Thursday 24 April 2014


Dinner at Ye Olde Saracen's Head in Coventry

Ye Olde Saracen's Head is set in a historic 16th century building and was renovated just a few years ago; perfectly balancing the rustic charm of the original features with the modern amenities we've now come to expect from a very good country restaurant. The seasonal menu offers an extensive range of dishes, all made in-house with fresh, local produce.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant we felt welcomed by the cosy atmosphere and the friendly serving staff. There is a wealth of choice on the menu and after much contemplation I eventually opted to start my dinner with the Josper grilled asparagus, crispy poached egg and truffle dressing. It is very easy to over- or undercook asparagus, but these were prepared to perfection and had a subtle bite to them. The poached egg added a lovely texture to the dish and while overall it was a bit too bland for my taste, it makes an excellent vegetarian starter for someone not too fond of spicy food.

My guest chose to start with the charcoal oven roasted marinated duck skewers with Asian salad, sticky plum dressing and toasted sesame seeds, which she called succulent. The beautiful pieces of duck were incredibly flavoursome and the dressing had a pleasant tingly aftertaste. I too had a small bite as it looked so inviting on her plate and have to agree, it was a wonderfully cooked and presented dish.

For my main course I opted for the lemon and thyme stuffed pork belly with Josper roasted garlicky baby spuds, which was served on a beautiful wooden board, which perfectly fitted into its surroundings and added to the rustic charm of the establishment. There was plenty of space on the plate for the various parts of the dish, including the gravy jar, and carving the meat on the wooden surface was much more comfortable than it would've been on a regular plate.

The pork was cooked to succulent perfection and encased in an inviting crispy exterior. The seasoning was spot on and combined with the generous helping of potatoes the dish was reminiscent of a very good Sunday roast. Good to note is that this course also comes with a serving of broccoli, which made me ordering a side of the same vegetable a bit superfluous, but we solved this easily by sharing our greens.

My guest was served the beautiful roast rump of lamb, which came with watercress purée, gratin potatoes and a fricassée of fresh peas and smoked bacon. The potatoes looked particularly inviting in all their creamy goodness and I made sure to have a taste as well. It was just as delectable as it looked; crispy on top with a beautiful, buttery melt-in-the-mouth layer underneath. My friend went as far as to call this part of the dish "sinfully delicious". The lamb was cooked beautifully as well and complimented by the smoky flavour of the bacon and the freshness of the peas.

Even though we were satisfyingly full at this stage, the dessert menu looked incredibly inviting and we were easily tempted to order a pudding each. My friend chose the Granny Smith apple and butterscotch crumble with vanilla ice cream, which looked beautiful country chic displayed on a pale blue and white striped serviette. While the butterscotch flavour wasn't overwhelmingly present, the rich crumble went down a treat.

I'm always partial to anything chocolatey when on offer and the warm gooey chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream ended up being the perfect choice for me. It was a very generous portion so I struggled finishing it, though not for lack of trying. Beautifully crisp on top and melt-in-the-mouth gooey on the inside, each little bite was an intense cocoa-flavoured sensation. My mouth is watering just by thinking back to this, it's one of the best brownies I've ever had - and there have been many throughout the years.

After dinner we had the opportunity to peak in the stunning private dining room, located in the older part of the building. Low ceilings, wooden beams and a variety of other original features make this a cosy space for a private party; seated in one of the old-fashioned carved seats on either end of the table you almost believe you've been transported back to a more rustic and simpler time.

This was in stark contrast to the modern open kitchen in the part of the restaurant we were dining, which is build around a centrepiece wood-fired pizza oven. Combining old and new in this instance worked very well, bringing the best of both worlds together in a unique and very charming setting.

When night fell the fireplaces were lit up, adding a gentle smoky fragrance to the homely atmosphere already lingering in the pub. This feeling was amplified by the fairy lights twinkling in the trees just outside, the country charm of the establishment entrancing passers-by before they'd even had a chance to glance at the delectable menu.

Ye Olde Saracen's Head, Balsall Street, Balsall Common, Coventry CV7 7AS.

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