Friday, 27th July – Potterspury House Restaurant, Potterspury
This was an odd one. Potterspury House Restaurant is tucked away in an old manor house type building that’s been converted into a day spa, and that also appears to do weddings, and it seems to be being run currently by the owners, with no input from anyone else. There are no signs outside, there’s hardly any publicity, and it all seems more than a bit ad hoc, as it turned out. It’s been in business for around 18 months, but the first I knew about it was when something popped up on my Facebook feed about a month prior to us going to investigate.
At first sight, the place still looks very much like a work in progress. We found the right door, and were seated in what also serves as a tea room, and was lit accordingly, being far brighter than I would prefer. Not only that but there was a family on one table with a small child and a tiny baby, and another with a small and very lively child who kept chasing round the place on a couple of sofas by the window. It just didn’t feel very restaurant-like. The only other diners were two women who had possibly been at the spa earlier in the day.
The wine list is very short, and somewhat odd, with a handful of choices, reasonably well priced but not very well described. Which was how we ended up with a sweet rose sparkler that I have to say I wasn’t particularly enamoured of. Of the owners, he is front of house while she is cooking (they are looking for a chef, we were told later, but these are rarer than hen’s teeth in our neck of the woods at present, so they weren’t having a lot of luck). Anyway, we settled in and waited to see how the food would turn out.
The first course offerings were all cold, and presumably just needed plating, which would take some of the stress off the kitchen (which opens straight into the dining area, and really, really needs better ventilation to stop the smells all heading straight for the diners and making them cough). Anyway, what came was OK, but I can’t say it was brilliant. We shared the falafel with saffron aioli, and some salad leaves with balsamic dressing. They were on the dry and crumbly side, and could have done with more aioli. However, they tasted OK; it just seemed a shade amateur given the place bills itself as “an inviting grand restaurant in Towcester, where you can enjoy delicious food, made from the very finest ingredients”. I’d say it’s home cooking done perfectly well for home cooking, but I suspect I could do it better with just a little effort. They really need to get a chef in.
The other starter was a smoked salmon parfait filled with prosecco, which was the better of the two starters, being both soft and tasty. The parfait was smooth, and you could actually detect the prosecco in the middle. It just seems a slightly strange combination…
While we waited for our mains we started into the wine, which was difficult to locate (the wine storage appears to be a largish rack to one side of the kitchen, which I wouldn’t say is the best place for it) and which had me itching to go over and reorganise it so that wines of the same type were together and not randomly scattered about! But enough about my OCD tendencies… It was a perfectly decent Bordeaux which could have benefitted from being opened as soon as we’d ordered it, and once it warmed up and had breathed a little it was perfectly drinkable.
The rack of lamb with crushed pea puree, baby potatoes and a red wine jus, was fine, if somewhat overcooked for me, although the vegetables had clearly been prepared well in advance, and had that reheated and wrinkly appearance of something done by a decent home cook who is pushed for cooking space (and plating space) though it’s not going to stick in the memory I’m afraid.
Much the same could be said of the breast of roasted duck on potato rosti with thyme-roasted carrots (which also appeared with the lamb) and the same red wine jus that also came with the lamb. Again, it was perfectly decently cooked though again somewhat over, but there was nothing here that I couldn’t do myself, and with crisp rosti rather than the somewhat flabby specimen served here. It was OK, perfectly edible, pedestrian stuff.
So, given that the owners were very friendly, and were able to fill us in on the history of the place, they score points for that. I doubt we’ll be back though, unless they somehow manage to find a chef and up their game, and I don’t think the Vine House has any competition for country house restaurant with rooms, at least not from this quarter. To be honest I’m really not convinced this is a viable option for them and they should maybe stick to the day spa.