Where the hell have you been? You might well ask. Where the hell haven’t you been? Would be a more appropriate opening gambit.
Well in answer to the first question I have been – around.
More specifically I have been outside of Cornwall at the weekends and inside of work in the week. So although I have remained hungry since you last heard from me, I have been hungry ‘outside’ Cornwall.
At the risk of boring my regular readers (Hi Mummy! Hi Daddy!) with a worrying lack of posts, I have decided to go ahead with a quick review of some food I ate in a land far, far away, well, beyond the confines of Cornwall. This exotic destination being my home county of Surrey, where amongst the rolling hills, picturesque villages and Land Rovers, I was spawned some 25 years ago. Last weekend, somewhere beneath these rolling hills, flanked by rows of pristine Land Rover’s in the picturesque Surrey village of Shere, I visited a ‘gastro pub’ that I shall be referring to as The William Bray – for that was it’s name.
So read on for HungryInCornwall on tour part 1…
The William Bray sells itself as a bar ‘slash’ restaurant, with emphasis on the ‘slash’. Comprising of two main areas – the bar and the adjacent dining room (oh yes, and an ample and comfortable outdoor seating area) – the William Bray offers both a relaxed drinking establishment and a restaurant serving ‘classic British cooking in a modern setting’ according to their website.
Oh and did I mention that The William Bray is owned by former racing driver Julian Bailey? No I have never heard of him either.
I am not sure whether the term ‘gastropub’ is still in fashion when it comes to whipping up a creative bit of PR blurb for your establishment but I would hazard a guess to say that it isn’t (as The Bray seems to have omitted this phrase from their site) – but with all the William Bray’s efforts to provide a menu that offers creative dishes alongside pub classics, alongside a proper drinking pub, it just all seems a bit mixed up.
This has always been my issue with pubs that I would consider to be ‘gastro,’ the fact that they generally seem to be caught somewhere halfway between a great place to eat and a great place to drink. That is unless the pub itself is unassuming, but suprises you with excellent food. Call me old-fashioned (or an alcoholic), but I generally like to do these two activities separately.
Eat at a restaurant. Drink at a pub. That shall be my mantra.
After selecting a pint of the local Surrey Hills Brewery’s ‘Ranmore’ Ale, which if I am honest I was not overly impressed by (although I do realise that I am spoilt by the quality of Cornwall’s beautiful and varied beers, so don’t take the criticism too hard Surrey Hills) I went on to choose a starter of asparagus, poached quails egg and hollondaise sauce, which can be seen above. This represented a solid start to proceedings and I have to say it was an enjoyable dish, the quails egg was expertly poached and delicious – although the asparagus could perhaps of done with a little less bottom half.
The starter was quickly followed by my main – fillet steak with a green peppercorn sauce, roasted vine tomatoes and skinny fries. This dish was aaalllrrriiiggghhhttt I suppose. My main problem was that the green peppercorn sauce tasted to my palate (a palate that I freely admit may have been dulled over the years by beer, cigarettes and my time as a fire-breather in a Croatian circus*) a bit, well, muddy. I guess the appropriate adjective might be earthy and I am sure this is how the sauce is meant to taste, but regardless of this it still put a dampener on my main course. I didn’t ask, but I am going to assume that the steak itself was local – “you could walk to quite a few of our suppliers from the bar” says the website – so I can only assume that, as is the Surrey way, the lucky cow involved was pampered from birth, fed from Laura Ashley troughs and protected from the ravages of winter by bovine-specific Barbour jackets. Regardless of this, the steak was nothing to write home about (or blog about, but I have started now so…) and I have had better.
I shouldn’t complain too much about the food though, well not much more than I have, as thankfully I did not have to pay. The food was purchased for me and the lovely Miss C by two generous anonymous benefactors (Hi Mummy! Hi Daddy!) so I feel it would be rude to go into pricing specifics. Suffice to say that if I paid that much in Cornwall I would expect to be in a proper restaurant and would expect nothing less than a memorable meal.
To sum up my feelings on The William Bray I would like to reference what I believe to be far and away the best driving game ever. Better than i-spy, better than 20 questions and even better than swearing at scary truck drivers – this game is simply called ‘pubs.’ The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible before the end of your journey, points that are earned by first taking it in turns to spot a pub on route. Points are then awarded depending on the number of legs that the name of the pub you have spotted involves. So ‘Seven Stars’ would gain you no points (stars don’t have legs dummy!) and the ‘Cricketers’ will gain you enough points to win outright in only one go. The ‘William Bray’ would award the player just two points – not great, but better than nothing.
The William Bray – Shere Lane, Shere, Guildford, Surrey GU5 9HS www.thewilliambray.co.uk
*not entirely true