Approaching from the east, the first thing you see in the Lincolnshire village of Winteringham, an isolated straggle of houses on the fringe of the Humber, is a sign that baldly declares 'FERRETS'. It is an unlikely milieu for an upmarket 'restaurant with rooms'. Yet there it is at the heart of the village: a slate-topped, two-storey structure, possibly a former Georgian inn, with pantiled extensions. The facilities include a helipad, but our spirits failed to soar on entering Winteringham Fields. Booked in for Friday lunch (three courses £39.95, four courses £45), my wife and I found ourselves deposited in a small, unpopulated lounge. Our refusal to take a drink before the meal was greeted with an expression of surprise ("Oh!") as if apéritifs were pretty much compulsory.
After that we sat in silence broken only by the Lincolnshire rain pattering on the windows. At one point, amuse-bouches arrived in the form of a tiny, potent mug of sweetcorn velouté and gougère of gruyère, a cheesy profiterole more tasty than pronounceable. "Do you think we're the only ones here?" inquired Alison at the 20-minute mark.
I passed the time by exploring the 25-page wine list. Doubtless the invaluable info on Burgundy ("Ancient Jurassic bedrock, primitive vines and 16 centuries of unbroken cultivation") helps to push sales of Romanée Conte Richebourg '99 at £2,500 per bottle. From the bottom end of this daunting directory I plumped for a Fleurie Vieilles Vignes for £36. The menu proved equally wordy. "Colin's dream kitchen has been installed rather fabulously by the team at Athenor." Since Athenor is a fabulously expensive electric range from France, this means that chef Colin McGurran has followed the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller in switching to sous-vide cooking: shrink-wrapped items are heated at precise temperatures in a water bath then finished on an electric hot plate. Non-believers call it 'boil-in-the-bag'.
After half an hour in Siberia, we were finally invited through to the dining room. This contrived to be both cosy and elegant. Best of all, it was populated by 11 other diners, a mix of retired captains of industry with their wives, a young couple in the Posh-and-Becks mould and a moustachioed chap accompanied by the Sporting Post and a bottle of Krug (£179). All were happily tucking in. Why we had been left in isolation for so long was a mystery. Once we were seated, front-of-house clicked into a well-oiled routine. A waiter delivered a padded stool so Alison's handbag would be comfortable. This was followed by bread and an oleaginous novelty called Lincolnshire Poacher whey butter.
"If they hadn't told you, would you think it had gone off?"
After a third amuse-bouche, an infinitesimal fragment of brandade, our meal proper finally commenced. Alison was entranced by three generous blobs of cloud-light pâté de foie gras accompanied by poached quince and crunchy hazelnuts: "Well, that was divine". My starter of pig cheek – two pink, delicately chewy chevrons courtesy of the sous-vide – came, somewhat startlingly, with 'Jewish relish'. Also known as chrain, this mixture of beetroot and horseradish usually accompanies gefilte fish but it worked well.
Alison's 'middle course' of spätzli (a Swiss dish meaning 'little sparrow') was a surprise. A gooey cylindrical pile, it tasted like veal in a thick, creamy sauce but turned out to be baked pasta topped with tiny ribbons of onion. "Lovely. Glad I chose it." I was equally happy with my gurnard. I suspect the three fillets had been sous-vided then flash-fried, which produced a tasty result. It came with a cold, flattish cylinder that proved to be 'cannelloni' made from Japanese kelp and 'compressed cucumber', which is more sous-vide.
For her main course, Alison went for '12-hour cooked pork jowl'. After a half-day simmer in the water bath, this plebian cut acquired a velvety texture. Mostly fat with a slender ribbon of meat, it was perhaps as well that the dish consisted of two little rectangles with fragmentary crackling. "Probably the most tender pork I've ever had." My roast leg of lamb revealed the downside of sous-vide: consistency at the expense of character. The three dainty slivers had a uniform, slightly chewy texture more like steak. Slices from a proper roast leg of lamb would have been infinitely preferable.
You might think that a £40 lunch would cover everything; not at Winteringham Fields. When ordering, we were advised to get two side dishes of vegetables at £3.95 a time. (One of these consisted of half a beetroot, three bits of parsnip and five sprouts.) Having cheese instead of dessert would have involved a £5 supplement. Coffee and two petit fours added another £5 per head. Still, lunch was a bargain compared to the three-course dinner, which costs £75 plus £18 for the cheese trolley. It's enough to give you heartburn on the helipad.
Winteringham Fields, 1 Silver Street, Winteringham, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire (01724 733096)
About £160 for two, with drinks
Tipping policy: "No service charge. The amount of the tip is up to the customer. All tips go to the staff"
Side orders: Luscious Lincs
The Old Bakery
The emphasis here is on Italian influences and local produce – think slow braised Lincolnshire ox cheek with potato rosti (£19.95).
26 Burton Road, Lincoln (01522 576057)
A tiny restaurant in a Georgian home combining local produce with French gastronomy – run by a husband-and-wife team.
17 High Street, Great Gonerby (01476 561780)
Melanie's of Louth
English cuisine with a focus on local sourcing; dishes include loin of Lincolnshire wild venison on a cabbage and potato cake with shallots (£17).
37 Upgate, Louth (01507 609 595)