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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Review: The Old Passage Inn Arlingham

   The voice on the other end of the telephone had been surprised to the point of disbelief. I was venturing the notion of arriving at the restaurant twenty minute nigh of our conversation. As we made our way through the back of beyond (frampton being the beyond, Arlingham is behind it) I realised how my estimation was quite flawed. Equal to the judgement that we should dine there.

  I have eaten at The Old Passage Inn before and it was bad then. I recollect a meal including an over-flavoured fish soup, an inedible turbot, and a jenga pile of undercooked 'hand-cut' chips. But this was pre-2007 when the owners were different. I'd heard people speak excitedly and hyperbole about it. I'd read the AA guide that had garlanded two rosettes. It must be good I thought. If the AA says so...

  It is possible we went on the wrong night. A friday night as it happens. The staff to customer ratio, barring the possibility the maitre'd was cooking, was 1 to 1. The bread arrived and the first signs that the chef was not nearly of rosette stock. There was a ghastly lemon and thyme bread that just tasted weird, but not as awful as the seaweed butter my other half professed to liking. But even the beurre de kelp was no horror show compared to the fish soup. This soup is apparently something of a signature dish and a spoonful swiftly led me to yearn for the dreadful soup of yesteryear. I wouldn't call it soup. It was veritably a fish stew that had been liquidised and not passed through a fine sieve. The texture was quite foul, like piscean sludge. What is more, the selection of the fish appeared to be influenced by the economy of using about-to-spoil sardines and mackerel. It came with DIY croutons of gruyere and saffron mayonnaise that were okay, if a bit pointless. My partner's mussels were perfunctory mariniére with cider instead of white wine (again pointless).

   The menu indicated, as best as it could, that we, like the rosetters, should order the lobster. I had pollock with oxtail. The toothpaste-white fish sat atop oxtail, celeriac purée, savoy cabbage, mushrooms, rum raisins and several things I can't remember. It smelled good, but the dominant flavour was the vicious quantity of salt in the oxtail. Following that, the truly revolting raisins and the betlenut bitter cabbage. The poor tasteless pollock never stood a chance. My partner enjoyed her fish and chips, that were simply that and hadn't had the chef's magical influence on them. The difference being they cost three times what they should. After the ordeal on my tastebuds the coffee was stale and the petit fours unpleasant. The ninety pound bill (including tip) left the last bitter taste in the mouth.

   I know this was simply my experience. That I went on an off-night and Hardens, the AA and t**t adviser (as its known to chefs) all had the lobster on their expense accounts. It is possible that should you go there and order the exorbitant crustacean you will only have to put up with the garden chairs and patio flooring, plus the chef's wacky flavour combinations. But even the grottiest pub with foodie pretensions (i.e. with a blackboard). Even the Gary Rhodes business venture bumhole-vendors pass their bastard soup. I would sooner recommend battered clod devoured with woodchips, beset a concrete barge than T.O.P.I.

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