ARMED only with the lukewarm “my dad’s been before, he said it was, err, okay”, it was with some trepidation that we wandered in to the Inn at the Park on Monday evening.
This view seemed, at first, a generous assessment as we loitered in the foyer, nary a member of waiting staff in sight.
Eventually a waitress was located and we were ushered through to a table.
The restaurant itself was strangely reminiscent of the dining room in Fawlty Towers, albeit with less frenetic and much more friendly service.
An identical layout, with a door to the kitchen in the same place, missing only Basil crashing through and not mentioning the war. Thankfully, things remained much more serene. A drinks order – Monday night, wild one: cokes all round and a jug of water – was both taken swiftly and back at the table swiftly.
The menu – brand new, according to our delightfully helpful waitress – was absolutely teeming with choices, both exotic and mainstream. Indian, Italian, Mexican, Spanish and, for the Theresa Mays of this world, good old-fashioned, no-nonsense British grub.
Nursing a slight cold, a steaming hot bowl of vegetable broth seemed a sensible prescription for starters.
The soup was deliciously flavoured, with an abundance of mixed veg and accompanied by a warm bread roll.
My companions decided to be a little more adventurous, and were also rewarded. Spicy sweet potato wedges were devoured quickly, the dish complemented interestingly by tandoori chicken, mint yoghurt and coriander. While it could have been slightly warmer, the flavours were a joy. The bacon and spinach salad was enlivened by the presence of mangoes and chilli, and given an overwhelming endorsement.
No sooner, it seemed, had the starters been whisked away than main courses were set before us. To be fair, this may have been due to the fact they weren’t overly busy, but still commendable – and the gratuity was well earned.
And, as the sun fell outside, a very pleasant setting was created in the softly-lit room, all flickering candles, comfortable chairs and hushed conversations.
My steak and ale pie was beautiful. With crunchy pastry, a small side of carrots (and a larger one of chips) and absolutely overflowing with the most tender beef, this was the ideal cold weather dish.
The only criticism, and it really is a minor one, was the slight lack of gravy in the pie.
My friends had similarly huge helpings of battered haddock and chips and Cajun chicken with chorizo and rice respectively.
The fish was given wholehearted approval – large, crumbly and straight out of the North Sea. My friend was keener on the chips than me and scoffed the lot, sharpish.
There was a lovely aroma coming from the Cajun chicken dish and I was lucky to be able to polish off the leftovers, when my friend was unable to finish it. The chicken was tender and the Cajun sauce worked surprisingly well with the chorizo, though the rice was a touch stodgy.
Heartily recommended for its titanic and tasty portions, attentive service, and agreeable ambience, let The Inn at the Park leave you with a grin in the dark winter months.