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Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review: The Cosy Club, Stamford

Stamford is my home-town; I was born there, schooled there, and I existed in it's bubble for 20 years until I clawed my way out into the relative civilisation of the nearest city. You see I just wasn't posh enough to spend another 20 years there; I was being middle-classed out. 

Stamford is as middle-class a town as they come: it's been a Tory safe-seat since the dark ages, it's private school is one of the oldest in the world, every other store is either a designer boutique, high-end estate agents, or aspirational beauty salon. It's pretty much the Knightsbridge of Lincolnshire.

Although it's quintessentially bourgeoisie, Stamford has it's fair share of benign chain restaurants (Ask, Prezzos, Pizza Express, etc, etc). It also has some absolute gems: Jim's Yard (included in the Good Food Guide 2012), Fratelli Ristorante (in my opinion the best Italian outside of Italy), and Orchid Thai. 

I applauded at the news that a brand new restaurant in the town could join the ranks of the good-uns. The Cosy Club is part of a chain of 4 restaurants in total; the others being in Bath, Taunton and Salisbury. 

It struck me immediately that middle-class was obviously their target market. And upon entering the Stamford branch it occurred to me why this was; it's a restaurant to be seen in

It's interior design is, admittedly, brilliantly bonkers. The building used to be the Post Office sorting room and they've kept the industrial shell and highlighted the exposed pipework and practical lighting. But mixed with this are chandeliers made from deer antlers, grouped flouncy lampshades, portraits of Victorian VIPs, game trophies, and scraps of patterned wallpaper. Their website explains that the interior was inspired by gin palaces, and it indeed made me feel a bit merry. 

The waiting staff certainly looked like they felt at home, bedecked in hipster attire and with their patterned shirts buttoned right up to the neck. But they were incredibly friendly and the service was quick and fuss-free. 

The menu isn't as individual as the décor; it was fairly standard with brunch options, sandwiches, burgers, sharing plates, and fusion main courses. There's nothing wrong with a standard menu, it's just that the décor left you expecting a bit more. The addition of Tapas dishes was interesting but they were a strange blend of traditional and fusion-made-small; I wasn't sure why they were on the menu other than being trend-led. I was pleased that the menu was concise and controlled; I hate overly-long menus as I get all indecisive and panicky when it comes to ordering ("BUT THERE'S SO MUCH TO CHOOSE FROM!"). 

The main problem with the menu was the lack of allergy signposting. There was no indication of which dishes contained wheat, gluten, or dairy; there was an indication of nuts on the dessert menu but it was with incredibly small writing, not an easy symbol. I suspect that including this information would have spoiled the pretty appearance of the menu, but perhaps I'm too cynical. 

As we were there for lunch my companion (my excellent Mother) chose a panini with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto, served with skin-on fries. Since I hadn't had any breakfast I was in the mood for brunch so I opted for a bubble and squeak cake with a poached egg, smoked bacon, and hollandaise. 

The hollandaise was probably the best I've ever had; gorgeously unctuous and creamy, with the right balance of seasoning. I could have eaten a bucket of the stuff. My poached egg was also fairly perfect, with the yolk runny and the albumen firm. But the bubble and squeak cake, the main focus of the dish, was a massive let-down. The taste was fairly nice, the spring onions were a good addition, but the texture was all wrong for me. The outside wasn't crispy, as I'd expected it to be, and the inside was claggy and stodgy; half-way through it I had to stop because the texture was making me feel a bit queasy. 

The dessert menu again was fairly standard; the only truly interesting item, a rhubarb and elderflower crumble, was sold out so I settled for the sticky toffee pudding. Once more it scored on taste but was let down by texture; the toffee sauce was utterly lovely, but the sponge has the granular texture of sugar which hadn't quite been beaten in properly. 

At least the the pricing was right; £25 for two lunch courses with soft drinks. But I felt the food suffered from too much "style over substance". It certainly is the place to be seen, it's the place where you sit by the window and hope that the Joneses look in. In a way that suits Stamford to a tee. But the menu felt like an after-thought to the interior. 

The Cosy Club, The Old Delivery Office, Horseshoe Lane, Stamford, Lincs 

www.cosyclub.co.uk/stamford              01780 767710

Update: The Cosy Club now offer a dedicated gluten free menu on request; which includes brunch, tapas, main course, and dessert options. They also offer fantastic gluten free cakes. After discussion with the branch manager they have changed the cooking method of the bubble and squeak cake to make it crispier! 

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