Let’s just say it had not been a great week.
We almost decided to cancel our review at one of the area’s best-respected restaurants. A relative is gravely ill. We are spending most of our time at hospital; how could we possibly swan off? But Greenhead House, renowned for its dinners, only stages Light Lunches on a Friday and my deadline was looming.
Off we went and I’m glad we did. There are times when the soul needs as much sustenance and nurture as the body. And that a few hours in food heaven help you through the hellish. We walked into the charming three-storey 17th century cottage and relaxed in a drawing room filled with cushions, nicknacks and antique furniture. It was like being in Charlotte Bronte’s dolls’ house.
The menu is comfortingly old-fashioned, too; think Downton with flourishes of Continental cuisine and little nods to modern presentation. Chef Neil Allan, who worked at the Savoy in his youth, and wife Anne, such a friendly maitre d’, have been in business for 30 years. Many customers have been with them all the way.
We’re devouring bread rolls straight from the oven as starters (£7) arrive - a poached pear laden with creamy gorgonzola whipped to a musky mousse, and a cheese, wild mushroom and spinach pancake. The pear, soft yet with bite, topped with toasted walnuts and a dressing of pear juice with aged balsamic, is incredibly good. The pancake could have been one of those limp things in a swamp of scalding, melted cheese. Instead, it is the most divine I’ve ever eaten. The cheese is gruyere with cheddar - a potent blend. The mushrooms are bigand earthy. It is as overwhelmingly comforting as an Italian mama’s embrace.
There are just two mains, £14.50 each. Casserole of neck of lamb slow-cooked on the bone with ochra and tomato is a meld of tender, sticky meat ribboned with molten fat; gorgeous. There’s a nod to Morocco in the cumin spicing and in the apricot and pistachio-studded couscous.
Two, or is it three, silky seabass fillets sumptuously bathed in garlicky butter come with vibrant winter chard, baby carrots and garlic-roast potatoes. The dish is lovingly and simply done and the portion is as generous as that of the lamb.
My trifle addict husband enjoys his £7 tropical version of mango and passion fruit with rum-laced coconut custard. But why trifle with the classic, he says. I’m thrilled with my plate of doll’s house-sized autumn fruit puddings - a dainty plum syllabub, eggy clafoutis studded with sharp blackcurrants and a wonderfully tart damson ice cream£7).
With two expensive but stunning glasses of wine, plus tea and coffee, the bill is £ 79.50. it’s steep for lunch but worth every penny, because we leave heavier of stomach and lighter of woes.