Here in the land of proverbial milk and honey it isn’t hard to find great ingredients to cook at home; but I waver when friends ask me for recommendations of a good eatery, especially when it comes to The Great British Institution that is a Sunday roast.
I must admit to an inbuilt avoidance of going anywhere to pay for food that I can make just as well at home. Even though my cooking is far from Masterchef-level, most places simply don’t come up to scratch and I’d far rather put the money otherwise spent on over-priced wine lists or pub grub in to my gin-kitty.
The countryside is filled with fabulous food, but seemingly too few places worth the effort of a sober round-trip drive to visit, let alone write about.
Local recommendations hardly help and seem to be solely based on the size of steak served. But Sunday requires something classic and special as the day deserves…
However, in a Herefordshire hamlet lies a country-oasis of great food, producing possibly the finest Sunday roast in Britain.
Michael Church Easley is nestled on the eastern side of the Black Mountains. If I was a crow it would be a short flight from my gothic tower here in Hay-on-Wye; however it’s a picturesque drive through tight country lanes, the sort of drive you are never quite sure is going to end, especially when hungry.
On arrival at The Bridge Inn, which is nestled right next to the clichéd babbling brook, you may wonder if this hugely popular pub is open at all. But persist and enter through its small white porch and you will find the type of warm welcome usually reserved for reunions of long-lost friends.
Of immediate note are the two local ciders and the landlord offers a tasting before I over-eagerly plunge straight in to the very local Gwatkin Pyder. He warns it’s not to everyone’s taste, though it tickled all the right boxes for me at first gulp – a unique soft pear taste, that’s missing from uniform bottles or overly fizzy pints served elsewhere. And it’s not too alcoholic for those who have to drive home afterwards.
There’s a wonderful menu, but on a Sunday only a roast will do and here for me that means either the slow-cooked shoulder of lamb or shin of beef on offer.
Everything is cooked in a tiny kitchen in the heart of this 16th Century inn: a microcosm of activity and a heady concentration of smells and visual delights being served with alacrity.
Too many kitchens proffer ‘slow-cooked’ meat, but I suspect few match the obvious care and love that goes in to the two roasts I tried at The Bridge Inn on consecutive Sundays. The meat falls away, tender and utterly sublime. Generous hunks are accompanied by even more generous perfect vegetables, including rich, creamy cauliflower cheese.
I’ve not eaten better at Michelin-starred restaurants at three times the price.
All the accompaniments are there to make the lunch sing: roast potatoes, crisp and fluffy; a single sweet and crunchy parsnip, a puffed Yorkshire pudding; and steamed vegetables served in Asian-style baskets to keep them hot but don’t allow them to overcook.
As you would expect of a gem like this, the pub is packed and booking is essential, though a second impromptu visit one Sunday without booking and we were thankfully proffered a small table in the corner of the busy bar.
Children seem happy with perfect mini-portions of the main roasts available and there’s a bustling convivial air of contented diners everywhere.
Of course, you don’t have to have the lamb and beef I tried; the roast chicken looked perfect, as did all the other dishes I spied on other plates. I don’t think you’d go wrong with any of the menu choices including pork, salmon and a tempting-sounding baked goat’s cheese on beetroot risotto for vegetarians.
Despite a belly full of perfection and clean plates, it’s hard not to be tempted by the pudding menu.
Here I have to admit to having an appetite to trying only one: the Banoffeelova Mess. It’s a mouthful in all senses, a soft buttery and crunchy mess of all that you would expect of a mash-up of bananas, toffee and pavlova. It was absolutely first class and ideal when shared.
Other deserts range from Columbian Pudding (a spirit-infused banana cake), crumbles and custard and other pub-pudding staples, all served in beautiful decadent portions.
Although it’s location is a little off the beaten track, The Bridge Inn is a must-visit destination if you are in the area. Indeed it’s a must-visit, even if you are not.
It’s not particularly cheap, but it is great value. Expect to pay £14-16 for a main roast (including all the vegetables); pudding is £5.95, or a little more for the cheese board. We came away with change from £50 for two of us including various drinks, coffees and a shared pudding experience.
For the quality of the food, I think this is a bit of a bargain for the finest pub roast lunch you will find in the country. And if you don’t fancy the drive back you can book yourself in to their camping and glamping options!
But don’t just take my word for it, go visit and taste for yourself.
PRICE: £15-25 per person.
GOOD: Possibly the finest slow-cooked Sunday roasts; good beer and cider; friendly; wide range of great puddings. You can also glamp overnight just across the road from the pub.
BAD: Hardly anything. However booking is essential; also it’s not that cheap, but superb value for the quality of food served.
The Bridge Inn, Michael Church Escley, HR2 0JW
Telephone: 01981 510646