We sort of unconsciously stopped going to The Rusty Gun (on the road between St. Ippolyts and Hitchin, Hertfordshire) last year. That sounds awful, because it’s actually a truly lovely venue, but we’d been stung a couple of times by awkwardly small portion sizes and unsightly high prices. I could easily spend almost £30 for two courses that didn’t even fill me up, so it just didn’t feel good value any more.
But when a friend of mine invited me there for dinner, I was pleasantly surprised to discover there’s a set menu at lunchtimes and between 5-7pm Monday to Friday. Two courses are £12.95, 3 courses are £15.95.
Now that’s more like it! Same delicious, seasonal food, but at least half what I’d normally pay. Plus, I like early dinners!
Service here remains unerringly pleasant without being intrusive, something that similar places in the Hertfordshire area haven’t quite mastered yet. My companion wasn’t feeling too well so decided to order a starter and a dessert, and our charming waitress didn’t call her a mentalist and barely even had to check that we wanted my friend’s pudding to arrive with my main.
The fixed menu changes seasonally, but there’s always four or five options for starters and mains and a couple of desserts – I’ve never been yet and not known immediately what I wanted to order.
To start with, we both chose duck and spring onion bhajis. Take a look at these bad boys:
They were easily as tasty as they look. The duck meat was beautifully pink and tender, the hoi-sin pretty much as addictive as crack, and the bean sprouts and cucumber on which the bhajis nested was far more than just a garnish – it added a lovely refreshing squelch to your mouthful to stop the dish being too stodgy.
I can’t quite believe I’m saying this after my earlier criticism, but the only fault I could find was that it was maybe too big as part of a two or three course dinner! We both turned up famished but by the end of this dish I sort of didn’t need my main. I know, I could have just left some – but seriously, you didn’t taste them.
We slurped this down with a bottle of their Yalumba Y Series Viognier for £17.95. We know you can get it for half that price in Sainsbury’s, but that’s actually not a bad markup for a restaurant, and it really is joyous: orangey, rose and candied pear flavours are seriously moreish, and it’s great to see a Viognier on the menu as it’s probably my favourite white grape.
My main was chicken and ham hock pie with buttery mash and green vegetables. Again, you can’t fault the presentation:
The pastry was delicious with just enough crunch, and the meat was brilliantly cooked. I have to say, though, this did disappoint a little. For one thing, it was just a little too salty – I know, it’s ham hock – but it was like they were actively trying to up my blood pressure. It wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but I’m not sure it needed it. The other issue I’ll illustrate to show I’m not just being fussy:
Now, I’ve had a lot of chicken and ham pie in my time (it’s why I’m a bit of a chubby monkey) but normally it’s held together by a creamy filling. This pie was chicken and ham hock floating in water-thin broth. It meant I ended up stabbing out bits of chicken and ham until I got bored and gave up, leaving behind a ramekin full of salty water. It was disappointing, but the greens and mash were super tasty and provided a nice crunchy/creamy contrast.
My friend’s dessert was gooseberry and elderflower crumble with ice cream and custard. The presentation was divine, and the tangy filling was a treat with the crunchy topping and creamy ice cream. The latter does melt quickly on the plate though, so eat it quick!
All in all, it was a steal for £12.95 – I’d have paid that just for the main. The atmosphere is always intimate without being dull, the decor is rustic and cosy without being dated (although the lamp over our table may once have been used for interrogation purposes) and we walked away feeling like we’d been fed well, at almost laughable value for money.
Ready, Set, Review is a feature I’ve decided to launch where I review ‘set menu’ options at swankier foodie haunts that I couldn’t otherwise afford!