A de­li­cious din­ner well worth the ef­fort of dress­ing up for

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Dining Out - MARK TAY­LOR

AT the risk of shat­ter­ing any il­lu­sions you may or may not have about your res­i­dent restau­rant critic, I might not be the man you think I am.

I know the photo at the top of the re­views de­picts a rea­son­ably smart­look­ing chap but that’s only be­cause my ed­i­tor hauled me into the of­fice for a re­luc­tant pho­to­graph and I had to make a bit of an ef­fort for the man who pays part of my mort­gage.

The re­al­ity is quite dif­fer­ent. As a writer who works from home af­ter years spent in of­fices, I rarely have to dress up at all. I don’t mean I sit in my home of­fice in vest, pants and a pair of Fam­ily Guy slip­pers (if only), but I’m writ­ing this in the same mufti I was wear­ing when I walked my daugh­ter to school this morn­ing and, quite pos­si­bly, the same shirt, jeans and train­ers as I wore yes­ter­day, too.

The irony of not hav­ing to make an ef­fort work­ing from home is the fact I re­ally miss wear­ing a suit and rel­ish any op­por­tu­nity to dress up. And so, with din­ner booked at Cas­tle Bow at Taun­ton’s grand Cas­tle Ho­tel, I made a bit more ef­fort than usual. Bat­ting away the moths, I found my suit at the back of the wardrobe, ironed a clean shirt, blew the dust off my cuff­links and pol­ished the only de­cent (as in not used for gar­den­ing) shoes I own. OK, I might have looked like I was go­ing for a job in­ter­view, but I tried my best for my Satur­day night in Taun­ton. Cas­tle Bow is one of those smart, el­e­gant, old-school restau­rants that makes you want to dress up for din­ner - a rare thing these days as most places seem to en­cour­age din­ers to be as ca­sual as pos­si­ble.

I’ve been eat­ing at the Cas­tle Ho­tel on and off for 20 years and although it has moved with the times, it’s es­sen­tially the same that it ever was - down to the 1980s soft porn - sorry, I mean arty - pho­tos in the gents de­pict­ing mod­els tak­ing part in var­i­ous coun­try pur­suits. My favourite is still the soft-fo­cus im­age of the woman wear­ing a white blouse she has con­ve­niently for­got­ten to fas­ten, hold­ing a stick with a cou­ple of mack­erel.

In the lat­est edi­tion of The Good Food Guide, Cas­tle Bow scores a rat­ing of six, which is the high­est score for any restau­rant in Som­er­set. That’s quite an achieve­ment for head chef Liam Fin­negan, who has fol­lowed in the for­mi­da­ble foot­steps of Richard Guest, Phil Vick­ery and Gary Rhodes, among oth­ers.

Fin­negan has stuck to the Mod­ern British ethos of the Chap­man fam­ily, who own the ho­tel, and South West in­gre­di­ents ap­pear through­out the menu.

As a rule, I steer clear of tast­ing menus be­cause I like to choose my din­ner rather than be told what to eat, but at £64 per per­son for six cour­ses (and an ex­tra £35 if you go for the wine flight), it re­ally is a steal when you con­sider some main cour­ses on the à la carte are £25.

The clincher for go­ing with the tast­ing menu was sim­ply be­cause it fea­tured all the dishes I fan­cied from the main menu, with ex­tra cour­ses. It was a no-brainer. With its Art Deco de­sign, cen­tral ser­vice ‘is­land’ for wine and can­dlelit butch­ers block groan­ing un­der the weight of bot­tles of port and Som­er­set Cider Brandy, the com­pact din­ing room has plenty of charm. The bar was set high from the out­set with ex­cel­lent bread (a mini baguette and a brioche as but­tery as the finest crois­sant) and an amuse bouche of silky, spicy pump­kin soup. Next, a pre­cisely timed, quiv­er­ing hand-dived scal­lop that truly tasted of the sea was teamed with a lozenge of ten­der, fi­brous smoked pork belly, Jerusalem ar­ti­choke purée, bar­be­cued rings of shal­lot and sor­rel pesto.

It was swiftly fol­lowed by a beau­ti­fully cooked piece of Brix­ham tur­bot flanked by a fleshy mus­sel, a soft and pil­lowy gnoc­chi, a slice of roast cauliflower and chive-flecked le­mon but­ter the colour of the sun.

A rosy-pink Som­er­set pi­geon breast (‘from a chap called Barry,’ winked the waiter) and a bread­crumbed cro­quette of con­fit pi­geon leg ar­rived with a sweet car­rot purée, crisp slices of pressed and roasted Parma Ham and a drib­ble of fruity sherry vine­gar dress­ing.

To fol­low, a rare and full-flavoured slice of or­ganic Dex­ter beef and soft, gelati­nous piece of ox cheek was ac­com­pa­nied by a meaty slice of Wood Ble­wit mush­room, creamy potato Dauphi­noise, shred­ded Savoy cab­bage and a dark, var­nish-like jus.

A palate-cleans­ing plum and mulled wine sor­bet was an early and wel­come taste of Christ­mas be­fore a rich dessert of dark choco­late torte, vanilla ice cream and Taun­ton hon­ey­comb.

It brought to a close a meal of per­fect rhythm and ex­em­plary cook­ing, backed up by seam­less ser­vice from well-drilled wait­ing staff.

RAT­ING 5/5

Cas­tle Bow at Taun­ton’s grand Cas­tle Ho­tel

Marks starter - a quiv­er­ing hand-dived scal­lop that tru­ely tasted of the sea

The Wheat­sheaf oc­cu­pies an idyl­lic spot in the de­light­fulvil­lage of Combe Hay

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