The Old Vicarage, Branston, Staffordshire Restaurant Review

PUBLISHED: 16:36 02 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013

Duo of desserts: Raspberry Ripple Cheescake and Drambuie Creme Brulee

Duo of desserts: Raspberry Ripple Cheescake and Drambuie Creme Brulee

Fine Dining The Derbyshire Life Christmas Luncheon at Pascal at the Old Vicarage Branston

The village of Branston has been famous for its pickle ever since Crosse & Blackwell set up a factory there in the 1920s and adopted the name of the village. However, since the turn of the millennium many visitors to Branston associate the place with more refined comestibles like Terrine of Rabbit, Pork and Guinea Fowl, Packington Pork Belly and Drambuie Crme Brle, just a few of the dishes served up inside Pascal at the Old Vicarage which has established an enviable reputation for its fine English cuisine with a French twist.

For our Derbyshire Life Christmas Luncheon, we were greeted by owner Pascal Arnoux and his wife Karen who, after buying the Old Vicarage Restaurant in 1999, set about putting their own stamp on the place with more than a little help from their front of house team of Leigh, Simon and Paolo who, significantly, have been at Pascals almost from the start. Three years ago, a highly significant addition to their kitchen brigade of chefs Jamie, Linda, Louise and Tom was Colin Ansell, joining Pascal from The Old Boat in Alrewas where he gained Egon Ronay recognition. Colin crafted his culinary skills in London and Birmingham and, according to Pascal, has two other great attributes: He is a nice, easy-going guy and just loves cooking. Colins arrival was a watershed: in 2007 The Old Vicarage gained the Staffordshire Restaurant of the Year award and was highly commended for using only the freshest ingredients and predominantly local produce.

As to the other factors, Pascal points to his belief in good, unpretentious food in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere along with a simple, direct philosophy: to treat customers the way we would want to be treated ourselves and to serve only the food we would eat ourselves.

The warmth of our greeting was enhanced by an aperitif of mulled wine, satisfyingly spiced. Other restaurants take note: a mulled wine is for the whole wintertime, not just for Christmas. There is nothing more welcome when you have just walked in from the frost-biting cold. Our warming wine was served with tasty vol-au-vents of salmon mousse. Fellow diner Russell commented that the taste of similar nibbles can often be overpowered by herbs and under-powered by a lack of fish the salmon flavour really came through, he declared.

As we walked into the dining room, I was most taken by the elegant yet simple interior with its warm colour scheme of peach and cream mixed with mint green fresh, comforting, and opulent without being ostentatious.

Our first course was a warm roulade of goats cheese sourced from Bosworth Ash in Tamworth with chives, wrapped in a slither of Parma ham and served with marinated red peppers and a black olive tapenade. As Im not a huge fan of goats cheese, I was pleased this one wasnt too pungent or dry but quite mild, and more creamy than crumbly. The diners who love their goats cheese declared it to be very tasty, and it had a perfect accompaniment: a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand called Mirror Lake with a hearty tang of gooseberries.

The main course was Breast of Local Partridge, purchased from Stone & Edwards of Burton-on-Trent who have serviced Pascal for two decades. Game can be notoriously dry but as we tucked into a beautifully moist, delicate and flavoursome meat, fellow diner Gay correctly perceived that these birds had been lightly hung. Happily confirming this, Pascal added that the secret to its moistness is serving partridge just off pink. The roasted winter vegetables were cooked to perfection, a soft and tasty bite-sized variety, with a small roulade of bubble and squeak as an extra, though the real coup de grace was the rich, exquisite red wine sauce. Pascal revealed that he had infused his traditional stock with wild mushrooms and dried ceps, allowing them to reduce together. All this was washed down with a silky smooth Shiraz from Australia called Runamok. Its name is appropriate: it can run amok with your taste buds, delivering all kinds of berries in a wine acclaimed by one connoisseur for its sublime fruitiness.

Seconds after dessert was served, there was a palpable hush around the tables, a sure sign that this course was being relished. Our duo dessert was a visual delight: a Raspberry Ripple Cheesecake which was absolutely succulent together with a Drambuie Crme Brle, the latter served in a small coffee cup and saucer topped with a twirled tuile. The cheesecake was applauded by one diner as blissful while another was so overcome that all he could say was I could eat that again.

A crme brle, always makes me think of Audrey Tautou in the French film Amelie declaring the cracking of the surface of a crme brle as one of lifes pleasures. Underneath, it was glorious. One diner, Duncan, was effusive in his praise, declaring he was on a mission to find the best crme brle in the world and that this one, with its creamy consistency, wonderful texture and glorious taste was in the top two. The apple at the bottom was a nice surprise, he added. Never mind duo desserts, Pascal also serves an Assiette Gourmande, a choice of five mini sweets, all on one plate. The restaurant is also renowned for its bread and butter pudding with toffee sauce and crme Anglaise. Our dessert wine was a French Monbazillac from the Bordeaux area.

All agreed that the presentation was impeccable and, with the menus changing monthly (and a fish menu that changes weekly), I sensed that a return visit was in order for many of us, maybe to one of several French Rustic Nights planned in 2010. As well as Gourmet Nights, which start at 52.50 per person, theres a very generous lunchtime Express Menu of three courses for 12. Finally, if you fancy recreating head chef Colin Ansells recipes, there are several morning cookery demonstrations throughout 2010. If he is going to reveal the secrets of his red wine sauce, roasted vegetables and crme brulee, I shall be there!

Pascal at the Old Vicarage
2 Main Street
Branston DE14 3EX
Tel: 01283 533222

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