Thursday 23 February 2012

The Hole in the Wall, Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire

Somewhere near the middle of nowhere, in a featureless, flat East Anglian landscape, this village pub and its kitchen is now in the hands of Alex Rushmer, who made the finals of, but didn't win the amateur version of Masterchef a year or two ago. He was in the kitchen during lunchtime service today. He did an oh-so-casual walkpast my table to pretend to look at something by the bar: no doubt the front of house manager had alerted him to unknown fat bloke, in a suit, dining alone, and he probably wanted to check I wasn't one of the known tyre-men.

Inside The Hole in the Wall, it's a small, traditional country pub, with lots of beams, exposed wood and open fires. A bit on the dark side, maybe, but I suppose that adds to the atmosphere. I understand they have a separate restaurant room, which may be different.

A carafe of good tapwater is automatically brought to the table: no upselling of bottled water here. I also had a nice pint of local IPA, which seemed well kept.

It's an interesting menu: nothing extraordinary, but all very appealing. As well as the à la carte, from which I chose, they had a 2-2-2 set lunch menu, from which they were doing a roaring trade in rather good looking chicken pot pies.

Good, home-made bread came first: a tomato foccaccia that was more like a flat bread, but still good, excellent treacle soda bread and a really good sourdough.

Bread - served on the end of a case of 1975 Brane Cantenac!

tempura gurnard fillet (pea soup)
I started with tempura gurnard with pea soup. Nice gurnard, crisp batter. Really good soup, even if it's not exactly British pea season. It seemed a bit of an odd combination initially, until fish, chips and mushy peas flashed into my mind. No chip element, but that would have probably been too much in a starter.

telmara farm duck breast (potato terrine, red cabbage, pickled cucumber and spiced tobacco caramel)
Main course was a bit less successful, but not to the point of needing to raise an issue. Duck breast with red cabbage, pickled cucumber, tobacco caramel (definitely more caramel than a gastrique) and potato terrine (i.e. slices of pommes Anna, roasted). Overall conception was great, the combination of red cabbage and pickled cucumber won me over, but the duck had an uncrisped, and therefore pretty inedible skin and, while it was nicely medium-rare, it felt like it had spent just a bit too long in the waterbath, with the slight tendency to pappiness that goes with that. I asked at the end of the meal how the duck was cooked and was assured that it was not done sous vide.  I'm not convinced: it had all the hallmarks. But overall a good dish.

Cambridge burnt cream with doughnuts and coffee sorbet
 The meal ended on a very high note with a faultless Cambridge burnt cream, with a nice thin brûlée crust, that would have been great on its own. But it was elevated by three really superlative, light, fluffy, just-warm doughnuts, and an excellent coffee sorbet. The sorbet was probably superfluous, but the joy of making your own custard doughnuts by dunking the doughnuts in the custard really put a smile on my face.

The first cup of espresso was bad. I asked the manager to taste it to see if that's how it should be as, after all, it could just have been a blend of beans I really disliked. After a few moments, he brought another, much better espresso, and knocked both off the bill, thanking me for drawing it to his attention, as he now knew the waitress needed more training.

With coffee, came a small antique tin of petits fours: an indifferent and over-cold white chocolate/coconut truffle, a superb pate de fruits and what looked like a caramel that I didn't get round to.

Service was a bit mixed. Senior staff were excellent; junior (eastern European?) seemed to find it hard to engage with customers

Hole in the Wall on Urbanspoon

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