Himley House Hotel, Dudley
This one-time favoured weekend retreat for royalty is now frequented by happy diners, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider.
Where do the years go? I can't believe it's been four-and-a-half years since I last reviewed this place. Back in 2008, George W Bush was the US president, Britain stood on the brink of economic meltdown, and the weather was lousy.
Good to know the world has changed beyond all recognition then. And the restaurant at the Himley House has changed, too.
Not the fabric of the 17th century building you understand, formerly the lodge to Himley Hall, the Earl of Dudley's ancestral home and favourite weekend retreat of King Edward VIII.
No, what I mean is it has now been taken over by the Chef & Brewer restaurant chain, and has been refurbished in the corporate house style.
Whether that is a good thing or not depends, I suppose on how you look at it. It is certainly a lot smarter these days, the slightly shabby tables of my last visit have all been replaced by smart, well cared for furnishings. The foliage which decorated the roof beams has long been removed, and the general impression is one of clean, tidy efficiency – even if a little of the rustic charm of old has been lost.
The restaurant was packed to the rafters when we arrived at about 7.45, and we were informed there would be a 45-minute wait for a table. Not being in a rush, we decided to relax with drinks in the bar, so I was quite pleasantly surprised when 10 minutes later we were led to our table.
It was an unusual arrangement, furniture wise, with a large cylindrical bench seat, with the tables fanning out from it to form a wider circle. It is quite an attractive set up, the bench being high-backed and upholstered in smart velour.
At night the candle lighting really brings out the best of the nicely preserved period features, and for a sophisticated, restful ambience, it is quite hard to fault.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes, although it seems particularly popular as a venue for grown-up family outings; a venue where older parents spend time with their adult children.
A floor manager with a trendy goatee beard led us to our seats, and told us our waiter for the evening would be Tom, a tall, slim man, dressed all in black, Tom was bright, friendly, and seemed eager to please.
The choice of wines is vast and all, apart from the two sparkling varieties, are available by the glass. The creamy, quaffable, chardonnay, from flamboyant Frenchman Domaine Jean-Luc Colombo is a good starting point, or if you want something a little fruitier there is the Californian option from the famous Mondavi vineyard. Sauvignon blancs come from both Australia and New Zealand, or if you want something light and dry, there is a pinot grigio from the Tyrol.
For red wines, it's even better, with a choice of nine, with the award-winning Yalumba shiraz from Australia probably being the pick of the bunch.
However, competing for my attention was the revolving choice of real ales. The regular Hobson's Town Crier is a first-class golden bitter with bags of flavour, but when I saw Purity Mad Goose was this week's guest beer, my mind was made up. This is a superb beer, with subtle caramel undertones keeping the vibrant, cheeky citrus flavours in check. Superb.
There is plenty of choice on the menu, and it is all fairly mainstream middle-of-the-road stuff. Scampi, cod and chips, a selection of pies, plus a few vegetarian choices. I can vouch for the sirloin steaks from past experience, and briefly considered the rib of British beef with cabbage and bacon, but in the end I opted for the shoulder of lamb in red wine mint sauce. My companion went for gammon and egg.
The food came within around 20 minutes, and was good without being exceptional. The lamb was tender and pleasant to taste, and the sauce was quite nice but could have done with a bit of extra flavour.
The vegetables were all fresh and the mash was good, but I don't think there was enough of it; it wasn't really a very filling meal for £11.99. No such problem with the gammon and egg, which my companion found to be a good and hearty meal.
Thankfully, the desserts more than filled the breach.I went for the ice cream cookie, opting for vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and cookie dough ice creams on a cookie base. It was a wonderful indulgence, with the cookie dough being particularly sensuous. My companion chose the chocolate caramel torte, which went down well.
The total bill was £40.85 – it would have been £6.24 cheaper had it not been for my honesty in pointing out we had not been charged for drinks.
It was decent value for a good, mid-market meal, but how you view it will probably depend on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.
If you see the glass as half full, you will probably say that the beautiful historic setting makes it a cut above the average chain restaurant; if you see it as half empty, you might ask whether such a wonderful building deserves something a little more special.
But ultimately, I suppose the true verdict has to come from the public. And when a place as large as this is packed in these tough economic times, you have to conclude that it must be doing something right.
So, let's all raise a glass of Purity to the Himley House.
Himley House Hotel, Wolverhampton Road, Himley, Dudley, DY3 4LD
Tel: 01902 892468
Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms £3.99
Pork, chicken and mulled cider pate £4.49
Scallops and black pudding £5.99
Roasted pork belly served with mash, braised red cabbage and a red wine sauce topped with pork crackling £11.29
Baked beef lasagne served with chips and salad £8.49
Chorizo chicken with rosemary-roasted new potatoes, and a warm mixed pepper and red onion salad £9.99
Grilled seabass risotto £11.49
Vegetable tagine in a sweet cinnamon and mint sauce. Served with roasted pepper couscous and soured cream £8.99
Chocolate fudge cake £4.79
Crème brûlée £4.79
Bread and butter pudding served with custard £4.99
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