Eating Out: A jewel in middle England

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The Independent Culture

97a Warwick Road, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CB8 1HP. Tel: 0296 52463.

Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only. The three-course fixed-price menu costs about pounds 19.80, a la carte about pounds 27 for three courses. All credit cards accepted except Diners

IMAGINE my surprise, if you will. I was driving down a dreary street of terrace houses in the middle of somewhere far, far from home. I was in despairing mode anyway because I had spent two days for this noble profession in search of the heart of middle England, to write a state-of-the-

nation portrait for another publication. I shan't name the place for fear of causing offence, but its high street had been paved over - and so, I think, had the life fires of most of its inhabitants. For two days I had seen nothing but chain stores and expressionless faces. With one thing and another, I was feeling pretty paved over myself. I was in need of a hearty meal.

People had said it was a good restaurant, but I've been misinformed before and from the outside things didn't bode well. It looked unbelievably ordinary. For Restaurant Bosquet is set in the front room of a terrace house in what, though it doesn't feel like it, is the centre of Kenilworth, in Warwickshire. The street is long and plain and could have been in any number of small towns in England. Next door nestles a far more promising looking restaurant, relatively speaking, but it was not one for us. No. The Bosquet is unutterably pass-byable, so watch out. You'll be passing by a little jewel. (And Kenilworth, by the way, is not the town I was referring to earlier.)

Inside, the Bosquet looks dramatically provincial. It is done up in the style of a suburban 'show home', with peach-coloured wallpaper, peachy curtains and an elaborate paste-on border running along the edge of the dining-room ceiling. And then there was the clientele; they didn't exactly help to unpave the old soul either. They looked, as people often do in expensive restaurants anywhere, as if they'd come not to enjoy the eating so much as to sit at a table appropriate to their station. The men had perhaps spent too many years sending one another memos; the women had probably spent too much time at the hairdresser, disapproving of things. So, it was looking bleak. But then they brought on the food, which proved to be excellent.

You'll remember, no doubt, that I began this story with a remark about my surprise. Surprise is this restaurant's trump card. There we were in someone's converted front room, feeling a little uncomfortable to say the least. We ordered from a friendly waitress who turned out to be the owner and the wife of the French chef, Bernard Lignier. The food that was later put in front of us sent the rest of our surroundings into a sort of soft-focus, peachy oblivion. We were offered delight on big white plates. This is what we ate.

My companion ordered sweetbreads as a first course (not cheap at pounds 6.50, but utterly delicious). They were served in pastry with mushrooms and a madeira sauce - excellent, but only slightly better than my own terrine of scallop and pike, which came with a butter sauce. I had opted for the menu (the only menu) which offered three courses for pounds 19.80. We arrived at 9.30pm on a Friday night, not very late you would have thought (or am I being too metropolitan?), but one of the three first courses offered had already run out. It didn't matter, actually. I missed the asparagus, but the terrine was a treat.

As a main course my friend ordered the breast of duck with ginger and pear and lime sauce. Very rich. He was overcome with joy. The duck was tender, the sauce strong but still quite subtle. Nine and a half out of ten. I knocked half a point off for richness, which you may think unfair.

There was a choice of three main courses on my menu: venison with juniper berry sauce (I could easily have gone for that but didn't), salmon, or saddle of lamb. I went for the lamb and certainly didn't regret it; it was incredibly tender. They served it with sage and parmesan and a tomato and white wine sauce. It wasn't as rich as my friend's duck, and as a result I would say it was slightly better. Nine and three-quarters out of ten for the lamb, then. I knocked the quarter of a point off for no very good reason. I suppose it didn't quite send me reeling to heaven. Then again, very few things ever have.

There were several puddings on the menu, but the choice was more restricted than it was for my companion, who had decided to go a la carte. I felt snubbed and full, so I ordered nothing. He ordered a chocolate parfait which gets . . . ten points. It was rich, but puddings are allowed to be. It was the most delicious chocolate either of us had tasted in years.

The bill came to pounds 77 including tip and one bottle of wine. The wine we chose was slightly more expensive than the very cheapest house wine - a Ribonet 1989 at pounds 13.80 a bottle, as opposed to the cheapest red at pounds 10.80. So, not horrendous, but not cheap.

By the time we left the restaurant I think we'd both forgotten the idiosyncracies of its decor, its other clients (long since retired to bed) or the location. It was quite a disappointment to find ourselves back outside, in the middle of a plain road in a small town in the Midlands. So. Next time you think you're near a restaurant which looks unimaginably ordinary, think again. Peer through the windows and examine what is on the plates. Flare those nostrils and breathe deeply. The Restaurant Bosquet has resuscitated my faith in the quality of life. Things, it turns out, are never quite as they first appear.-