Flavours for the big occasion at the Cross Swords Inn

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I AM sure that after 60 years of dedicated service to our country, the Queen deserved it more than we did, but we reckoned there was no better way to round off the jubilee celebrations than with a nice meal.

But where to go for a real treat?

We didn’t want anything too formal; it was after all a Thursday evening during a busy working week and we didn’t want to travel far.

We settled on the Cross Swords Inn at Skillington, where, as it happened, Jubilee celebrations had been in full swing just a couple of days before.

We fell into conversation with friendly locals, some of whom were already at tables near the bar ready to eat. We agreed villagers all over the area had made the best of the Jubilee.

I heard someone mention ‘Lancaster Bomber’ and ‘Spitfire’ and assumed this was just a development of the theme.

But in fact, it was a reference to real ales, and having discussed the merits of various beers with landlady Linda Wood, who keeps the cellar, I had one of the current offerings, Adnams Broadside. Lovely stuff.

My wife, warming to the view that this was a special occasion, asked for the wine list and chose a red (L’Emage Cabernet Sauvignon) to go with our meal. It was a perfect choice, and good value at £12.95.

Our appetites whetted by a variety of dishes emerging from the kitchen where chef and landlord Harold was beavering away, we made our choices.

We took a two-seat table in a restaurant area adjoining the bar. This suited us perfectly, because we had our ‘own space’, but were still able to feel part of the cheerful atmosphere.

For my starter I chose something I had not had before – black pudding on an English mustard sauce with red onion and apple marmalade. I was persuaded by Linda’s suggestion that it was her husband’s signature dish and that this was the perfect introduction to the traditional north country delicacy. I was not disappointed.

The pudding was moist and its subtle flavour enhanced by the mustard sauce and onion marmalade. It amounted to a beautifully prepared, delicate balance of flavours – just what you’d expect when a classically, French-trained chef prepares his version of an English regional favourite.

My wife was delighted by her mushrooms in creamy garlic sauce, which were spot-on for taste and texture.

I had heard locals praising the steaks, but I opted for Duck Leg Confit served with Cumberland sauce.

I find duck can sometimes be a bit dry, but this was glorious. The meat slid from the bone and with the sauce formed lovely rich mouthfuls, set off with tender vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes.

Carole found it even more difficult to select a main course, unable to choose between sea bass, poached chicken or rack of lamb. The lamb won out because it is a favourite dish, and to be honest, she wanted to see if Harold and the Cross Swords Inn could match her highest expectations.

When it arrived I was a little surprised by its pinkish appearance, but Carole was unfazed and tucked in. She said it was beautifully sweet and tender, and cooked exactly as she had requested.

Feeling content after savouring such a satisfying meal, we were all set to forgo a dessert.

However, sensing we might like something very light to finish, Linda arranged for Harold to prepare zabaglione, a classic Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine which was served warm. It was not actually on the menu and was another first for me and a real treat.

As we left, our hosts hoped they might see us again, but in fact I had already decided we will return with friends due to visit for a weekend soon, when we will make a bee-line for the Sunday lunch.

★★★★★ Richard Yetman