It is said that if Kent is the garden of England then Lincolnshire is its allotment.
Like the Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire has an abundance of excellent local produce. The holidaying Matt and Cat have already sampled some of the wonderful meat and cheese; their short break in Lincoln has turned, unsurprisingly, into a bit of a foodfest.
Prior to leaving the Island Matt and Cat had the uncharacteristic foresight to contact Visit Lincolnshire and got some top tips about places to eat. Plenty of venues came highly recommended. The locals seemed to take their food very seriously here and almost every eatery had an abundance of stickers and awards. However, M&C are starting to understand that some awards are worth more than others, so they were drawn to an otherwise undistinguished-looking small hotel, The Old Bakery, which boasts two AA rosettes for its restaurant.
For once Matt and Cat were sensible enough not to fill up on cream tea. The day they had booked at The Old Bakery they worked up an appetite by clambering along the parapets of Lincoln Castle. The views from this high structure atop the city’s hill were superb and, just to make the experience that little bit more memorable, the Red Arrows flew over and gave an awesome display of their renowned aerobatics.
Appetites appropriately whetted, M and C made their way to the Old Bakery. The restaurant can be found nestled among terraced houses on an unprepossessing street in the shadow of the castle. The modest property hides a delightful secret. Led through the hotel lounge, Matt and Cat emerged into a wonderful conservatory. This grand space was not a typical sunroom with dead and dusty cactus plants and hoverflies on every flat surface but a light and airy room laid out for fine dining.
Sitting by an open door, M and C went through the pretence of studying the menu knowing full well they were going to have the five course tasting menu. They have tried a tasting menu a few times – when they get the chance – it’s the ideal way for ignoramuses like your reviewers to learn about good food. This clever device offers the chef a chance to show off a bit, and allows diners a nibble of dishes they might not normally order. And as the helpful waitress explained, despite the modest portion sizes, because of the number of courses a tasting menu meal usually equates to a pretty grand banquet. Matt also chose to have his dinner with selected wines and Cat stuck to château tap water. If you want to follow along on your song-sheets the entire menu and wine list is written out below, to save this review becoming more of a catalogue.
Matt and Cat were seated comfortably in the conservatory and made very welcome by the friendly waitress, of whom the Independent gushed “she looks like Samantha Janus’s more beautiful younger sister“.
The meal began with an amuse bouche of red snapper fish cake with tartare sauce, and carrot juice with crème fraiche and smoked chicken. These tiny portions were exquisite and the carrot juice was particularly delightful; really concentrated. Amuse bouches, one assumes by the name, are supposed to be fun, and this one did not disappoint.
Pan-roasted ostrich fillet was the starter. Neither Matt or Cat had eaten ostrich before and both liked the novelty of this tender flesh and its dark colouring. The masterful juxtaposition of the meat with the soft, sweet prunes was clever, and when combined with the solid Feudi d’Albe wine made an irresistible treat for the taste-buds. Matt and Cat got the idea that they were in for a pretty special meal.
By now the restaurant was filling up with a lively crowd. Some young folk were popping some sort of bubbly in one corner, and a group of businessmen were clearly celebrating some deal in another, with plenty of red wine. By contrast to the quiet superiority of The Hambrough, or the opulent sophistication of The Royal, this place was surprisingly informal. All became clear when the chef himself emerged to speak to a very well-dressed couple in the corner: he spoke in Italian. The Mediterranean bias to the wine menu was explained, along with the cheerful and noisy atmosphere, straightforward presentation of the food, and respect for quality local ingredients. In fact, staff several times emerged from the kitchen, sometimes to speak to diners or to go out to fetch something – the humble origins of the Old Bakery were clearly not being forgotten, and a style of dining quite free from pretension was the result.
It’s hard to pick highlights out of this meal, as it worked together as a very well-crafted menu. Every item had clever touches about it worthy of note. But Cat would undoubtedly want to draw attention to her slow-roasted boneless Gloucester Old Spot baby pig. As one who rarely eats pork at all she viewed it with some suspicion. However the first mouthful won her over. This hunk of soft meat was supremely tasty. The subtle herb stuffing gave it a quirky twist that left her wanting more. Better still, when she asked the waitress about the meat, Cat not only got a very comprehensive answer, but she learnt about the extreme local provenance that appears to be a trademark of the Old Bakery. Producers are credited on the menu, and most of them are very local indeed, just a few miles away in the case of the pigs.
Five course tasting menu x 2 £86.00
Cheese extra x 2 £6.00
Coffee x 2 £3.80
Matt’s show-stopper was the steamed Lincolnshire asparagus, soft poached quail egg with crispy Parma ham, lemon and black pepper butter sauce. Isle of Wight asparagus is excellent, but the tourists had begun to learn that the fens is a place where that vegetable is taken seriously. These spears were perfectly cooked, and the lemon and black pepper butter sauce was revelatory. Why doesn’t everyone serve asparagus with lemon and black pepper butter? It seems so blindingly obvious. Just in case you underestimate the impression this dish made on your reviewers, consider this. They can report that the essentials of the dish were not even hard to recreate, as Cat ably demonstrated within a few hours of returning to the Island, using a lime and some Island asparagus to put a modest but still recognisable homage to the Lincolnshire version on Matt’s supper plate.
Clever and generous touches to the meal were many, and included a remarkable unscheduled course of chocolate and peanut butter salami served with a white chocolate spoon. At the end of the meal came complementary petits four all wrapped up to take away – appreciated by the well-fed diners. Matt and Cat strolled back from the Old Bakery having enjoyed a really excellent meal. Thinking, as they always do, of the Island, they decided that the closest way to describe the Bakery in terms of Island venues would be to combine the atmosphere of Olivo with the tastes and prices – if not the presentation – of The Hambrough. So be in no doubt: the Old Bakery is well worth a visit.
Pan-roasted Oslinc Farm ostrich fillet, Cognac marinated prunes and pecan salad with mosto cotto.
Wine: Feudi d’Albe 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Abruzzo, Italy
Steamed Lincolnshire asparagus, soft poached duck egg, with crispy Parma ham lemon and black pepper butter sauce.
Wine: Falanghina, Cantine Teanum, Puglia, Italy
Peter Lundgrun hay and fresh herb slow-roasted boneless Gloucester Old Spot baby pig, stir-fried garlic potato and cinnamon braised apple and red cabbage, smoked pancetta cream
Wine: Primo Novello, Teanum, Puglia, Italy
Pan-roasted rosemary marinated Foster Butchers rack of lamb, stuffed lamb belly on warm new potato salad with salsa verde.
Wine: Old Vine shiraz, Soldier Farm, Australia
Trio of mini desserts: dark chocolate with avocado and toffee sauce; hazelnut cake with chocolate and orange; Dulce de leche ice cream
Wine: Hennessey Cognac
Three Lincolnshire cheeses: Poacher, Dambuster, Lincolnshire blue with Lincolnshire plum bread, grapes and crackers.