Our Saturday in Ross-on-Wye was, unfortunately, to bad dining experiences, what the Sunday, with our afternoon tea and dinner at The Chase, was to good dining experiences. Shortly after we arrived, we wandered out to a pub called the Hope and Anchor, which was by the river in a stunning location, but sadly seemed to think that its location negated any requirement for decent food or service. The soggy sandwiches we had there don’t even warrant a blog entry of their own, but suffice to say if we ever return, it will only be to enjoy the location and not to eat again!
We had high hopes for dinner, however, having pre-booked a table at The Bridge at Wilton. Mr W had eaten there before several years previously and had an excellent meal, and it certainly seemed from its website and accolades mentioned (including two AA Rosettes and many local awards) that it would be very good.
On arrival, we were welcomed by a very friendly and helpful gentleman who got us a drink from the bar and seated us in a pleasant conservatory area overlooking the lovely garden. One of the best things about The Bridge is its location – the garden backs on to the River Wye and I can imagine that on a summer’s day, it is a lovely location for al fresco dining. We fancied starting with a glass of champagne, but despite his initial “Yes, of course!” our host had to return slightly sheepishly to let us know they no longer served champagne by the glass. To his credit, however, he did recommend a wine to us from the list which was available by the glass and which would make a nice aperitif.
While we looked at the menus we were given an ‘amuse bouche’ selection (pictured), comprising a mini shot of Gazpacho, a smoked salmon brochette with chilli jam and a fried quails egg with crispy pancetta (gorgeous!), which was beautifully presented and tasted delicious, so gave us very high expectations for the meal. We opted for the Table d’Hote menu, and were very pleasantly surprised by how reasonably this was priced (£15 for two courses and £20 for three) compared with the A La Carte menu, which was more in the region of £22+ for a main course. The wine list was fairly extensive and again, the prices ranged from reasonable through to higher end.
Once our food was ready to be served, we were shown in to the dining area, which unfortunately seemed a little tired and in need of sprucing up. The Bridge is described as a ‘Restaurant with Rooms’ but the dining area really felt more like the breakfast room of a small hotel, or even the dining room in someone’s house. It certainly didn’t feel conducive to ‘fine dining’ (as the restaurant describes on its website!) – in fact, behind our table was a shelf with one of those grey plastic cutlery trays, which always remind me of school dinners or motorway service stations. It probably goes without saying, but just in case it doesn’t, neither of these is a good thing of which to be reminded.
We also had to ask a couple of times for our wine to be brought through from the bar. At this point, the gentleman who had welcomed us so nicely seemed to vanish, and we were served by other members of staff. Unfortunately, although pleasant enough (we chatted to a couple of them after the meal, as is our wont!), their attitudes seemed far too laid back for a restaurant that portrays itself to be of such a high standard, and the service was certainly not on a par with what I would expect from somewhere in this price bracket. We noticed the table next to us also seemed to have some complaints about the service they had received.
There was little atmosphere in the restaurant and many of the other diners seemed to be sitting in silence. We felt quite uncomfortable even having a conversation in a normal tone of voice, and felt more like we were in a library and should perhaps be whispering!
Our starters were very pleasant (hot smoked mackerel served with potato and chive salad, for me, and Gravadlax of smoked salmon for Mr W). Mr W’s main course was also very good – an unusual salad, served with black pudding, crispy bacon, roasted tomatoes and a soft poached egg which when the yolk was broken into, provided the dressing for the salad, but unfortunately my main course was not so good. I had ordered chicken served with local asparagus and sautéed potatoes. Being a big asparagus fan, I was keen to try what is known for being a local delicacy, but unfortunately the chicken could only be described as burnt on the outside, and the whole meal had an overwhelming taste and smell of carbon. I was inclined to just cut off the burnt bits (I was hungry!), but it soon became apparent that the burnt taste had permeated throughout the whole piece of chicken. Knowing my tendency towards stroppiness, especially where food (or lack of it when I’m hungry) is involved, Mr W offered to do this, but bizarrely, we were told that it was in fact char-grilled, and was supposed to be like this. I would challenge anyone to have eaten it and actually found it enjoyable, so if it is genuinely meant to be like this, they clearly have customers with odd tastes! They offered to re-do it for me, but said it would be cooked differently and not char-grilled, as that was the way it was supposed to be – and that it would take some time “as the chef has other things to do”. I was very much left with the feeling that the waiter was trying to make me feel as if I didn’t know anything about how food was supposed to be cooked, and it was a case of my not liking it, rather than it not being cooked well. In the end, I changed my order and went for the salad that Mr W was already enjoying, which was actually very nice, but it was disappointing not to have had my first choice (which I am sure could have been very nice if cooked correctly, and indeed the asparagus that I tried was very nice!) and also that we effectively ate separately as he had finished by the time my second main course came.
Now of course, from time to time, mistakes happen and things go wrong, but my view is that it is how you deal with it that matters. Unfortunately, in this case, it was a let down on both counts. I had hoped that our laid back waiter might leap into action at the suggestion that something was wrong, but sadly not – and the rather pointed “If you don’t like it…” comment didn’t go down too well!
We did decide to go for a dessert, and the restaurant redeemed itself slightly, although not entirely! Mr W had a citrus soufflé with raspberry sorbet (soufflés seem to be making a bit of a return to being in vogue!), which was very good, and I had a chocolate marquise, served with crème anglaise and coconut sorbet. The chocolate marquise was delicious, very dense, rich and chocolatey, and the crème anglaise was nice and vanilla-y. Unfortunately, the coconut sorbet, which had actually swayed me to choose this particular dessert, was more like citrus sorbet with a few bits of coconut in, as it had a very sharp citrusy taste which didn’t sit well with the rich chocolate or creamy vanilla. The dish could have done without it, and I would have preferred more of the crème anglaise.
All in all, it was a rather disappointing experience, which went downhill as the evening went on (with a minor improvement in the shape of the chocolate marquise), after what seemed like a good start. I get the impression that this restaurant is trading off past glories (once we got there we noted that the last awards/accolades mentioned were 4 or 5 years ago, something which is not mentioned on the website) and should really up its game as it will soon be eclipsed by more contemporary rivals locally. The tired decor, lack of attention to detail and ambivalent staff attitudes just add to the feeling that the place has somehow given up. Perhaps, like the pub we visited at lunch time, they feel it’s all about the location, but for me, that’s only a small part of the whole dining experience.
Food: ** Service: ** Ambience: ***
The Bridge at Wilton, Wilton, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6AA