With its bakery links and speciality pies, this eaterie in Stone, near Stafford, is putting others in the shade, writes our undercover meal reviewer The Insider.
The Blue Rooms. You’ve got to admit, it sounds a bit funky, doesn’t it?
It sounds like the sort of cool, laid-back joint that might be frequented by the relaxed, arty types in the hipper districts of New York.
Or Birmingham at least.
So it was a bit of a surprise to find that this is actually a bakery restaurant in the Staffordshire market town of Stone.
And it certainly appears to have its fans. According to local lass Lucy: “The food here is fantastic. Both the drinks and food are reasonably priced and the selection of sides you can have with your main is really good value for money. The staff are kind, attentive and always have a smile. Can’t wait to go back.”
Finding it proved a little tricky, though. For some reason, the sat-nav seemed under the impression The Blue Rooms was in nearby Newcastle Street, rather than Radford Street, leaving me at the mercy of a rather confusing one-way system to finally locate the premises.
The restaurant is of a modern bistro style, with a small bar area doubling up as reception. A young lady served us with drinks on arrival, before then disappearing for a good few minutes. She later returned and led us across the bustling restaurant to our table right at the opposite end. After our experience with the near-empty restaurant the week before, it was good to see a place that was packed out. Young, old, couples, families, everybody seemed to be here.
The Blue Rooms is much larger than it looks from the outside, the ground-floor dining area extending quite a way back, divided into smaller areas by several partitions.
The “blue” part is actually quite tastefully understated, with sky-blue walls, cornflower carpets and slightly more vibrant seat cushions. There are one or two areas where the paint could do with touching up, but aside from that there is a good feel about the place.
Owner Gill Gannon barely paused for breath as she talked us through the menu options in a well-rehearsed routine.
On the one side of the menu is an a la carte selection, including no fewer than six steaks, four fish dishes and a selection of skillets, including two vegetarian meals. The prices were very reasonable, starting at £9.95 for a small rump steak, and there was also a specials board to add a bit of variety.
But come on, not even I would come to a pie restaurant to eat steak, would I? Would I?
Gill explained that the pies are all made in the family bakery by her husband George. She quickly rattled through the pies of the day, promising to give us a recap when she returned to take our order.
And then there was the choice of spuds and vegetables. A mind-boggling list of speciality mashes, hand-cut chips, the seasonal vegetables were carrots and courgettes, or there is a choice of garden peas or mushy peas.
Anyway, I had made a mental note of what I fancied the sound of, and by the time that Gill returned I was quite clear in my mind of what the order would be.
While a number of the pies sounded appetising – I was tempted by the sound of steak and mustard – I decided that beef and horseradish was the one which stood out. My companion went for steak and Stilton.
While the horseradish mash sounded good, I thought it might be too much with the pie, and we were both pretty keen to try the home-made chips. But when Gill suggested we might like to try a bit of Stilton mash as well, we thought ‘why not’, and I decided I would go for the seasonal vegetables as well.
In the meantime, there was the matter of what to drink. The wine list isn’t bad at all, with a choice or Chilean or Italian house wines (red, white and rose), and plenty of wines by the bottle. I always love a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, and failing that there is a rich rioja, a frisky prosecco if you fancy a bit of extra fizz, and a couple or reasonably priced champagnes if you want to push the boat out.
Yet at the back of my mind, there was something which caught my eye when I first entered the bar. Wood’s Shropshire Lad. It was the only real ale on tap, but it was a good one. A pie and a pint? Now what could be more civilised than that?
The food arrived within around half an hour, and it was everything one could have expected. Two giant slices of pie, both superbly crafted. A thick layer of shortcrust pastry gives way to tender pieces of roast beef, in a rich gravy delicately infused with a hot horseradish relish.
The hand-cooked chips were superb as well, and there were mountains of them. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of cheesy mash, but there is no doubt that this one had been nicely done. The carrots were fresh and tasty too, but something had to give way, and it wasn’t going to be the pie or the chips.
For afters, it was going to have to be something light, meaning that I would have to pass on the bread-and-butter pudding, or the chocolate brownie on this occasion. A lemon tart each, one with cream, one with ice cream, fitted the bill, a pleasant end to what had been a superb meal. The total bill was £45.40, which I think represents top-drawer value for a first-rate casual dining experience.
There were one or two things I didn’t like – I didn’t think we had the best table, overlooking the ladies’ toilet (the door seemed to be left open most of the night), and it didn’t help that from time to time a young chef poked his head out of the serving hatch to shout for attention.
But these gripes aside, the food really was superb, and Gill came across as someone with a real passion for her work.