Restaurant review, The Black Lion Hotel. Long Melford: “Some of the dishes need a bit of work”

Pistachio three ways with blackberry.

Pistachio three ways with blackberry. - Credit: Archant

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis checks out the new food offering at The Black Lion.

Hake with parsnip veloute and onion bhaji.

Hake with parsnip veloute and onion bhaji. - Credit: Archant

Food

I visited the launch event for The Black Lion before Christmas and was extremely impressed by the amount of time, effort and money the Chestnut Group had lavished on the place.

Original features had been sympathetically restored, and the overall look and feel was of an unstuffy, luxurious country house. I looked forward to trying out the food this week.

After being a little smoked out in the dining room, my friend Justine and I sat in the gorgeously appointed drawing room, sipping on wine as the serving team tackled an unruly fireplace.

Apple tart with apple macaron.

Apple tart with apple macaron. - Credit: Archant

Once restored to the now much less smoky dining room, I started with a crunchy, and ironically, smoked haddock fish finger which was, as all the plates tried, presented beautifully. It wasn’t too smoky or salted, and the garnishes of a gentle wholegrain mustard sauce, thin apple shavings and caper berries married together harmoniously.

Justine’s wood pigeon was certainly quirky, with a carrot puree, whipped goats’ cheese and crumbles of carrot cake (lovely) but the game bird hadn’t been rested long enough, and needed a steak knife to slice through.

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Next up for me was a ballotine-shaped belly-busting portion of ham hock, shredded and combined with herbs. Very tasty indeed - especially when lapped up with the chestnut-coloured sauce. However, it sat on mounds of unseasoned mash, in turn covered in ice cold apple foam which, although complementary to the plate, chilled the mash and made it too wet. A warmer foam and dash of seasoning through the potatoes would have made this the ideal winter warmer.

Justine’s hake was obviously fresh, flaking delicately away from the golden skin. It was served with a smooth parsnip veloute and sweet caramelised fennel. The confit purple potatoes were dry and tasted a bit off. They wouldn’t have been missed if they’d been left out. And the onion bhaji, although perfectly made, was a bit disparate from the rest of the elements served.

Ham hock with spring onion mash, crackling and apple foam.

Ham hock with spring onion mash, crackling and apple foam. - Credit: Archant

To finish I was promised a pistachio mousse within pistachio gel, with pistachio sponge and blackberries.

What arrived looked stunning, but was completely frozen. If it was meant to be a parfait, it needed longer out of the chiller to soften. The flavours were excellent, however, with that unmistakeably exotic element of pistachio shining through.

It was comical how literal the menu was in describing ‘blackberry’, as there was a singular blackberry on the plate. It could have done with a sharp little berry sauce.

Justine’s apple tart had all the tastes it needed to succeed, but they just didn’t gel. The thin pastry was very overworked and filled with candied pecans, a drizzle of syrup and a few woolly, undercooked apple slices. As she cut into it everything scattered out onto the plate. The vanilla cremeaux on the side should have been served within, and the apples needed cooking to the point of almost collapse, so they could melt into the filling.

Wood pigeon.

Wood pigeon. - Credit: Archant

We did think the macaron with it was a nice touch, and it had been cooked well, with a sweet/sharp filling that really spoke of apple.

Drinks

There’s an interesting wine list. A glass of buttery Chardonnay from France’s underrated Limoux region had a bit of citrus bite to it, which made it the ideal partner in crime with the smoked fish.

Justine’s ‘Mimi’ rose from Provence was juicy, erring on the dryer side, with blush strawberry notes.

Ambiance

As previously mentioned, I think the refurbishment has been done tastefully and very much in keeping with the building.

It doesn’t feel exclusive or ‘too posh’ and the downstairs has a nice flow to it, with a relaxed bar, two dining rooms and a drawing room. There’s plenty of ‘milling about’ space for pre-dinner drinks and catching up.

Service

Our waitress was bright, smiley and eager to please. She was enthusiastic about the new restaurant and that definitely came across.

Toilets

Smart, clean, and fresh with decent lotions and potions. You couldn’t ask for more.

Location

At the northern end of Long Melford, located just opposite the entrance for the church and Kentwell Hall.

Parking

There is limited parking to the front and on the road at the side, with further parking on a grassy verge to the left of the hotel. It can get rather muddy up there so if you’re wearing heels you might want to get dropped off on the road.

Price

Three courses with complimentary flatbread, a bottle of still water and two small glasses of wine was just over £70.

Highlight

The smoked haddock fishfinger was a winner for me.

Summary

As it stands, the majority of our plates had a little something amiss, and I’ve eaten better for similar or less money at other places in the county. The kitchen needs to pay a bit more attention to flavours, textures and technique, which seem to have suffered on our visit in favour of presentation.

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