The Brownlow Arms, Hough-on-the-Hill
I hadn’t visited The Brownlow Arms since you, our readers, nominated the restaurant as one of the three finalists in the House of Townend Best Restaurant category a couple of years ago, in the Lincolnshire Life annual County Cuisine Awards.
A recent refurbishment offered the perfect excuse to go along for dinner and give a verdict on the cuisine as well as the décor. The inn with rooms has a dominant setting at the top of the square in the picturesque village of Hough on the Hill and although it was too chilly for sitting outside, the gardens were already beginning to bloom. The hotel has a handsome, sandstone exterior in keeping with its seventeenth-century beginnings as part of the estate of Lord Brownlow.
The surrounding may be steeped in local history but the inn and its rooms offer plenty of twenty-first-century comfort and hospitality. My immediate recognition was that the layout of bars and restaurant has remained the same but the clean and elegant choice of colours and soft furnishings has really thrown light into the rooms and show the true proportions of the interior. This is a building made for the Farrow and Ball palette. Gone are the predominant tones of red and green with dark oak panelling to be lifted with grey ticking fabrics, coir floor coverings, bleached oak beams and heritage colourways. We headed to the bar to enjoy a drink while we looked through the menus. My companion had forgotten her glasses but no sooner had the problem been noticed than a small basket was brought from a shelf behind the bar containing a selection of reading glasses for hyperopic diners. Pretty impressive service already and a very smooth Tanqueray gin and tonic relaxed us even more.
We had a choice from either the daily or the dinner menu and we began with pan seared scallops, crispy breaded pigs ear, sautéed red chard, parsnip and apple puree with a honey mustard vinaigrette for me, while Louise opted for a Brownlow twice baked soufflé with balsamic roasted red onion and goat’s cheese.
We both agreed that we had trouble deciding what to order because there were so many tempting dishes. That is always a promising start.
The soufflé was piping hot, air light gorgeousness while my beautifully cooked, meaty scallops were perfectly complemented by the puree and vinaigrette.
Between the two menus there had been a choice of twelve starters. The soft shelled crab with celeriac salad or a pancetta wrapped venison and lamb liver terrine had also been strong contenders to begin our meal.
For her main course, Louise ordered pan roasted saddle of venison on a root vegetable rosti, Jerusalem artichoke puree, braised red cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke crisps with a chocolate and juniper jus. The venison was cooked perfectly pink and melted in the mouth. This was another sophisticated dish, beautifully balanced and delivered.
My dish of pan roasted butterflied seabass stuffed with parsley, garlic, pine nut and lemon served with English asparagus, baby carrots and mussel meat, salt baked new potatoes, brown shrimp samphire and a citrus beurre blanc was one of the most appetising and delicious plates of food I have eaten recently; both flawless main courses.
Again, it would be difficult to list all twelve dishes offered as main courses but the rack of spring lamb with butterbean puree and rosemary mash was hard to resist, as was the smoked cod loin ‘rarebit’ with buttered spinach and confit cherry tomatoes – next time.
The servings had been perfectly proportioned for us, too, so we still looked forward to choosing a pudding. Louise went for the Brownlow triple chocolate brownie with warm chocolate sauce, peanut butter ice cream and peanut brittle while I chose blackcurrant mousse, with cassis compote, Braeburn sorbet and apple crisps. These desserts were wonderfully presented and were just as wonderful to tuck into. We finished our meal with coffee and homemade truffles.
The meal had certainly lived up to my expectations and the new interior has been a timely facelift to keep pace with the evolution of the menus. I love this relaxed fine dining. There is no pretentiousness to either owners or staff; just a friendly welcome, great food and professionalism which is perfect for a relaxed lunch or to celebrate a more special occasion.