King and Mill, nr Mansfield

Doing a review of a work Christmas outing may not present the best image of any establishment. Even so, I wonder if it is possible to eat well at these sorts of events, when maybe the best you can reasonably hope for is “edible” or “acceptable”.  To a great degree it would be better if they served huge bowls of honest, down to earth robust cooking and forgot pretensions of apeing the fads and fashions of fine dining, though mass production of average food is of course what chains like Eating Inn (aka Greene King Brewing and Retailing Limited) do best.

This particular example of the genre is located over the road from a large hospital in the middle of nowhere much outside Mansfield, on a small estate situated next door to a McDonalds. Not a presupposing setting but at least it was convenient for a group of 16 from the hospital to sample the Christmas menu.

The King and Mill is laid out in what you might describe as ironic postmodern chain pub, vaguely fashionable decor and attempting to be a touch higher class than chain pubs of 10-15, excepting those like Wetherspoons that put on a mock spit-and-sawdust men’s boozer. On the menu there is the traditional 70s comfort food Christmas with a straight face – prawn cocktail, turkey & trimmings, a sliver of Christmas pud – alongside starters of chicken liver pâté, veggie soup and the one nod to aspirational middle class grub in the form of a salad of roasted figs, blue cheese, torpedoes of pomegranate and the ubiquitous balsamic glaze, squiggled over the top in passable zig zags. If you wanted to tell them to stuff the turkey, there was always salmon or a veggie tart or a homage to traditional French bistro fare, the daube of beef.

My main issue with the food here is that it flatters to deceive. All very well focusing on presentation but that only sets the stall for the diner to savour the flavour. As I started the fig salad starter the description and appearance set a level of expectation of luscious fruity figs and pomegranate offset by a salty tang of blue and the sweet delights of balsamic. Two forkfuls in and I was still hunting for the anticipated explosion of flavours in my mouth. Disappontingly it never came. Maybe some stinting on quality of ingredients or lacking in the freshness department by virtue of being prepared in advance and vacuum packed, but the the assembly was one-dimensional. If it were a symphony it was monotonal. Whatever the cause, my starter certainly underwhelmed.

Looking at the main courses, I was glad I chose other than the turkey, notably for the roasties that veered between burned and boiled, and especially sprouts that had not kept well, though sadly my chantanay carrots were equally dry and shrivelled. This is undoubtedly the worst of Christmas banquet dining.

Meanwhile, back to my plate, which as you can see contained lots of sauté potatoes and veg, plus a modest helping of somewhat dried out beef stew topped with parsnip crisps (very now). It tasted reasonable in a cooked, packaged and reheated sort of way, though far short of the memory of how great (and moist) a daube can be. Maybe it would be naive to expect any different.

The desserts divided opinion. Two ironic tiny slivers of Christmas pud with a small pot of custard was not deemed an improvement over a bowl’s worth, and a cheesecake went largely unbeaten. Chocolate tart turned out more like chocolate fudge brownie, again adorned with a lattice of sauce, this being salted caramel sauce. Personally I want to taste the caramel so I’d have appreciated a puddle instead of martyrdom to the tyranny of cheffy fashions. Ah but I did get a bowl of chocolate sauce too, which in the interests of expediency I poured over the ice cream. Merry Christmas Everyone!

Granted this is not the type of establishment in which I would choose to eat, by virtue of its commoditised approach, weighed down to the last bean, and the fact that it follows the fussy dictats of fashion ahead of simplicity and value. The dishes sound better than they are, where in my view it’s far better when the description is minimal but the product delivers shock and awe (in a good way) – but then, since chains are dominated by marketeers and cost accountants one should not be surprised when it’s fur coat and no knickers.

Actually, that’s not fair. The King and Mill is not bad for what it is, and people who are not foodies will go home moderately satisfied. I just wish we as consumers would drive higher food standards by insisting on top quality local ingredients and less mass production rewarming, as demonstrated by the veg here.

 

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