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The Old Passage Inn - Arlingham - Gloucestershire - England
Arlingham Gloucestershire GL2 7JR +44 (0) 1452 740547
The Old Passage Inn is situated in a remote part of Gloucestershire on a bleak stretch of Britain's longest river, The Severn. You need a map to find this place, but it is worth the effort. Last year the restaurant was rewarded with a Best Seafood Pub in England Award. My mother, who grew up in the Gloucestershire countryside, had recently rediscovered this little gem and decided to take me and my grandmother there for lunch.
After being seated and ordering drinks, we were bought a delicious basket of fresh, warm, wholewheat, cheese & herb, olive and tomato bread rolls partnered by a yellow, pat of salty butter. Very good indeed.
A long time had passed since I'd eaten some British oysters. I bypassed the one French option and settled for one each of the three Cornish oysters from the restaurant's seawater tanks. I did a mix and match, but the prices for three of a kind were as follows:
Fowey Pacific No 2 £4.40 for 3
Salcombe No 2 £4.80 for 3
Helford Native Oysters No 2 £7.70 for 3
All of the oysters were on the small side which is how I prefer them. Out of the three, the most expensive, the Helford, was my least favourite. It was briny and salty. It tasted a little too much of the sea.
The Salcombe Oysters were sweet and delicious. I wish I'd ordered just three of them. But the Foweys were almost as tasty, too, so all was not lost.
Potted Shrimps served with toast and salad £ 5.50
My grandmother's choice was formed from tiny little nutmeg-scented shrimps set in a ramekin and held together with hardened butter.
Risotto with deep fried squid rings with balsamic vinegar £8.70
My mother's appetizer was quite bizarre and not quite what we were expecting. The portion was overly large for an appetizer, the squid was spongy-textured, the rice was a little hard and the balsamic was pungent, unrefined and overpowering. The dish was too sweet with a lack of contrasting flavours.
Roast Cornish Skate Wing on a bed of garlic mash with nut-brown butter, capers, parsley and lemon butter £15.90
Superb, soft, long white flakes of moist fish. A buttery sauce and fat, juicy capers, this dish was just perfect. The quality of the Skate shone through. It was a pleasure to consume.
Beer Battered North Cornish Cod fillet with hand cut chips, lemon and tartare sauce £11.70
My grandmother declined to offer us any of her fish (wise woman), but she couldn't manage all of her chips so my mother and I dived in. They were better than any chip I've tasted in a long, long, time. The choice of potato (I didn't think to ask which one), was perfect, the size was large enough to result in a decent-sized mouthful, (none of this French Fries crap with your fish and chips, thank you very much). The outside was crispy enough and the inside was pillowy enough to elevate these pieces of fried potato, in my mind, to a level where they deserve to be worshipped.
Pan-fried Dover Sole Meuniere with nut-brown butter, parsley and lemon juice £17.50
Like the skate, this more delicate fish was simply perfect.
I shocked my mother by ordering a side of parsnips. It wasn't a price issue, a side is included with each main course for a small £1.50 supplement. I didn't like parsnips as a child, but my tastes have matured and now I think they are fine. These ones, roasted with golden syrup and mustard were particularly moreish.
A few seconds later my mother was even more shocked when I asked for some curly kale. I admit, I didn't order it with confidence. If it was true to say I didn't like parsnips as a child, then it would be even more true to say I hated kale with a vengeance. But had my mother gently stewed the kale in about half a pound of butter for me when I was a kid, I am sure it wouldn't have taken me quite so many years to come to the realization that Kale isn't bad after all!