Still dazzling after all these years...
I do not go out to find fault, if fault finds me that’s another story. I cannot understand those miserable cretins incapable of enjoying any experience unless they have ticked a list of criticisms longer than your man John C Holmes’ deserved reputation. Why go out you ashen faced personality bypasses? You're not going to have any fun; stay at home, torture your family, stick pins in your eyes and let the rest of us sparkle.
Bearing the above in mind and my general jolly demeanour, for my inaugural restaurant review I wanted to visit a place which I have held in the highest esteem since my first mouthful of their buttery seared beef more than two decades ago. A kitchen which has consistently fluffed my chuff over the years. Champany bound we were…….
I was a little concerned that in my absence, it’s been five years since I last made the trip out East, things may have changed. I was very saddened to learn that the founder and co-owner Clive Davidson had passed away late last year; a true giant of a man in his domain. His wife and business partner Anne still flies the flag, charming guests and scrutinising every plate leaving the kitchen. The lobster pool, big enough to seat 4 adults, has been emptied; apparently the victim of new legislation being pursued by the local Environmental Health Department intent on draining whatever fun we have left in our wretched lives. These aside, the main restaurant was reassuringly familiar.
There's so much to chose from on the a la carte, all of it whispering “eat me” as we chomped the homemade breads. The Stilton bread was outstanding. Starters selected; Cullen Skink, prawn cocktail, hot smoked cod and hot smoked salmon, there were four of us in case I’m being accused of gluttony. I was served a thick slab of the house specialty hot smoked salmon with its sherry hollandaise, the smoke a perfect compliment to the firm flesh and citrusy sharpness of the hollandaise. I would have eaten another plateful gladly. The cod dish was a big hit, the warm butter sauce dribbling over the plump moist fish then down Clair’s chin as she lapsed into a food coma. Char-grilled king prawns, lightly seared, on top of Marie Rose surrounded a munro of greenery, I had a touch of food envy with this one, I have a real soft spot for prawn cocktails. The Cullen Skink had satisfyingly chunky pieces of smoked haddock in a very tasty broth and was devoured with animal ferocity by my guest who inhabits a world of dietary despair. All clean plates back to the kitchen.
The prime rib, cooked medium rare, well big enough for two and carved at the table almost had me frothing at the mouth. The blackened exterior surrounded deep red, marshmallow soft, marbled beef drizzled with béarnaise and horseradish sauces, it exploded in my mouth, hallelujah. My only regret was that I had to share it, although I got the bone to chew on. I would never have ordered the Half Plus Sirloin, “for the smaller appetite”, like what is a “smaller appetite”? Debbie put her name on one. It should have arrived on top of Fred Flintstone’s car. Her enjoyment only interrupted momentarily when the Dijon mustard took her by surprise as it ambushed her nose. With a hooter like hers that was nearly a call for the emergency services. Now I mentioned that among us there was a person who's dietary challenged, let’s call her Sarah because that’s what her parents thought would be nice. Sarah is a vegan, so it came as no surprise that after her Cullen Skink, she ordered Steak Tartare. Why not? It's a very simple dish prepared with hand-minced raw beef mixed with a raw egg yolk and various flavourings and condiments. Standard vegan fare. Her comment, “delicious, what kind of tree does that grow on?” It would be sacrilegious to eat here without having the chips, sorry fries - we’re in the East; the beef dripping in which they are cooked results in perfect chips, fries oops, to accompany the succulent steak. We had mini baked potatoes with great dollops of sour cream and chives to plug any space the fries hadn't reached, they were quite delicious. French fried onion rings in batter received a standing ovation; quite unusually these were sliced thinly before being dooked in a light batter then plunged into the boiling oil. A world away from the onion rings served in many a Chinese take-away which although being excellent fodder to dip in a hot curry gravy when legless, have all the elegance of an old rubber tyre. The wild mushrooms must have been wonderful as I wasn't offered any by the coven, honestly I felt like I was appearing in a scene from the Scottish play.
We really struggled to order a dessert, hell we did!! Cheesecake; velvety smooth topping on a thick biscuit base served with summer berries, I was in paradise. Sarah & Debbie shared a panna cotta which came decorated with tiny little meringues; perfect for their tiny little tummies…. Clair was not for sharing her gooey chocolate and cherry dessert however we made allowances on account of the fact that she has recently married the ping pong champion of the IT world and is often to be found late at night hanging over the net with balls everywhere.
Champany Inn has lost none of it’s magical allure for me, I loved every single mouthful and left promising Anne, Michael and the other members of a thoroughly professional waiting staff I will be back very soon, I keep my promises.
It’s ‘reassuringly expensive’, there is no way a meal of this standard, with the outstanding service, in such a fabulous setting could be anything else. Our bill was about £430 which included a most splendid South African Pinot Noir, allow Michael to assist you through one of the finest lists in the country; he may even give you a tour of the magical wine cellars if you eat all your vegetables. The informal Chop and Ale House Bistro, next to the main restaurant, offers a less costly but still super menu and is in my sights.