A taste of America in the heart of England where produce is sourced locally sounds divine. Andy Richardson discovers just the place...
We decided to eat early, so as to avoid the crowds. Nip in, order a burger, down a pint, then away. No crowds, no fuss and home in time to smash an extreme sudoku or five. What could go wrong?
Plenty. That’s what. Booking on the same night as a party of 25 – yes, 25 – who’d also had the same idea. Gah. Poor chef. Poor us. Bang goes the extreme sudoku. Bang goes an early night. And bang bang goes the Porterhouse till, which had somehow managed to secure a full-house for a work-a-day midweek evening. It must be something they put in the water. Or, rather, something they put in the cocktails.
Cocktails are de rigueur on weekday evenings and the bar was heaving at 6pm as local workers lined up to stop food critics from ordering a Frobishers.
“We’ll take your order at 6.30pm, if that’s okay,” said a waitress who’d secured a First from the University of Charm and Good Service. It was. We sat at our table and the conversation flowed more freely than the pints of cider. When she returned, we hadn’t even looked at the menu. Who’d have thought three blokes wouldn’t be able to pick a burger after 30 minutes, eh?
Porterhouse has done a pretty good job since launching to provide American flavours with good ol’ British behaviour. Think juicy burgers, hot wings, prime-cut steaks and low-n-slow ribs in a vibrant cocktail bar with a light and airy conservatory-style dining area and you’re pretty much there.
The staff are young, fashionable and well-mannered. The food does what it says on the tin. It’s an informal and unstuffy venue where the atmosphere is as warm as an Indian Summer and nobody takes anything too seriously. The food has decent provenance, too.
Burgers are handmade on the premises; fries are peeled, chipped, blanched and fried daily; relishes and dips are created in the restaurant kitchen and burger buns are kneaded and baked each morning, so they’re always soft and fresh.
Bacon and sausages come from Wenlock Edge Farm, smoked fish and meats are delivered from Bing’s Heath Smokery, fish is delivered by Barkworths and meat and poultry is bought at the town’s market. So far so tasty.
The venue caters to all comers, offering menus for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner with additional menus for little rascals and those eating in groups.
The three musketeers at our table were eating from the regular menu and as tempting as the crocodile popcorn sounded – yes, it’s a thing – we went for Bloke Food: Burger – check. Burrito – check. Airline Chicken with Creamed Bacon Corn – well, there’s always one. Oh, and being blokes working hard to cultivate middle age spreads, we topped up with a few sides: Mac’n’cheese. Bostin’. Skinny fries. Ridiculous. Onion rings. Crunch.
The burger was a classic. The man who ate it broke off briefly to tell a hilarious story about James Bond’s stuntman who bought a Matalan suit to recreate a fire sequence only to torch his hair. I’ll stick it in a column for you – it was a top, top story.
The burger was just as good. Cooked sensibly, so that it remained moist and juicy, it had been well-seasoned and was served with Monterey Jack, maple bacon and red onion jam. Fries were served alongside and the tomato chutney was polished off quicker than a stash of macadamia nuts in a posh squirrel’s tree house.
My burrito was pretty good, though Lord only knows why it had been stuffed with tenderstem broccoli. I’m not sure the street vendors of downtown Tijuana do things that way and it didn’t really work. But the rice, beans, peppers and cheese coagulated into an indulgent, sticky, eat-it-with-your-fingers-and-get-messy celebration of protein and starch. It could have done with a little more spice and the dips also needed a lift, but it was decent nonetheless.
The sides were fine. The onion rings were a throwback to the 1970s. Forget your skinny, flour-dipped, panko-breadcrumbed, dainty numbers at chintzy gastro pubs – these were chunkier than a Giant Haystacks’ bodyslam. The fries were good, the mac’n’cheese fine.
And then there was a dish called Airline Chicken with Creamed Bacon Corn. And we sat around, the way only middle-aged blokes can, and laughed ourselves silly by saying: ‘Chicken or beef’. ‘Is it wagyu?’ And ‘Can I have mine rare, please?’ ‘They’re all rare. . .’
But enough of the rubbish, lollipop jokes. Airline Chicken comprised a crispy chicken supreme with creamed bacon and corn, savoury blackberry sauce, blackberries and a cheesy American biscuit. It was drop dead gorgeous.
It was as delicious as a Michelle Keegan squeeze, as lovely as a Kate Upton pout. The chicken had been cooked with real skill – well done the chef who’d already cooked for 25 other 6pm guests – and the flavour combinations were bright, innovative and exciting. In simple terms, it worked.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” asked the waiter.
“Yes, a gastric band.”
The service was fine throughout.
We skipped desserts, though I’ve made a mental note to go back and eat at least three. The salted caramel and pistachio rice pudding brûlée with a homemade Shrewsbury biscuit and fresh fruit is too good to miss. Apple and Cheddar tart with crème Anglaise and sticky pecan pie with vanilla ice cream also make the wish-list.
The fat lady started to sing – and so did the fat fortysomething blokes – and it was time to pay the bill. Drinks, dinner and good vibes for less than £20 each. Result.
Porterhouse is one of several Shropshire restaurants that specialise in the flavours of America. And they do a pretty good job.
The venue is good fun, the food above average and the service fine. Cost-conscious diners can also take advantage of their well-marketed offers – they’re busier than a spam email account when it comes to offering their diners savings.
We left happy, replete and with a few bob still left in our pockets.
By Andy Richardson