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Merchant House


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I went to Merchant House, had a wonderful meal, and feel like I should share my thoughts with you (especially Bapi).

Trouble is, I just don't seem to have the mindset for remembering the minutia of any given dining experience, and even where I do my terribly limited vocabularly of techniques and ingredients invariably lets me down.

I've always been a trier though, so below is a concise (if slightly patchy) round up of my experiences at the table of Mr Hill.

You all know the Merchant House story? Lovely town, lovely restaurant, lovely people? Good-o, on with the specifics then:

Amuse-Bouche were salmon with a quails egg on a little toasty thing. Yum, and as the slightly moist yolk scared my pregnant girlfiriend I got to eat hers to. Double yum.

Breads courtesy of Anja were as good as ever. A granary with a crispy almost flaky crust and malty innards, and a white bread that was slightly sweet and almost cakey/briochey?

For starters we both went for fish. I can't even remember what I had (see, I told you my memory sucked...) but it was white fish (possibly halibut?) in a very moreish cucumber and mustard sauce. Soph had red snapper in a red pepper sauce. The piquant snapper more than held it's own against the sauce - lovely balance. To be honest Shaun makes these sort of fish dishes look easy. They are not.

Mains were better still. I had fillet steak with morels, English asparagus and assorted veg. It was quite a hunk of beef, medium rare, and the morels had created the most pungent gravy which almost had me licking the plate. Veg were simple and effective, and the Aspargus were excellent (so excellent I had to eat them all before touching the steak - yes, I'm a philistine).

Soph had rack of lamb (the details escape me), but shamefacedly asked for it not be cooked pink (that pregnant thing again). Again the meat was delicious, and the dauphinoise potatos in particular were an absolute hit.

Desserts may possibly have been the highpoint of the meal (and of course they are the domain of Anja rather than Shaun). I had a simply stunningly good Apricot tart, which had the sweetest fruit with perfect, perfect pastry. Possibly the best tart I have had, and that's saying something... Soph stuck lucky by requesting the Chocolate pithivier (20 minute delay) which again was staggeringly good. A delicate puff pastry case stuffed with melting chocolate-hazlenuty stuff. I can taste it even as I type...

Good coffee, a decent well priced half bottle of Burgandy (I was in a white mood, regardless of the red meat) and possibly the best meal I have yet had at the Merchant House. It made the 2 - 2 1/2 hour drive each way from Manchester worth it with knobs on. Total cost (including a couple of bottles of water) was about £80, including service.

As per usual the room was full (ie about 18 people), and all the diners were as verbally complimentray to Shaun as I was. He and I chatted a while post meal, and he passed on his regards to Andy (who he felt was robbed in the Glenfiddichs), assured an apologetic Sophie that lamb can take quite a bit of cooking whilst retaining it's flavour, and told me an interesting anecdote about Pete Postlethwaite.

To people who have not been to the Merchant House, I say go quickly; to those who have, I say go again.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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Trouble is, I just don't seem to have the mindset for remembering the minutia of any given dining experience, and even where I do my terribly limited vocabularly of techniques and ingredients invariably lets me down.

Don't put yourself down. I thoroughly enjoyed your review and it certainly painted a picture for me. Having lived quite near (Cheltenham) until last Autumn I now see no chance of getting there as I now live in Ipswich.

When I lived in Wales (and while my mother was still alive) I was always coming and going through Ludlow. Sod's law that I now don't even get close. I admire your dedication to a good meal - a long drive that!

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Thom,

Nice review- thanks. I agree with your comments about how he makes the dishes look easy.

Reading his cookery book, the recipes sometimes seem simple. Executing them the way he does, however, is not.

After your review I am now really looking foward to dining there and at Hibiscus again, during the Food festival. Which reminds me I had better confirm our bookings.

Cheers

And re your main course - I would have licked the plate - I have no shame.

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Darn it, I forgot to expand upon the 'Michael Winner' reference I made in the topic description. Curse my leaky memory...

Basically there was a letter printed on the Michael Winner pages in the Sunday Times last week that stated that the Ludlow phenomenon was a ridiculous 'media invention', and the whole things was hugely over-rated with food at The Merchant House simply being 'ordinary'.

Bizarre.

They say it takes all-sorts, but if this is true then the letter writer is obviously one of the bobbly little aniseed flavoured jelly cakes that no-one likes.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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Tarka,

Absolutely!

There are a couple of old threads on this, but if you are going to do the gastro-tourism thing properly you should stay a long weekend and eat in a different Michelin star restaurant for each of the three nights. Try The Merchant House, Hibiscus, and Mr Underhills, all within minutes walk from the Castle/Market Square/Town centre.

Actually, did Mr Underhills retain it's star last time?

Dinham Hall and the nearby Overton grange are also meant to be ok, though reports have been variable.

Personally I also visit The Merchant House, but Hibiscus would be a close second. There are a couple of reviews on-site somewhere.

Intermingle your food snobbery with some excellent pub grub at the Unicorn (next to the Merchant House), and have a good nosey around the top-drawer butchers around the main square.

There are a few decent hotels about, but try staying in No 28, a delightfully chintzy/oldey-worldey B&B which is a mastrpiece of English eccentricity. Good breakfasts too.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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If you haven't been before, then I would agree with Thom. Try all three of the Michelin starred places and make a weekend of it. Note that at Mr Underhills there is no choice whatsoever until the last course. Personally I am not sure the missus and I would rush back there, but its a very pleasant spot by the Weir and the rooms are nice. Hibiscus is probably my favourite restaurant in the UK- great surroundings, service and inventive food.There is a review of this somewhere on the board which I will try and root out for you. An absolute joy and treat yourself to the 9 course tasting menu ! I don't need to eulogise about the Merchant House - but a visit to Ludlow without eating here would be unthinkable.

Also, The Unicorn is a must, the ONLY really decent pub we have found in Ludlow. Very handy for a pre-dinner drink before dining at the Merchant House, since there is no real seating area there and the food is very good. Never eaten at Overton Grange which is a mile outside Ludlow, nor at Dinham Hall( right by the castle), but would think the latter would be a good place to stay. We have stayed at Number 28, now under different management, which is good. One to avoid is The Feathers Hotel- dire beyond belief, do not stay here. Frightfully rude management, who don't care a jot and risible food.

Slightly further afield are The Stagg at Titley is very good and I hear the Riverside pub at Aymestrey is good also.

Have look at this http://www.ludlow.org.uk/ also contains a link to the food festival in September

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