It'd been a couple of years since I'd eaten here and clearly, on seeing the menu, they've stepped up their game (and their prices) with a lovely sounding dinner menu. I apologise for the quality of the pictures - this trip to the Old Bull's Head was every food blogger's nightmare - we were sat under a spotlight!
To start, one of my friends went for the crayfish & crab pot bound in Devon crab mayonnaise & chives with toasted suprema bocata bread. We all agreed it was the best tasting of the three starters but for me, presentation let it down. the pot was a little to deep and narrow to easily get the pate out and as always, the world over, with these things, there wasn't enough bread.
I went for the Bury black pudding potato cake with a poached free range egg and spinach & whisky hollandaise. I could not taste whisky in the hollandaise and again, felt that the presentation was a little sloppy. Sadly my egg wasn't runny either - that dish was crying out for a runny yolk.
That leaves one starter - the maldon sea salt & dill squid with aioli and cucumber & spring onion salad. The squid was fresh and tasty and not at all chewy BUT we all agreed the batter could have done with a little more colour on it and the cucumber salad was far too salty.
So, round one and we were all left feeling a little deflated and looking forward to our main courses. I actually blame myself for making a bad choice with mine. Even as I ordered I think i knew it could go either way - guinea fowl kiev on an apple, courgette & sage rosti with a mushroom & spinach sauce. Really, guinea fowl is too delicate to be used for a kiev, it may as well have been chicken. The sauce was thin and didn't add much but on the plus side, the rosti was tasty and the enoki mushrooms added an interesting dimension to the dish.
My friends opted for much better dishes; both pork! Patrick chose slow-cooked pork belly and seared scallops with sticky ginger beer glaze, crackling, Bury black pudding, mashed potato, green beans and apple & vanilla ketchup and Charlotte went for pan roasted pork loin with garlic new potatoes, baked tomato, blue cheese mushroom, green beans and a red wine jus.
Both dishes were flavourful and well cooked. The belly pork was soft and cut easily - don't you hate it when you get a rock hard top and then mush underneath? I've tried vanilla mash / salt / ketchup before and am not convinced by the flavour combo but it was so subtle on this occasion that it didn't offend in the slightest. The dish from the specials was really nice - we thought that the jus was probably the same as the main menu dish but not a problem seeing as they both featured pork. The tomato also needed a bit more baking as the centre was still quite raw. But overall, both nice dishes.
For pudding we shared the house sharer which had a salted caramel chocolate pot, passion fruit tart, creme brulee and an ice cream cookie sandwich on it. Everything was yummy but the crème brulee had a soft top (not 'tap tap' enough to impress me!)
My issue, I think, with the Old Bulls Head is solely the price. I like the place and the food is not bad. I would return and I would probably be happy if it wasn't so expensive. This is good gastro pub food served in a great gastro pub setting. It feels at odds with itself, like they are trying to run before they can walk.
Don't get me wrong, food wise this is definitely a step above the Quorndon Fox but in my view, a step below The Manor House (both of which are very close and offer similar style dining). The average price of our three mains was £15.75 and the whole bill came to £132.65. That included three starters, three mains, one pudding, a bottle of wine and 3 cocktails plus a couple of soft drinks. Now its over to you blog reader - I want you to test my marmite theory - have you eaten there, what did you think? Am I being too harsh?
*I paid for my meal in full and the pub did not know I was planning to review their food*