The Reform Restaurant, The Castle Hotel, Lincoln
Taking his seat at the newly opened Reform Restaurant has left Jez Ashberry in no doubt he will be returning.
If ever there was an establishment in need of a facelift, Knights Restaurant was it. Looking tired and outdated, it was located in the Castle Hotel on Westgate which itself has been crying out for a new look for many years.
So the £1 million refurbishment that has been masterminded by new owners, Paul Catlow and Saera Ahmad, is to be welcomed. As Lincoln continues to grow it seems that the city is finally getting the quality fine dining it deserves, and the new Reform Restaurant at the Castle Hotel will certainly keep the likes of The Jew’s House, the Charlotte House and The Old Bakery on their toes.
The new hotel entrance is plush, light and contemporary; a dazzling illuminated sign welcomes guests and two downstairs bedrooms have been knocked through and converted into a sophisticated lounge bar area. We waited here for a minute or so before co-owner, Saera Ahmad, welcomed us and showed us to our table.
The new-look restaurant has been updated for the twenty-first century, though its retro design recalls both 60s elegance and 70s vintage. The place was buzzing when we arrived on a Saturday evening and the staff exuded an air of calm and friendly professionalism.
Mark Cheseldine has been recruited from Café Blue in Newark to run the kitchen, and judging from the new menu his motto seems to be ‘less is more’. The style is ‘contemporary European cuisine’ using fresh, locally sourced produce, but the chef avoids over-complicating the dishes and there are typically only around six choices of starters and main courses on the à la carte menu.
Simplicity was certainly the order of the day when it came to our starters: my companion chose garden pea soup with a slice of Redhill Farm black pudding while I, always a lover of Italian food, opted for a locally sourced selection of antipasti including dry cured beef and ham accompanied by a piquant piccalilli and a beetroot sauce. Both were extremely tasty and expertly presented.
Unfortunately the red snapper on the menu was unavailable – a sign at least that the fish is bought fresh every day – so my companion chose the alternative, which was fillet of gurnard. This was pan-fried with tiger prawns, baby spinach and saffron and accompanied with a slow-roasted aubergine, basil and lemon puree; an unusual dish and certainly a successful one.
I ordered the ribeye steak which came with a zesty horseradish hollandaise, steamed asparagus and a small stack of hand-cut chips. I’ve never eaten restaurant chips that can compete with those from a top chippie but they were perfectly fine and the rest of the meal was delicious.
The wine list offers a broad selection and we enjoyed the 2007 Torreon de Paredes, a Chilean Merlot Reserva, which was served at just the right temperature.
We just had enough room for dessert. An adventurous soul, my companion ordered the strawberry, basil and blood orange tart which came with a tonka bean and pistachio condé. It sounded pretentious but tasted delicious, although I wasn’t expecting the rice pudding consistency of the accompaniment.
If chocolate is on the menu I can’t resist it and I enjoyed my chocolate truffle torte which came with a long slice of flapjack and a refreshing raspberry sorbet.
After dinner we retired to the bar for coffee and considered that £89 for three courses and a good bottle of wine represents good value. The food, the surroundings, the atmosphere and the well trained and friendly staff all gave an excellent impression and we will no doubt be returning.