Toby Cottage Restaurant

toby_cottage_exterior High Street, Ripley, GU23 6AF

 A charming, old-fashioned restaurant with a contemporary twist

 Go there for: Retro classics, heaps of fresh vegetables and flambé specials.

Avoid: Being influenced by the website, which suggests a more modern vibe.

Is it worth the calories?: You get a well-balanced plate here.

Tips: This is perfect for those who appreciate service and a dessert trolley.

Toby Cottage welcomes you to the food culture of the 1970s (the good bits), the era it opened. The sixteenth-century oak-beamed interior may be intact but subtle changes to the menu and a change of ownership have ensured its continued existence.

Classic flambé dishes Crêpes Suzette and Steak Diane are firm fixtures alongside a heaving dessert trolley.  Our amusing waiter Daniel (the flambé expert) was happy to tell us he’s been waiting tables here for 22 years – a rare loyalty that we saw as a jolly good sign. Choosing from the lunch menu (3 courses for £19.50 or 2 courses for £15.00), we kicked off with a tapas-style starter of chorizo cooked in red wine with olives. The chorizo was spicy and tender, suggesting authentic, quality ingredients. The plump olives added a satisfying richness to the piquant sauce. We used the fresh bread from our basket to mop it up. It was to good to see melba toast here too, another nod to a former culinary era.

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We shared the starter so were ready to wade into our substantial mains. My calves’ liver was cooked pink as requested; and although the gravy may have had a run in with the gravy browning it was robust and complemented the meat. The crunchy bacon added texture and saltiness to the dish. My daughter’s salmon was perfectly cooked: moist, fresh and flaky and enhanced by a knob of herb butter and a heap of fresh rocket. The meal was fully elevated when the fresh vegetables arrived. These had clearly been cooked to order, arriving vibrant in colour and steaming.

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We so enjoyed our lunch that we decided to share a light dessert from the trolley of pudding heaven. Our crème caramel had been cooked in a slightly hot oven but had the ‘we made it from scratch’ flavours of a proper pudding. It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right amount of eggy resistance on the tongue. We could have gone for any of the chocolaty creations, a summer jelly or a fresh-fruit salad – perhaps next time.

Here you feast on more that just food. For me it brought backs lots of memories of eating out with my parents. My dad, who hated the pretention of modern fine dining (which I love), would have felt at home, particularly as he liked having food cooked for him at the table. Few waiters are trained to do this now.

When Spaniards Tony Trias and Tony Trillo bought The Toby Cottage as a going concern they decided that change was unnecessary.  With an established clientele and brisk trade this seems to have paid off; six years later they are pleased with the addition to their portfolio. Their ethos is to buy top-quality ingredients – Smithfield for meat and a fish supplier who delivers daily. Their regulars love Dover sole, sea bass and lobster from the à la carte menu.toby cottage_9x6

They don’t like to experiment too much with food here and that seems to be their selling point. However you will find some more modern classics (scallops and pea purèe) alongside more traditional dishes. If you can get past the Toby jugs and dated décor, it’s worth giving this eatery a try. I’m glad I did.

www.tobycottage.co.uk

Tel: 01483 224225

Shirlee Posner

Text and images Shirlee