Listening to Radio 4 on the same day, I heard a presenter declare they had set themselves the task of reading 50 classical works of literature this year. My new ambition is similar, but is inspired The Townhouse’s impressive gin menu. There’s a dozen to try, and if I do one a week I will have completed the lot by Christmas. A sort of gin half marathon if you will. My first ‘mile’ was Tarquin’s Cornish which was infused with violets and orange blossom and made by a small distillery in Cornwall; it was divine and refreshing and cleansed the palate suitably for the feast that lay ahead.
With three demanding children, it’s rare for myself and my other half, Steve, to get a moments peace, so a trip to The Townhouse unencumbered by the troublesome teens was much looked forward to.
Entering the Grade II-listed building we are immediately uplifted by the buzz of the place. A pianist in the corner is playing some lively songs – a mixture of show tunes, jazz and even the odd Disney ballad thrown in, much to everyone’s delight. All around people chatter, drink and eat in the nearly full restaurant. We take our seats and a spacious wooden table – where we can catch sneaky glimpses into the kitchen and look out the wide front window onto the street.
I’ve always liked chilling in The Townhouse, but since Brakspear bought the business in 2015 it’s been continually on the up; and the cool and chic refurbished interior certainly gives it a more sophisticated but still welcoming vibe. Ooh I could sit here quite happily until Steve or a panicked call from a teen doing something daft in the house forces me homewards.
For now all I have to do is think about my next drink (a delightful glass of super silky and fruity Viognier from the very reasonable wine menu) and order and eat my meal.
Head chef Ben Draper has previously told me he’s into great produce, and not messing about too much, letting the fresh flavours speak for themselves. And the Townhouse menu reflects that simple approach, while at the same time sounding mouth-wateringly delicious with plenty to please everyone – from roast rump of lamb, grilled fresh fish to interesting veggie options.
For starters I go for one of my favourites: pan-fried scallops, which come with broad beans, chorizo and sweetcorn puree. It is squeaky fresh, with the flavours bursting through. Steve chooses from the specials menu: a crispy duck egg with black pudding and parsnip puree. His is huge, which means I get to help him devour it (not sure he actually asked for help, but still…). I particularly loved the egg with its crunchy coating and gooey insides, perfectly offset by the sweet hit of parsnip.
The service at The Townhouse is charming and friendly – three young waitresses made sure we were looked after the whole time. There was a bit of a wait between courses – it was a busy night – but the ambience of the restaurant means it’s not exactly a hardship to while away the time with a sneaky third drink!
For mains I had fillet of pork, sauteed potatoes, black pudding, roasted apples and chive cream sauce. It was absolutely scrummy. Even now over a week later I can happily relive consuming it: the lean pork had a lovely seared bottom – all meaty crunchy moreishness – and coated with a creamy savoury sauce that made it simply to die for. More please, right now!
Steve went for the ribeye steak, which came from Todenham Farm down the road, and which he declared tender and perfectly cooked. Following recent nagging from his doctor he swapped out the triple cooked chips for new potatoes, which the kitchen was only too happy to accommodate. It came with a peppercorn sauce that was full of spice and poke, and set us up nicely for some soothing puddings.
I couldn’t resist the sound of ‘Neatened’ mess – which unlike the traditional unruly Eton mess, saw strawberries and cream filling a dainty meringue very politely and accompanied by vanilla mascarpone and strawberry ice cream. Sounds yummy doesn’t it? And indeed it was. We also shared a warm treacle tart with Cornish clotted cream– please don’t tell Steve’s doctor is all I can say about that glorious, not exactly calorie-free confection.
Obviously as a woman on a gin mission, and after this delicious meal, we will be back at The Townhouse as soon as possible!
The Townhouse, Church Street, Stratford, offers a pre-theatre 2 course menu for £14.50 and 3 courses for £16.50, from 12pm-3pm and 5pm-7pm. Breakfast is served from 8am-11am in the restaurant. Lunch is available 12pm-3pm in the restaurant, as well as Afternoon Tea until 5pm. To book call 01789 262222 or visit www.stratfordtownhouse.co.uk