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The Talbot Inn, Ripley, Surrey - Ian Richards, Head Chef

The Talbot Inn
GU23 6BB
Tel: 01483 225188

Ripley is a large village on the old A3 about a mile outside the M25. It was an important place to change horses for carriages travelling between London and Portsmouth, and the Inn was a favourite resting place for travellers including Admiral Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton. It's a proper coaching inn with an archway connecting the highway through to the yard at the rear.

The main restaurant has its own entrance from the street, and is most attractively laid out with crisp white napery and gleaming glasses. Shortly after the four of us were seated, we were offered the bread board, which came with three flavoured oils and some decent butter. The breads were excellent, but we wondered whether this was a good idea because we didn't want to fill ourselves up too early in the meal. I thought I would limit myself to one piece of bread; what a ridiculous idea that was! By the time we'd finished it all, we had also polished off a very nice bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (£15.95).

Ian Richards is the head chef, and his menu has all the hallmarks of the contemporary gastropub, with ham hock, scallops, duck breast, and belly of pork which has become almost de rigueur. The starters were good: there was a nice "pressing of ham hock", (£5.25) a terrine flavoured with tarragon and served with an excellent fig chutney. A mushroom risotto (£4.50) was very nicely done, topped with generous slices of parmesan cheese. The only disappointment was the white onion and Stilton soup (£4.50), which was rather thin and lacking in flavour, the promised truffle oil didn't really shine through. By contrast, the Scallops (£7.95) were nicely caramelised and their tower of pea purée, black pudding and onion rings may have looked a bit like yesterday's presentation, but it had today's flavour which is what really counts.

All the main course dishes come with their own vegetable garnishes, so no short cuts there. The braised venison pie (£10.50) was rich and flavourful but I wished it hadn’t been served in a separate pie dish, plonked onto the side of the main plate. The plain boiled carrots and broccoli seemed rather unimaginative in comparison with the vegetables everyone else was enjoying. So my friend had his duck breast slices (£16.95) tweaked with bubble and squeak, spinach and a rich sauce. Being an unreconstructed diehard, he wanted his duck served well done, a request that seemed to cause no problem with the kitchen. A grilled fillet of salmon (£12.95) was really tasty and came with a sort of cassoulet, with white beans, tomato and Toulouse sausage, a combination that worked surprisingly well. The pièce de resistance was the braised belly of Wiltshire pork (£13.95), meaty but unctuous, set on a delicious grain mustard mash with a scattering of green beans and a tangy apple sauce. By now we were tucking into a bottle of Chateau St Quentin 2006, a very drinkable claret at £16 95.

Although we were already enjoying ourselves, the puddings (in spite of all the bread we managed to devour earlier) lifted the evening even higher as they were really something to write home about. The pastry chef is Siobhan Baker and she is clearly very talented. There was a caramel apple brioche pudding that was light and delicious and came with cinnamon ice cream (£5.95). The warm dark chocolate cake (£5.95) is very rich and further enhanced with black cherries and vanilla marscapone. Siobhan’s sticky toffee pudding would certainly have had Delia Smith's mouth watering, but her Tart Tatin of green figs was an absolute triumph. Sitting on a perfect circle of thin but crisp pastry, the figs were simply delicious, but the really clever thing was the combination of a sharply flavoured pear compote and the crunchy nut texture of the praline ice cream.

Surrey probably suffers from being too close to London where many of the keenest restaurant goers work. It is encouraging therefore, to note the existence of another decent restaurant where we have experienced very good food and service. For the record, this review was written after our third visit to the Talbot Inn.

The Talbot Inn
GU23 6BB
Tel: 01483 225188

Clifford Mould, September 2007


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