The Tower Arms is a country pub (with rooms) refurbished in late 2009 but on a site dating back to 1701. The dining room is primarily in a pleasant conservatory setting looking out on to the pub garden. The chef since the refurbishment and ownership change is Brad Simpson, who seems to have worked previously at a restaurant in Hatfield called the Blue Strawberry. The menu is fairly conventional, with plenty of appealing dishes.
The wine list has 48 choices, including Artesa Rioja Crianza of unknown vintage for £16.95 compared to a retail price of around £7, the pleasant Monte Real 2003 for £31.50 for a wine you can buy in the shops for around £11, and at the upper end of the list Girardin Puligny Montrachet 2007 at a fair £67 for a wine that will set you back around £48 to buy.
I always feel that the care taken over the bread says a lot about a restaurant – do they make it from scratch, is it good, and if they buy the bread is it well sourced and at least fresh? It is never encouraging when the bread, the first food that appeared, is clearly of low supermarket standard, as here (8/20).
Thai fishcakes (£6.95) consisted of a single large fishcake that appeared to be made from scratch and was cooked acceptably, though was oddly lacking in spice; what spice flavour that did turn up was delivered by a sweet chilli jam. The bak choi was overcooked, charred in places, supplemented by some salad leaves (7/20).
Tian of crab and prawn with red pepper coulis, crab sauce and pesto dressing (£6.95) was really a dish of prawn mayonnaise with some token crab added, with cheap prawns. The coulis, sauce and dressing would have been an odd combination but were present in such limited quantities that they didn’t interfere much with the tian anyway (10/20).
My main course of sesame seed duck breast on chilli noodles with coriander and ginger dressing (£15.95) had duck that was unusually sliced in three thick slices rather than the conventional thin slices, but was actually cooked acceptably. Unfortunately the noodles on which the duck rested were tepid at best (11/20).
Sea bream with prawn tempura (£17.95) was served with bak choi. The sea bream was fine, cooked properly, but the batter for the prawns was thick and a long way from good tempura batter. This was served with more overcooked bak choi (11/20). On the side, mash had a thick texture and a taste that was not pleasant to me, while chips were a pallid yellow colour that I initially thought might be soggy given their lack of colour. In fact they were just dried out despite being in no way crisp; I am not sure how to make chips taste this way, and do not wish to find out (5/20).
Summer pudding (£6.95) had too much bread relative to fruit and needed more of the fruit syrup, the overall effect being a bit dry. Vanilla ice cream with it was over-sweet but did actually have a hint of vanilla, and was probably the best single thing in the entire meal (10/20).
Chocolate ice cream and mango sorbet (£4.95) was served in a brandy snap basket but was more a basket case of a dish. The brandy snap was rock-hard, the chocolate ice cream grainy in texture, and if there was mango in that sorbet it eluded me; it actually tasted a little of lemon, if anything (8/20).
Service was of the “who ordered what?” variety from our main waitress, though there was also a sharper waitress who turned out to be a student temping. The manager turned up to open the wine, promised to fix the wobbly table but then disappeared, never to be seen again. Perhaps he turned up after we left, a mere three courses later, with some appropriate technology, such as a beer mat, but I’ll never know.
The bill for this was £55 a head plus service, admittedly with a bottle of one of the better wines, but with no pre-dinner or after dinner drinks, nor coffee. For over £60 a head this is dismal value for money. I noticed (too late) when researching that the place went into administration on July 7th, though it is still trading, so presumably will continue to operate as a going concern, at least for now.
@ChefVGDG Amazing isn’t it?