Let’s mess with the rules and start with a list.
The monthly specials for The Green Café read something like this:
- Tagliolini, crab, tomato, parsley, chilli
- Mezze, salad, flatbread
- Rhubarb and strawberry cordial
- Caesar salad, Ortiz anchovies
- Salt beef brisket, mustard and watercress bap
- Lemon and buttermilk scones with lemon curd
- Soft-centred meringues, gooseberries, elderflower
- Peas, broad beans, beetroot, spring onions
- Poached salmon, potato salad, pickled cucumber
- Ox tongue plate, pickles and salads
Before you decide whether or not you fancy it, let’s do a little test to see if The Green Café passes our random, we’ve-just-made-this-up-on-the-spot-but-don’t-let-that-worry-you test.
Seasonal produce? Check.
Local ingredients? Check.
Good provenance? Check.
Creative use of ingredients? Check.
Affordable prices? Check.
Ta-dah! So there you have it. The Green Café is ace. Go eat there. You’ll be glad that you did. What to do with the remaining 1,000 words?
Well, let’s start with The Green Café’s location. It was created when the good folk of Ludlow decided to convert a disused former swimming baths beside Dinham Weir. They created a beautiful little patch of parkland, called the Millennium Green, and the baths became a café. It was created from beautiful Ludlovian stone and oozes character.
The main doors and patio look out across one of Shropshire’s prettiest sights, the River Teme. It forms part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is much-loved by locals and visitors alike. And that’s no surprise. In summer, the golden rays beat down, casting long shadows from Ludlow Castle as the day turns into evening. During autumn and winter, the river fills with salmon that leap over the weirs to make their way upstream. It truly is idyllic.
The café itself has developed a reputation for excellence. It features in the 2014 Michelin Guide, the 2014 Good Food Guide and the Sunday Times Top 130 Cheap Eats.
It’s run by a dedicated team who are passionate about real food. You’ll never find a delivery van dropping off frozen dinners, as they do at so many pubs and restaurants elsewhere. The Green Café is all about real people and real food. Breads, jams, sauces, puds, pasta: you name it, they make it.
It’s friendly, too, and decidedly unthreatening. All-comers are welcome – they’ve let me eat there more times than I care to remember – and cyclists and muddy-boot-wearing ramblers are all offered a seat. It’s run by Clive Davis, an unsung hero who avoids playing the local celebrity game and concentrates on the thing that he’s best at: cooking. He’s been there for several years and built a strong team around him. His restaurant manager is integral. Charming, vivacious and chatty, she’s got star quality.
When my friend and I called in for a quick lunch, she looked aghast. We’d failed to book ahead and the café was already pretty much full. She pulled a rabbit from a hat and found us a space. Menus were brought to our table and while I ordered a glass of local apple juice, my friend made light of an elderflower pressé. Ha, we know how to party.
The salt beef brisket was an offer that my friend couldn’t refuse and she ate the dish slowly, spooning a vivid yellow cauliflower piccalilli on to each mouthful. Piquant and earthy, it was a stunning accompaniment.
“I enjoyed that,” she said, as she polished off the last mouthful, offering an understatement on a par with William Wallace’s: “I’m not too keen on the English,” and Sun Tzu’s: “Do you fancy a scrap? I’ll ‘ave ya.”
I’ve visited The Green Café enough times to have acquired a favourite dish. It’s an intensely savoury pork ragu on a bed of gnocchi. Herby, delightfully seasoned and finished with fresh parmesan, it’s the sort of dish that would be found in a humble and honest Italian trattoria. It wasn’t the best version I’ve ever eaten, the gnocchi had been a little-overcooked. But while it lost points on texture, it packed a Carl Froch-esque punch of flavour.
My friend, or, as you all know her by now, The Queen of Puds, did something I’d never have expected when the dessert menu arrived. “I don’t need a dessert today.” I didn’t fall for it. Within minutes, we’d procured a panna cotta surrounded by sharp summery fruit and a dish of bilberries and ice cream. The panna cotta had just the right wobble; it looked like Rita Ora’s bum in a pair of running tights. The bilberries were as sharp as a 10-month-old-baby’s teeth. Dark and intense, like a Joseph Conrad novel, they’d been harvested the day before from a nearby hill. The fruit-picker had turned up at the kitchen door with his haul. They were full of flavour and stained my friend’s lips so that she looked like a goth. The ice cream was so-so: it had been over-frozen and was brick like, breaking, rather than falling apart.
No matter. Minor quibbles aside, we loved our lunch. Served with aplomb by our charming and attentive waitress, it was a hymn to the best of local flavour. Our bill was 20-something quid and we were replete at its end.
I’m not quite sure why Clive Davis has such a low profile. I guess he’s just a quiet bloke who likes cooking and doesn’t care for fuss. Whatever the explanation, his unsung reputation matters not. He’s been turning out exquisite food at The Green Café for many years and is deserving of the hard-to-win accolades that he’s garnered.
Were Clive based in London, Birmingham, Bray or some other foodie epicentre, perhaps more people might have heard of him. But in the final analysis, profile counts for nought. Good food is all about the flavour – and that’s what he delivers, year-in and year-out.
- The Green Café, Mill on the Green, Linney, Ludlow, SY8 1EG. Twitter: @greencafeludlow
Celeriac and cep mushroom soup, sourdough bread – £5.50
Chicken liver paté, fig chutney, toast – £5.75
Seared mackerel fillets, spiced dhal, spinach, yoghurt – £11
Organic egg omelette, Little Hereford cheese, green salad – £7
Wyre Forest Pig salami, goat’s cheese, kohlrabi and apple salad, caramelised red onion, olives, rocket, sourdough bread – £9.50
Vanilla panna cotta served with stewed rhubarb – £4.50
Soft centred meringues, bramley apple puree, caramel, whipped cream – £4.50
British cheese plate, fig chutney, oatcakes – £6.50