Review: The Mail Room, Ludlow (part 1)

Blogging for nine months now and this is the first time I’m reviewing a restaurant in its opening week. What can I say, it’s not often a new place opens in a small town like Ludlow, a town already stuffed with places to eat. One promising aspect of The Mail Room is that it looks like filling a useful niche. If you’re in Ludlow and you want a pub, or something Asian, you’re jolly well served. If you want to put on your glad rags and dine out on white linen then you’ve also got three or four options. But there’s definitely space for a good mid-market option in the bistro or casual fine dining category, as the only place I rate at all in that bracket currently is the tiny-but-decent French Pantry. So, is The Mail Room going to become a favourite? At two minutes’ walk away it would certainly be handy.

The décor is light and welcoming; mushroom tones on the walls, big metal canteen-style lampshades taking advantage of the high ceilings and dark wood furniture. There’s a bar and an open kitchen window, all good. Service was swift and most importantly friendly with only a couple of the tiniest slips to show that it’s still week one.

I started with a ravioli of jerusalem artichoke with parmesan foam, pea puree and coriander broth. The solitary ravioli was the wrong side of al dente and the teaspoon of filling bled into the broth so quickly that I never got a taste of jerusalem artichoke. Then again, the broth wasn’t exactly punchy with coriander either. And the parmesan foam was simply creamy. If I’d been presented with this dish blindfold and asked to name it I would have said: pea puree with cardboard, rocket and balsamic vinegar. Didn’t work. Maureen went for the duck hash with crispy duck egg and cranberry sauce. The egg was good, the duck hash looked the part but was let down by underseasoning, and I don’t think cranberry sauce was the right accompaniment; something with the bite of vinegar was lacking.

Seasoning woes carried into the main course, where Maureen’s cod dish was lacking any. The swipe of cauliflower puree was lost at the bottom of the dish under a pile of potatoes, and the dish as a whole just seemed to be a gathering of unconnected components. By contrast, I was on more of a winner with my poached pork loin wrapped in parma ham and pan-fried. The loin was still juicy and couldn’t help but be properly seasoned – thank you, parma ham. The fondant potato was good, as was the herby black pudding faggot. Apple and vanilla puree made a neat accompaniment.

Puddings were kirsch brulee and white chocolate bavarois. The brulee was good, with macerated cherries and a scattering of entirely unrelated blueberries. It was supposed to come with shortbread but instead came with tuille and no explanation. The bavarois was a bit heavy on the gelatin but the taste was okay in combination with the very sweet strawberry soup it sat in. Black pepper tuille might have added a kick, but the tuille had no black pepper. I don’t mind a restaurant having to change elements of a dish, but I’d like to be told about it. The whole meal was £35 each with a glass of white wine, so it’s not a cheap three courses.

So, that’s part 1 of my review. Part 2 will have to wait, because I’m going to go back in a few weeks and see how they’re doing. I’ve no problems with the ambience or the front-of-house, I’d love to dine at The Mail Room regularly, but the food needs some work before it could become a favourite haunt.

Some say it’s unfair for a critic to review a restaurant in its opening weeks, but that’s nonsense because what could be more exciting than trying somewhere new? Some critics respond that if a restaurant is going to charge full price from day one then the food and service should be perfect from day one. I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect that, there’s a lot of financial pressure in opening a restaurant as soon as the paint is dry. I guess you just accept the risk that you may disappoint and lose early customers if you aren’t perfect straight out of the traps. But in an ideal world restaurant critics ought to be willing to give new restaurants a second review and a chance to erase the first one if they were caught by early day problems. With so many places to eat, I’m guessing few have the time or inclination to risk a second disappointment.

Well, The Mail Room is only two minutes’ walk away from us, and they’re trying to do the kind of food I like. That’s definitely worth a second shot, and of course a chance to erase this largely negative review.

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  1. Review of The Mail Room restaurant, Ludlow, Shropshire

    […] I said I’d go back and give them another shot. It’s a good month later, and to cut to the chase the story is […]

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