AT THIS time of year, there’s nothing quite like a roaring fire.
Lunch for three, excluding drinks,
We gathered round the one at Charwood with our chestnuts held aloft, singing Last Christmas. Until we realised the fireplace, with its window of licking flames, was actually a Josper oven, upon which we un-handed our marshmallows on sticks, and bid a retreat back to our draughty window seat.
None of that really happened, but this fancy cooking equipment seems to be the USP of this place, formerly Tusitala and owned by Omni Taverns, which also presides over Edinburgh’s Whiski Rooms.
It’s in a building that looks a bit like a suburban bungalow, or a vet’s practice on Neighbours.
On our visit, there were loads of families, and elderly folk and the menu tries to cater for everyone, with pizzas, steak, burgers (all Jospered) pasta, sandwiches and varying portion sizes.
There were, however, only seven starters, all of which sounded a bit like something you’d find in a Harvester circa 1993, though they had been contemporised with accompaniments like “wood roasted bread” (with the chicken liver pâté, £5.50), or “pickled cucumber” (with prawn and crayfish cocktail, £5.95). We went for fish cakes (jazzed up by Panko breadcrumbs, £5.50).
Sadly, nothing can rescue a cold fish cake with flecks of icy salmon in its watery middle. We complained, and they came back fizzingly hot. Still, I wasn’t going to go all Goldilocks, even if the dish’s tartare sauce did look like porridge.
The Shetland mussels (£6.50) in a white wine, cream and garlic sauce were fine, with a ½ kg contingent of the critters, though no bread to mop up the juice.
Also decent was my main of Josper grilled free range chicken supreme (£9.95), which featured a generous portion of crispy-skinned meat, though the accompanying mash and wilted mushrooms were rather plain – devoid of butter and joy.
Pan-fried lamb’s liver (£11.50) consisted of two flattened slabs of organ meat, as well as chopped cabbage, onion sheaths, and some more of the mash. Fine.
Their real crime was serving the prawn and teriyaki salmon skewers (£11.50), which were as black as the penguin in the John Lewis Christmas advert. These blocks of fish, tightly sprung prawns and pucker-skinned mushrooms had been bathed in a dark mixture of soy and teriyaki sauce, but I think Chef had forgotten where the marinade ended and the carbon began.
And, after ordering a strawberry sundae, as well as a chocolate and orange tart (£5.50 each), the long wait for pudding began. After some nagging, the receptionist and a member of waiting staff gave up on the kitchen and assembled our desserts themselves.
There had been a few buzzwords on the menu when it came to describing the ice-creamy offering, like “compote” and “Italian wild strawberry sauce”. It had been up-sold. We received a rather ordinary pile of vanilla ice-cream, dragon’s blood, squirty cream, mini marshmallows and wafers.
The tart was better, with a light sponge bottom and a slightly chalky chocolate orange topping, in a Jaffa Cake style. However, the wrinkly old raspberry and dried-out orange segment on the plate didn’t help.
They may have a roaring fire, upon which they can create “wood roasted bread” and other fancy trimmings, but this place has left me cold.
I shall roast my chestnuts elsewhere.