Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Bookshop by A Rule of Tum, Aubrey St, Hereford

I love writing about places like this. 

True, no one is forcing any blogger to share their opinions, but there are times you can’t wait to start writing a place up. When your enthusiasm is unforced, hopefully infectious,  because you’ve done that most basic of things: find somewhere you want to share. 

The Bookshop is a spin off from A Rule of Tum’s acclaimed Burger Shop. Jay Rayner loved it (‘I’d mark them Very Good, with a gold star and a tick’) and when the Bookshop opened next door in 2015, it soon added the OFM’s award for best Sunday lunch, the first outside London to do so, and opened another Burger Shop in Worcester in April 2017. (This last bit is important. We’ll come back to that). 

 As ‘difficult’ second albums go, it soon becomes obvious, it is more The Bends than The Second Coming; less Room On Fire, more Nevermind. 

The negatives first. The concrete floor and walls of bare brick or whitewash are acoustically unforgiving. On an early Saturday evening it is full and noisy and hardly the place for sweet nothings- if you still have sweet nothings to whisper, do it somewhere quieter.

And yet: perhaps it’s churlish to complain when a place like this is busy: its a symptom of things here being in rude health, actually A Good Thing. It’s only noisy because it’s busy and it’s only busy because it’s excellent. It’s mean-spirited to complain when an indie restaurant committed to doing things like this is so clearly been taken to locals’ hearts.

Burger Shop is full, too; and earlier in the day we see the usual lunchtime queues for The Beefy Boys, their Old Market ‘Meat Boutique’ sandwiched by big brands which languish with tables to spare.  

It’s almost as if people here value their independent restaurants. 

The menu leans heavily and unapologetically on meat. It is, to all intents and purposes, a steak house. There’s a single fish dish and one meat-free main, and some imaginative sides, but there's a distinctly beefy thrust to the menu: specifically, locally-raised, native breed animals from Kinnersley’s  Farmer Tom Jones. It’s not unusual to see less familiar cuts among the daily selection chalked up on the board. Prices top out at £26 for fillet and £50 for a sharing cote de boeuf, though it’s the presence of cheaper cuts which intrigues. 

The supporting cast tempts on several fronts. What could be make-dos, mere place-holders, are impressive in their own right. Alex Gooch bread (£4.50)- as good as a guarantee as you’ll find- arrives hot and marked with grill stripes, just the thing for slathering on whipped aged beef butter which comes dotted with shavings of cured ox heart. This kind of thing on a menu reassured as much as it excites; this is what happens when you do your own butchery in-house (at the Worcester Burger Shop) and strive to use as much of the animal as possible. 

A cauliflower dish (£4.50) is the best of its type I can recall eating. It’s a looker, too, crisp spice-marinated florets slathered (there’s that word again) with a tangy apricot chutney and- appropriately for The Bookshop- a memorable raita. (And if you are groaning at that one- consider I haven’t mentioned how many covers The Bookshop has). It’s fabulous stuff: golden, crisp, substantial. A bargain, too.

The deftness with which they execute the side dishes speaks volumes about their ideas. Mac and cheese (£6) can be a shrug and a yawn in the wrong hands: here, it’s a gentle green from wild garlic foraged nearby and pepped up by little smoked bacon pieces, all folded into a sauce thick with the Gouda-like Old Winchester. It’s a bowl full of contented sighs. All is well with the world. 

Plaice fillets (£14.50) are lightly done, just dusted with the barest coat and given some seasonal complements in the crisp shallots, dotted wild garlic purée and sweet little leeks.

The flat iron steak, cut from the shoulder, is a lovely medium rare (£16) and has the minerality of the good stuff, properly raised and aged: Farmer Tom supplies Clove Club, St Johns, and Lyle's (overlooked by Rayner) so you know you're in good hands. A suitably luscious béarnaise is spiky with tarragon. Chips (£5) would be just the thing here: you might expect them to be good, but theirs are nothing short of excellent. Triple cooking is more and more standard: but as with everything else they haven’t been allowed to leave the pass without being exemplary versions of themselves. 

Golden, rustling, meaty (they are cooked in beef dripping):these are chips which want you to eat them by hand, which demand to be picked up and scrutinised and snapped and dredged through sauces, even as you congratulate yourself for having the sheer good taste to eat here tonight. 

A dessert which proves that 'deconstructing' things doesn't always have to be a bad idea: a peanut-butter parfait, chocolate crumb and a caramel sauce, all dotted with popcorn, is a Snickers bar in its Sunday best (£6.50).

You know, in its own way, and within its own frame of reference- this meal was close to perfect. That’s a heavy word to bandy about, and I don't mean the 'perfection' of a world-class kitchen, of a bill which has you wondering which kidney or child to sell, but a quieter sort of triumph: of each element being pored over and worked at diligently until it is all about delivering something pleasing, something satisfying. 

The quality and cooking of the beef, the care taken with the fish, the snap and rustle of those chips, the unashamed impact of the cauliflower, the aniseed tang of a voluptuous béarnaise, the meaty notes in the bread, the macaroni cheese. All excellent examples of what they are, all skilfully realised by a team clearly in love with what they do.

And if that doesn’t make your happy, if that doesn’t chime with you, then it should: on their busiest service of the week, The Bookshop doesn’t  put a foot wrong. 

If you have a special place in your affections for an independent business which does every thing well- very well- then a meal like this is worth the trip. The Bookshop is the enviable result of admirable dedication: in short, it’s the kind of place which makes you want to come back soon, to bring friends, to share it with someone special. Locals are fortunate indeed to have such enterprising young people among them.

The Bookshop
33 Aubrey St,

01432 343443

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