Food review: The Three Tuns, Ashwell
PUBLISHED: 11:49 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:49 11 September 2019
Located in the beautiful village of Ashwell and blessed with elegant Georgian proportions, this pub-restaurant has plenty to commend its menu too
The Three Tuns in Ashwell has a lot going for it even before you go through the door. It's a high street village pub with a history in one of Hertfordshire's most attractive settings. The look and location make it a certainty to appeal to any visitor while at the same time it has established a reputation among its local audience as a place to go for a cosy drink and reliable food.
It is also a business with ideas. One, which I always commend, is a 'bring your own' night on Mondays, with customers able to take along their own bottles of wine without charge to accompany their meals. It means you know what you're drinking without having to head into unknown territory, as happens with some restaurants' wine lists, and you're saving money. For the restaurant, it brings people in on what could be a quiet night. I visited the Three Tuns on a Monday just to see if the idea was working. I was gratified to see it was, with a happy throng of diners helping the place to keep up the momentum. That the system works was shown by the fact not all the customers had brought their own wine but clearly found the Tuns to their liking anyway.
Another good idea is its 'pudding club'. On the last Thursday of each month, customers are offered a set main course followed by six desserts. Each dessert is voted on and the most popular is included on the menu for the following month. The occasion has to be booked and the cost is £22.90 a person. The previous month's winner featured on the evening I visited - a treacle tart with glacé ginger pieces and blossom honey, and fully justified its status. A slight problem was that the original dish features ginger ice cream but on this occasion it had melted, so we were offered lemon curd ice cream instead. Still good.
But to begin at the beginning instead of the end, the Three Tuns' inventive approach to keeping its customers interested is supported by a menu that at first glance seems ordinary but a closer look reveals tasteful touches, the sort of thing a food writer always looks for. Thus, the 'nibbles' offer house marinated olives or bread with flavoured oils and butters. Ho hum. But then, surprise! Homemade parsnip crisps. Starters feature pan seared scallops, salt and pepper squid, smoked salmon and prawns - the usual suspects. But then we also find wild mushroom and stilton tart; a dish of baked brie, honey and pecans, and Serrano ham bruschetta. Mains follow a similar pattern.
The baked Welsh brie, honey and pecans dish (£6.90) was my choice of starter. Served with warm bread and plum chutney, it was a clever mix of sweet and savoury flavours with the soft ingredients set off by the hard texture of the nuts, and quite irresistible. My fellow critic more traditionally opted for smoked salmon and prawns (£9.90) but was equally impressed by its combination of Severn and Wye smoked salmon, tiger prawns, baby leaf salad, lemon and mustard vinaigrette plus the unusual addition of toasted crystal bread, a Catalonian version of ciabatta.
For mains, it was my turn to go for the apparently ordinary with chicken parmigiano (£13.90), but in this case butterflied free range chicken breast coated in panko breadcrumbs. It was then pan fried, topped with a vine tomato sauce and mozzarella and served with spaghetti pomodoro and baby leaf salad. The secret is in the panko breadcrumbs, made according to the official recipe from 'bread without crusts, coarsely ground into airy, large flakes that stay crisper longer to give fried foods a light, crunchy coating'. A key touch in other words for a chicken dish served with cheese and tomato sauce.
Our other main of choice had more of the unusual about it, a ragu of shoulder of beef (£13.90) cooked slowly in chianti, tossed in fettuccine pasta with tomatoes and shallots and accompanied by a rich gravy finished with aged parmesan. It sounds substantial and like the chicken it was, but saved from being stodgy by the fresh ingredients and variety of flavours. Other mains available and worthy of attention included salmon supreme marinated in honey and wholegrain mustard, or free range Suffolk pork belly rolled and marinated with garlic, lemon and rosemary - more examples if needed of the revolution going on in Hertfordshire's new breed of foodie pubs.
The cost of this meal for two was £68.45, including two drinks and service. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
The Three Tuns, 6 High Street, Ashwell SG7 5NL. 01462 743131. threetunsashwell.com
3 of a kind
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