From the second I saw this place, I felt like I was going to my Grandma's house for dinner. The sun beaming over the rooftop and big beautiful trees shading the path to the door, how it used to be walking up to Grandma's door on Sunday afternoon. I was delighted to see novelty decor scattered about that reminded me I was about to walk into a pub and eat some real English food.
What I could gather about this place is that it used to be a schoolhouse and they recently went through a renovation of their kitchen at the back of the property. But I wasn't certain until I read through their website a second time after coming home from dinner.
Whatever they did to the place suits the lay of the land well and looked as if it was always meant to be that way. When we walked in, I observed the same. It was made up to be quite cozy inside while still being functional. Some of the tables had a single large armchairs for seating, others a bench but most of the tables had regular wooden chairs. Our reserved table came with a big comfy red armchair. I don't have photos of any of the seating inside except the bar, for the place was CONSTANTLY packed with folk and respecting others privacy while they dine is a MUST for me.
The view from our table
Tons of non-smoking patio seating...very lovely & peaceful
I knew what I wanted to eat before I even walked in. I spent about 20 minutes at home studying their menu, looking for things that whet my palate. It wasn't hard. I was in the mood for this kind of fare. The Bangers and Mash sounded great and if I couldn't decide on something else, that was going to be my default. But...I kept going back to this particular description..."Low and slow braised elk with roasted wild mushrooms and local 1855 ale baked in a flaky pie shell, topped with gravy and served with seasonal vegetables and choice of chips or mashed potatoes". Yeah.... The more I stared at it, the more sure I was becoming. When our waiter came, I asked what their "signature dishes" were with the hope that I was going to hear the name of THAT dish...and I DID! A parade took off in my head; the order went in for Elk, Ale & Wild Mushroom Pie with mash. We ordered a kids meal of Bangers and Mash for the Sprout and a starter called "Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Stack".
It took a fair amount of time before we got our appetizer; we weren't surprised. The place was busy as restaurants go. People had shown up a little early for the dinner hour. Their kitchen was non-stop moving, but the people that were there before us were just getting served after we sent our order in. Only time would tell if it was worth the wait.
No one at the table dared to express their delight quite like the Sprout did when his dinner and our starter showed up. I WISH I had been recording it. The resounding "OOOOOOOH....OOOOHHHHH....OOOOOOOHH!" was something my husband and I will never forget. We laughed so hard at his reaction that I worried they'd think we were laughing at the food presentation. Of course we were not. But, was the taste going to be worthy of the gushing display our son had put forward??
Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese Stack
It was! The dry, sharp flavor of the warm goat cheese totally accentuated the sweet in the roasted peppers. The herb oil & balsamic reduction drizzled over it rounded it out nicely and really aided in cutting through the strong goat flavor in the cheese. (For those of you that have never had goat cheese, when you eat goat cheese most oft times it literally tastes how a clean goat SMELLS. Quite interesting to me, but can seriously be misused or misplaced in a dish.) The spicy greens that were in the stack did nothing but accentuate the flavor, added a peppery bouquet that I didn't expect. My Mister and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. The Sprout was in LOVE with his Bangers and Mash. I tried it, so I fully understood his amour for the dish.
We had barely wiped our mouths with our napkins when our entrees came out. Again...the Sprout jaculated his hearty "OOOOOH....OOOHH....OOOOOOHH!" But this time he wasn't getting to try what he was eyein' up. It was all MINE!
Elk, Ale & Wild Mushroom Pie
The first thing I did was try the gravy. Believe it or not, gravies can be a quite telling precursor to what you're about to experience. The tiniest of details left to chance can me the biggest of disappointments on your plate. The gravy was wonderful; it really had a complex, richly deep flavor. If I hadn't been thinking clearly I may have just starting licking it off the plate with my finger. The filling of the pie was fabulous! Whole mushrooms with huge, SOFT chunks of prime elk soundly coated in the savory gravy. My mash was equally wonderful. It was clear these potatoes were real and just made. The vegetables were so fresh! They were tender crisp in texture and VERY robust, like they had been picked when my order went in. The crust of the pie was just so, so, but matched the flavors quite well. I wouldn't call it a "flaky pie shell", but it got the job done. The dish was an overall triumph!
Coming in the doorway from the patio, there was a familiar noise...a clarinet. There would be live music? Apparently so, just as we were leaving the violinist and bassist had arrived. The Cheshire Cat regularly has entertainment and special events as well as a weekly specials menu. I hadn't noticed the specials menu, but my Mister did. That was most likely due to me being fixed on a dish before I came. When I am not decided, I end up reading every letter of a menu before placing my order. It can take quite some time. Did I mention this WHOLE shebang only cost us about 54 bucks...for 3 meals? Yeah...the least expensive dinner we've had in town yet....and one of the BEST so far!
Cheshire Cat's "about" page on their site boasts "If you're not already a regular, you will be soon!" That is a truly bold statement to make in a place where people may be going for their first impression of you. After partaking of the offerings, I find it to be a decidedly deserved, justified and confident description of how you will feel about returning to see what else they have to offer that you can't live without.
When I return, and I can guarantee you I WILL be going back for more....I shall have the adult sized Bangers and Mash. Their Lamb Curry also piqued my interest, but I HAVE to have the Bangers and Mash!! If it isn't obvious from what I have already said to this point, without a doubt I recommend you give the Cheshire Cat a whirl. I promise your tummy will leave purring with delight!