The Crooked BilletBy Stuart White
October 16, 2008
‘GOOD country pub – where would you recommend?”
I always get asked this and I always respond with The Crooked Billet.
But calling it just a pub is like saying Paul Smith makes a decent suit. It is more than that; the Billet is an institution, with a national reputation.
This month Paul Clerehugh’s pride and joy was featured in The Mail on Sunday: “As close to epicurean heaven as a girl can get”.
Dick Turpin even used to hang out here in the middle of seclusion (peaceful Stoke Row) when taking a break from highwayman duties.
I love it, it’s great. I love ducking my head to enter, I love the ditched car out front, the chained-up old bicycle, the chalkboard sign on the door (‘local produce swop for lunch’), the fireplaces, beamed ceilings, all the imperfections.
I love watching faces light up as they walk in for the first, second, third or every time.
I love the hum from the kitchen (“yes chef”), the hand-written menu with a crease and burnt corner, the girl on the wall in the men’s toilet and cosy corners.
And I totally love the food.
If you stripped away all the artwork – some is for sale – bottle-banked the wine crammed into every rack, blew out the candles and blackened those mirrors you would still come here for the food.
This leads to my only complaint – it is an absolute nightmare deciding what to eat. Hell. How do you choose between crispy tempura scallops with “fish ‘n’ chip shop” mushy pea puree (£9.90), baked individual goats’ cheese with a beetroot, orange, watercress and walnut salad (£7) or smooth foie gras and chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche and onion marmalade (£7)...?
The list goes on, each of the 16 options as tempting as the next. And that is just for starters.
The mains are more seductive. Monkfish baked in Serrano ham, slow roast shoulder of local black face mutton, pan fried skate wing, rabbit in white wine or the vegetarian delight of baked parmigiano with layers or courgette, tomato, mozzarella and aubergine.
The more you eat here the worse it gets too. Stick to what you know or risk inviting something new to your rustic table?
Our cheerful waitress offered guidance when asked to help pick between the shortlisted foie gras and onion tart: “It’s hard, they’re my favourite two.” We took another five minutes.
Eventually I dropped the scallops and we ‘wowed’ through both.
Candy after her first taste of the foie gras: “That is super melt- in-your-mouth.” The onion tart (£7) has a lid of melted cheddar and a base of sweet tomato sauce and proved a top investment. Better than that actually.
We indulgently matched these with the house Champagne (£28.95 a bottle) before uncorking a full-bodied Australian Yarraman Estate Shiraz 2005 (£35) for our next instalment of gastronomic gold.
It succeeded in turning my pink carved roebuck deer fillet, served with cavalo nero, buttery mash and syrupy marmalade (£20), into a real autumnal feast.
Candy’s Old Spot pork chop (£16), from “down the road” and alongside celeraic fondant, calvados baked apple and flavoursome carrots, also needs liquid refreshment to see you through the giant portion. “Not many finish that,” we were told. “You did well.”
Don’t stop there. The super-rich sticky toffee pudding with a dollop of clotted cream (£5.50) goes best with a glass of the award-winning local dessert wine. My wife managed half of the homemade coffee ice cream (“distinct flavours, not artificial”) and more of the accompanying pecan brittle (£5). The house fudge with espresso also deserves a special mention.
As I sit here thinking how to write a suitable ending to yet another Billet special it hits home that my car is still parked outside Paul’s front door (again).
Fool for trying to resist the charms of our favourite country pub. Ever.
- Telephone: Tel: 01491 681048
- Website: www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk
- Address: The Crooked Billet