Heart & soul
11:18 22 December 2010
IT is five months since the opening at Marlow of The Cheerful Soul in the Hare & Hounds, dream child of Michele English and Russell Clement, winners of the BBC Two programme The Restaurant, and ingenuity is beginning to shine through.
A recession is not the best time to launch any new business. Chefs are back to basics; witness the resurgence of plain foods such as pork belly and home-grown vegetables to replace the more expensive exotics. The trick is in how you present them, an art with which Russell, the head chef, and the ever-smiling Michele, the front-of-house manager, seem completely at ease.
Thus Jerusalem artichoke soup (£3.50) comes with white truffle oil and an unannounced touch of thyme, while Brixham crab and clotted cream tart with horseradish dressing (£5.50) proves equally enticing. Both are ideal starters, and while the cream adds an unusual sweetness to the crab, Michele says the dish is already proving a best seller.
The mains feature a grill selection including Scottish salmon and four cuts of beef but my eye is already taken by the roast Gressingham duck breast (£15.50) with savoy cabbage, smoked bacon and hedgerow fruits, which turn out to be apple, pear and plum slices and blackberries.
My partner has no hesitation in choosing one of her favourite dishes, grilled calves' liver, as her main, served with champ potatoes and roast garlic sauce (£15.25), adding a plate of sautéed savoy cabbage and smoked bacon (£2.95) as an extra.
Although I am not asked how I would like the duck, it arrives as I would have wished, cooked just enough to bring out the flavour. As for the calves' liver, I am told not to interrupt the eating process because it is that good.
Desserts, ranging in price from £3 for ice cream to £6.50 for Eton mess or £7.50 for a cheese plate, are straightforward, though the crumble of the day, blackberry and apple, sets a high standard. The wine list is adequate with a Malbec among the reds and the noted Astrolabe sauvignon blanc among the whites.
The Cheerful Soul is clearly off to a good start and not just because of the send-off provided by the TV exposure. That might account for an initial burst of business, but it is the food, the warm welcome and the happy atmosphere that keep the punters coming back. We are there on a Wednesday, which Michele says is usually a quiet night, but the place is bustling. Fair comment.
The Cheerful Soul in The Hare & Hounds, Marlow, tel: 01628 483343.