By Amy James, The Connection Magazine
Over the course of a year, I’ve visited The Four Alls at Welford-on-Avon a grand total of three times. On the first occasion, I wandered in to deliver some magazines to the then-manager, and I was overwhelmed by two aspects: firstly, the size of the building, which I’d noted from driving past numerous times over the years, and secondly, just how dark it felt inside. Not long after this visit, I read news of a refurbishment at the property and wondered how on earth anybody would set about tackling such a large space, albeit one with an undoubtedly enviable riverside position.
My subsquent visits have been post-refurbishment, and I am amazed at how Oakman Inns have transformed the premises into a welcoming combination of open dining space with cosy nooks and side rooms for a more intimate drinking and dining experience. Not surprising given the expenditure on the project – a whopping £1.9m – that has seen the arrival of an open plan kitchen, wood-decked ceilings, beautiful oversized light fittings, and tasteful colour schemes to complement each area – the dark green and mustard yellow upholstered seating being a particular favourite of mine.
After enjoying their launch evening in June, I visited again in September with my husband for a much-needed and very rare evening meal away from our brood of two young children. The excitement of eating somewhere with ambient lighting and possibly even conversation (child-focussed, probably, but still) – away from the glare of another Netflix boxset and a plate of something wearily-prepared balanced on our laps – was palpable.
We arrived promptly after all but sprinting from our house when the babysitter arrived (we’d not had an evening out for some time) and were greeted by Deputy Manager, Rhiannon, who was welcoming, smiley and showed us through to our table, one of five along the glazed extension in the main dining area, that delivers much needed sunlight during the day – something that the previous decor was sorely missing. For this evening, the pretty fairy lights draped around the trees a few metres outside were setting enough for this early autumn evening meal.
I’m the kind of diner who likes to evaluate a menu prior to visiting the venue, even if I do change my mind a dozen times before my final order, but I knew that my goal for the night was to sample at least one mocktail and the scotch egg starter. “Mocktail?” I hear some of my gin-swigging buddies cry with horror. Well, yes… ‘Spice & Ice’, a refreshing combination of mango, lime, cucumber, honey and ginger beer quite tickled my fancy and the fiery aftertaste was just what I needed to wash away the after taste of a long day and kickstart the meal. However, for anyone wishing to begin with something slightly more boozy, the spirit, cocktail and wine menus are extensive and there’s plenty of choice for anyone who’s recently hopped on the gin-loving bandwagon, in addition to a smaller number of beers – bottled and on tap.
Our waitress for the evening – friendly, efficient and patient when I took forever to decide on a main course – made a number of recommendations and we settled on the Saltimbocca Scotch Egg (as planned) and Calamari to start, followed by the pork belly (roasted for 12 hours) and rib eye steak. I really did consider one of the very tempting vegan dishes (the Beetroot Falafel is meant to be wonderful) and the pizzas (handmade with Italian flour and cooked in their authentic pizza oven), but couldn’t be swayed from a meat feast on this occasion. The scotch egg arrived and, when cut in two, yolk oozed out from the clutches of crisp coated, well seasoned sage and prosciutto sausagemeat on a generous bed of rocket. When teamed with the hollandaise I was in seventh heaven. I could have eaten several (and it was a generous portion). My husband’s calamari – again, well seasoned – went well with the chipotle mayonnaise, and although the batter was perhaps not quite as crisp as he’d have liked, he wolfed it down gleefully all the same.
Our plates were quickly cleared away (although at no point did we feel rushed) and mains soon followed, at which point we both did “the slice test”, as we call it. No slicing necessary for my pork belly. As soon as I skewered it with my fork, it fell apart beautifully. Teamed with creamy mashed potato, tenderstem broccoli, incredible crackling and gravy, this was comforting posh pub grub and exactly what I had hoped for. The steak, which my husband had requested be cooked rare, also passed the slice test – perfectly pink and tender. He enjoyed it upgraded with the Grana Padano, Oregano and Olive Oil Fries. Again, portions were very generous and I couldn’t quite finish mine, but this was entirely because I wanted to save space for a pudding.
Choices, choices… but I was very happy when my white chocolate cheesecake arrived, topped with honeycomb pieces and accompanied by ginger caramel ice cream. Much “mmmm-ing” ensued. Not the usual thick and heavy baked affair, but very smooth and, were it not for the size of the portion, light too. Of course, I polished it off in a moment of my eyes being bigger than my belly.
My husband ordered the Brownie Mess. Not quite so delicate, but a very satisfying mound of brownies, mascarpone, ice cream, meringue and chocolate sauce. His review? I quote – “mmm, it’s very chocolately”. What can I say? A man of genteel and sophisticated tastes he is not (with the rare exception of his life partner), but he was as happy as a pig in the proverbial…
Two hours later and we were tired, content, very full and, despite my tight waist band, I was eyeing up the well-priced brunch menu on my phone en route to relieve the babysitter from duty, with a view to returning at a later date with our children.
Why Visit? Fresh, seasonal, responsibly and sustainably sourced produce. Good portion sizes. An imaginative meat free and vegan selection available in addition to gluten free options.
Any Particular Occasion? Informal, but suitable for special occasions with space to cater for larger groups as well as more intimate tables for two. I’d be equally happy to dine here casually with girl friends as I would to attend a special function.
Pricing? Competitive with similar pubs. 3 courses for approximately £30pp, drinks not included.
To find out more about The Four Alls, you can visit their website: www.thefourallswelfordonavon.co.uk.