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The Lion and Pheasant, Shrewsbury ~ An absolute antidote to extravagant ostentation

Lion and Pheasant Shrewsbury Hotel and restaurant

Lion and Pheasant Shrewsbury Hotel and restaurant

The Lion and Pheasant   Shrewsbury ~ An absolute antidote to extravagant ostentation by Philippe Boucheron for ETM (c) Spring 2011

Today far too many people consider a display of extravagant ostentation by hotels and restaurants as a sure sign of excellence.  At last I have found the perfect antidote to this vulgarity at the most understated hostelry in the Midlands. Welcome to the Lion & Pheasant in Shrewsbury, an old coaching inn beside the English Bridge that has become a most stylish townhouse hotel with a truly fine-dining restaurant.

Its present incarnation is due to two highly professional and enthusiastic artists and a dedicated team of professionals; interior designer and architect Rachael Chidlow, whose Shropshire-based mother Dorothy owns the hotel, and chef  Alan Dann whose CV covers leading English and French restaurants who between them posses no less than 18  Michelin stars, both supported by General Manager Jim Littler and his dedicated team who have all worked very hard to achieve such levels of excellence throughout.  Rachael, Alan and team have created a boutique hotel with an outstanding restaurant.  It is a haven of excellence where simplicity sets the style in both décor and cuisine.

Rachael, a partner with her husband Paul Keogh in one of Dublin’s most outstanding architectural practices, has brought a sense of clean, Celtic simplicity
that makes you very welcome and extremely comfortable. The ground floor is simple open-plan. As you come in the front door, from Shrewsbury’s busy Wyle Cop, you are in a relaxing foyer, directly across is the reception table – no massive structure to build a barrier between you and the attractive and very efficient receptionists.  To your left is the bar with tables at which simple meals are served.

The 22 en-suite bedrooms, on the two upper floors, are all furnished in a similar enchanting white simplicity: white but not stark.  The beds are blissfully comfortable, the bedside telephone is both an attractive example of modern design and an efficient means of keeping you in touch with home or the office.  The large flat-screen television brings the outside world of sport, news, Emmerdale or even Eastenders into you room, while the coffee and tea making set enables you to enjoy a beverage while you shave (men only). Your morning newspaper will be outside your door.   The hanging wardrobe is home to a powerful electric hair-drier. The bathroom has a large bath with a highly efficient shower, and a curtain that does keep the water in and not on the neatly tiled floor. There is an elegant supply of excellent quality toiletries and – blessing of blessings –  large, fluffy white towels.

I enjoyed a glass of champagne in the bar while I read the delights of the menu and the pleasures of the wine list. The menu is a refreshingly short document with a choice of starters, so-called ‘in-betweeners’  that can either be served as starters or main courses, mains, with ’sides’ and desserts.  Alan is a chef who has no need to try to impress with the vulgar twirls and twiddles beloved by Michelin seeking cooks. He simply insists on the finest, freshest local produce that he cooks to extract the full palate of their natural flavours.  I felt from the first time that I had met him, a couple of weeks before, that I could have absolute faith in Alan, so I left the choice of menu to him.

As I entered the split-level restaurant was full of the buzz of young people, with bottles of wine on their tables, being served by girls whose infectious smiles would brighten up any room.  And this was a Tuesday – not known in the catering trade as being especially busy.  My table was dressed with crisp napery, gleaming glassware and – to me a touch of near genius – the clean lines and functional precision of Robert Welch stainless steel cutlery.

Chef certainly opened the batting with a big hitter – a foie gras and chicken liver parfait served with a fig compote and toasted brioche (£7.50). This was a magnificently integrated dish, that was so smooth it could woo dowagers on to the dance floor. The flavours were melded into a single subtle, sweet, yet earthy presence, that was flattered by the fig compote.  The toasted brioche would have been loved by Marie Antoinette – who when told the people of Paris had no bread suggested that they eat brioche.  A glass of Sauterne was a most fitting partner to this most luxurious of dishes.

Next up came one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes; pan-fried fillet of sea-bass with basil mash, asparagus, chorizo and sweet piquant peppers (£15.50).   Although not adverse to ‘surf & turf’, I found that the subtle flavours of the fish were somewhat beaten into submission by the hot spicy fire of the Spanish sausage. Nevertheless it is a commendable combination that is perhaps better matched to a bitter beer than a fine wine.

Medallions of rose pink roast duck breast set on a bed of freshly grated and fried Savoy cabbage, with a chive potato purée and served with a beautifully balanced Port sauce (£14.95) is something that I simply must have again.   It is a jig-saw of a dish, all the components fitting in so naturally together that it caresses the palate with a mystic union of flavours.  I enjoyed a large glass of very good Pinotage– South Africa’s often under-rated red made from a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, that the South Africans call Hermitage.

All of a sudden there was chef in front of me asking if I would prefer cheese or dessert.  I have to admit I almost said ‘both’, but I opted for dessert – and I shall be eternally grateful for that decision. In France they have what they call Le Grand Dessert that can best be described as an hors d’oeuvre style service of tiny desserts.  Here on a plate the kitchen presented their own interpretation of this most delectable delight, a trio – no a virtual trinity – of mini desserts (£7.50).  First a tiny Tiramisu that was so deliciously decadent that if it had been served in Italy I would have stood on my table waving my jacket in the air; next a small dark chocolate fondant that encapsulated the very essence of the finest Columbian cocoa beans. Then there was a crème brulée as classic as a Mozart concerto, whose dense caramelised cap covered a thick vanilla cream of outstanding excellence.  Finally, as if opening a window on to Mother Nature, a strawberry ice cream that was redolent of tiny wild  fraise de bois .  To have missed this would have been the culinary crime of the century.

As I went down the stairs for a cup of excellent coffee in the bar I noticed a print of Picasso’s Dove of Peace. Never had this simple iconic image been placed in a more fitting spot.  It was yet another example of the tremendous attention to detail that Rachael Chidlow has paid to everything in this haven of peace.   Mind you, if you prefer the pretention of plates covered with cloches, that are all removed with military precision, then the Lion and Pheasant is definitely NOT for you.

The Lion + Pheasant Town House Hotel, 50, Wyle Cop   Shrewsbury , Tel: 01 743 77 03 45 NOT to be confused with the Lion Hotel, further up the Wyle Cop!

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