There’s nothing more deflating when you’re about to embark on a restaurant review than a colleague saying: “Is that the Beefeater on the roundabout?”
Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with a Beefeater, but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind and thankfully as we drove through the gorgeous village of Barston our spirits lifted. The Malt Shovel is privately-owned and much-loved which was evident from the moment we pulled into the car park. The attention to detail showered on the façade of the building was phenomenal, postcard-pretty and award-winning as it turns out. Regularly crowned winners in its category of Solihull in Bloom, the impressive floral hanging baskets were almost the size of small cars.
FISH MAN CALLING
The pub itself is full of rustic charm with a cool worn metal bar, classic wooden furniture and more than a touch of Farrow and Ball-type paintwork. The day we ventured in was sunny, so we took advantage of the stunning garden which featured more oversized hanging baskets spilling over with colour. Happy days! The menu is changed weekly and had been amended the morning we arrived. Fish is one of head chef Max’s passions, so naturally that featured heavily on the menu. Taking the lead from his ‘fish man’, Max gets a call on a Monday morning from his guy in the market who lets him know what’s particularly good and he creates the menu based on that to ensure quality and freshness. While we’re on the subject, in terms of freshness and sustainability, the Malt Shovel leads the way with many ingredients coming from the same village let alone the same region – eggs are from a lady down the road and a local grower cultivating a special type of potato especially for them. There are a few favourites on the menu that could never change as there’d be uproar from the regulars. Fishcakes are one and kidneys are another, so we thought we ought to give them a whirl and ordered them as starters. Before our starters arrived Max treated us to a tasting plate including two of his brand new dishes – sweet juicy scallops with a silky cauliflower puree which blew us away and a moreish tuna Massaman packed with thai flavours. We wanted to drink the remaining sauce from the bowl it was so good. We refrained. Just.
WHAT A WHOPPER
The fishcake was a whopper with a soft poached egg perched on top under a blanket of hollandaise. It was crunchy on the outside, moist inside with a really nice hit of dill and great hollandaise. The kidneys were fantastic served with a beautiful sauce and crispy bacon. We could see why these dishes were going nowhere. As we sat back and enjoyed the garden, we got to chatting about the staff. For an industry renowned for its high turnover, The Malt Shovel is bucking the trend. The most recent member of the team joined five years ago and some such as general manager Helen and head chef Max have been there for almost fifteen. It really showed. Back to the food. I’ve had venison with chocolate before and found it unpleasant, so I was intrigued to try Max’s version. Apparently, the sauce has strictly one button of chocolate, otherwise it upsets the balance. Served with a potato gratin, kale and miniature figs soaked in white rum it was delicious. The sauce was really good. We could just taste the chocolate and it worked a treat. The pan fried hake served with crayfish butter, clams and soft chunks of sweet potato was right up my street. Hake’s one of my favourite fish anyway and served like this it was the star of the show. The crayfish and clams provided little gems of sweet and saltiness which I loved. The portion sizes were quite hefty and we could have lived without a pud, but the dessert menu was just as appealing as the rest. A white chocolate and raspberry delice with pear sorbet and two spoons arrived with perfect macchiatos. The delice was lovely and the pear sorbet was a winner which I could have nibbled all day long. I know it’s annoying when food reviews are too glowing. You think it’s too good to be true – so do I, however there was nothing to fault. OK the portions were a bit too big for us, but that wasn’t a problem and at one point there was a wasp dive bombing the chardonnay, but we’re really clutching at straws. Everything about it was bloomin’ lovely. Honest.