor would be absolutely at home in the leafy lane of stockbroker Surrey.  They sensibly not only keep draught beer on tap, but even search out local real ales that are a welcome change to the tired old commercial beers that accompany ‘tied’ houses. There is also an excellent ‘pouring’ champagne from Etienne Lefèvre who makes his attractive fizz from a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay grown on his families eight hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in Verzeney and Verzy on the Montagne de Reims (£5.95 a glass).

The welcoming bar area, with an open fire on cold evenings, is an ideal place to enjoy a glass of champagne, real ale or even a G&T while choosing your meal and waiting for your table to be ready.  But for some strange quirk the efficient restaurant staff want you to order at your table and so deprive you of perhaps a second glass while you wait.

Here is a restaurant where vegetarians are not only welcomes, but actually treated like adults by offering them carefully thought out and created dishes.  My colleague on this voyage of culinary discovery was my son Simon, a committed veggy’ since he was 24 and persuaded to leave home!  The menu is straightforward, eight starters ranging from £3.25 to £5.95 and eight main dishes – £10.95 to £14.50 – with a choice of a further eight side orders – £1.95 to £3.50.

The wine list is thankfully equally brief and surprisingly keenly priced with a no less than eleven wines available by the glass, both 175 and 250 ml.  I chose a beautifully balanced and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia’s Margaret River vineyard – Pallandri 2001 £24.45.  We also indulged ourselves with some excellent homemade foccia accompanied by a small dipping dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Generous Portions

Simon’s starter was a dish of crispy halloumi, semi dried tomatoes, rocket salad with a red chilli dressing.  A pleasing combination at £5.25 that lit his eyes up.  My choice was Hash’s interpretation of an old Edwardian breakfast dish, devilled lambs kidney that he served on toasted pancetta with a mustard sauce (£5.50).  Piquant and brilliant, it certainly got me sitting up and taking notice of the kitchen.  A word of warning about Hash: his portions are extremely generous.

The vegetarian main dish that followed was a wild mushroom and gruyere tart served with a peppery rocket salad and new potatoes (£10.95).  I plumped for Gloucester old spot pork belly, with crispy king prawns, girole mushrooms, peas and a potato gnocchi that was a light as a maidens kiss (£12.95) to which I added a side order of spinach and pine nuts (£2.50).  .

We were much entertained by a lively table of young folk that turned out to be chefs daughter, Nicole, celebrating her 21st birthday with family and friends.  It was her first evening out of the kitchen since they opened last autumn as Nicol is the teams pastry chef making the bread and the desserts. So I stopped over at their table to wish her very many happy returns of the day and ask for her suggestions on the five puddings.  I explained that some time ago my editor had forbade me writing about crème brulées, so we opted for her glazed rice pudding with strawberry preserve (£4.95).  It was truly delicious.  Simon choose the apple and rhubarb crumble with a cinnamon ice cream that was brought in from Bennetts Dairies – also £4.95.  Suffice it t say that my roving fork was kept at bay by his masterful defence, so it must have been very good indeed.

If you have ever been confused about fusion cooking, the Inn at Stonehall is the ideal place to go and get it all sorted out.  They are open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only.  It is all very much a family affair as Hash’s wife Kathy runs the restaurant with another younger daughter is a member of her very professional team.

For more info in the New Inn, Stonehall, visit their website HERE

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