When Abby's parents come to town, we tend to go out for dinner. And when we go out for dinner with Abby's parents, they tend to pay. So naturally, I suggested we head to Pricey McFlashswag's Goldplate Bistro. You can imagine how gutted I was to learn that Mark, Abby's pater, had heard us talking about The Reindeer so often that he was set on going there instead ( I learnt the same night that McFlashswag's Bistro has mysteriously gone out of business. Sad times.)
When we usually talk about the Reindeer, it's to say things like "the beer is fantastic," "did you try that other great beer?", and "it's not even shaped like a reindeer." But its billing as Pub & Kitchen, along with its weirdly fascinating list of bar snacks (duck hearts on toast is typical), mean that calling it a beer specialist is likely to miss the point.
We managed three different mains and four different desserts between us. Given the size of the menu, this lack of overlap is no small achievement and you should praise us handsomely. Our derring-do in menu choices may be partly to blame for the fact that the excellent array of food included a few eyebrow-raising elements.
The least successful of these was Abby's 'deconstructed' tart, which would have been better left together. Two crackers with a cheese flavoured foam between them sounds about as appetizing as it looked, and was only saved by the excellent roast beetroot and tomatoes that, while clearly not part of the same dish, happened to come on the same plate. Marilyn's black bream, on the other hand, was delicious, and did a good job of saying 'you should have ordered me' to Abby, a feeling she rarely gets when eating out with me and my dead-land-animal obsession.
Marilyn's starter of fried asparagus with a poached goose egg was the undoubted star of the early rounds, being dubbed 'unctuous' while making the rest of us jealous. Mark's mussels were stacked high in a beery veg broth, and received two thumbs up. My own starter of venison and chorizo terrine, studded with pistachios, originally had me reeling at the technology involved in condensing a metric ton of meat into a starter-sized portion. Apart from its denseness, however, I can't recall it really tasting of all that much, which is a little sad given the ingredients.
The only moment of menu overlap came with Mark's and my mains: butler's steak (from the shoulder, the same bit of meat as blade but cut for frying) with horseradish dumplings, kale and strings of carrot. We both ordered medium rare, but the emphasis on medium was more up Mark's street than mine. The dumplings were tremendous, and the dish as a whole (no deconstruction needed) was excellent.
We ordered every dessert off the menu, and we found it hard to find fault with any of them. My trio of chocolate was incomparable to the typical sickening pile of fudginess, due to a delicious white chocolate mousse and an ability to somehow not be sickly at all; Abby's lemon tart was so zingy that it didn't matter that the sorrel and creme freche didn't add much on the side; while Marilyn had to use great diplomacy when comparing her Norfolk rhubarb trifle to our own, Allotment 141c rhubarb.
The Reindeer is relaxed and large, and welcoming (even with a wake going on). The service told us everything as a question (so, okay, it's actually from the shoulder?) which is a happy level for service to be noticed on, and there were apparently some beers, somewhere.
It is testament to the overall quality and thoughtfulness of the food that this review has not descended into a list of beers, each with a pencil sketch of the unique glass it comes in (yes, we still care about that.) Because I don't have my sketchbook to hand, I will limit myself to saying that the choice is wide and full of surprises and Kwak is a good place to start.
Having said that, when Abby's parents are in town, we eschew beer in favor of big, expensive bottles, and whatever comes in them. Preferably goldplated.