It's my mother in law's 70th birthday on the 31st, (and she doesn't look a day over 50) so as No 1 Husband's brother had to pull out of lunch because his wee toddler was ill, we decided to take her to lunch there as we all like it and we no longer needed a pub with a 'play area' for the kiddies. The Cricketers is fine for kids, they welcome them, but young A is...rambunctious at the best of times and a larger space would definitely have been needed!
It was very cold and damp when we arrived, after a nice drive through the country lanes observing iced over ponds, and so we opted to go straight in rather than hang about waiting for Mom and Dad. When you walk in - and for goodness sake do mind your head as the ceilings are very low - you see the lovely bar and then, to your left, the wonderful sight of a proper open fire. The log pile outside is not just for show. Last time we were there Trevor Oliver was busy stocking that up, which just makes for a proper, homely feeling. We were greeted by smiley staff, and shown to our table. Oh the luxury! A round table with a corner banquette with lots of cushions. We settled down happily and perused the menu. I use peruse in the true sense of the word - to read with thoroughness and care - because there is so much to choose from that it is very hard to decide but you don't want to miss anything. I had to have a small pot of tea to warm up so sat there happily taking the chill off my hands whilst the menu was making my tummy rumble.
A photo that was taken of the menu by accident but it turned out quite well! There is much more to the menu, this was the daily specials page. But look! VEAL T-BONE.
A basket of fresh home made bread was brought immediately, with a dish of grassy green olive oil and a splash of the nicest balsamic vinegar I have tasted in a long while. There are tiny pots of sea salt and black pepper already on the table so bread plus oil and vinegar plus sea salt it was.
Mom and Dad arrived quite soon after us, but we did still have to ask for some more bread. *ahem* Serious menu searching took place and the staff were very smiley and patient with us. Finally we made our decisions and were set. I have photos of only my main course as I am still rather shy of taking photos in restaurants, plus people were hungry!
Dad had the lamb shank with wholegrain mustard mash, from the main menu, and given the rate at which it disappeared I am certain that it was gorgeous. It smelled divine. Mom chose slow roast duck with a plum and honey sauce and I tried some of that. It was very good indeed, with the sauce properly tart to cut the richness of the duck. Mom said it was too tart for her but then she seems to find that with a lot of foods that others find fine. Though this is a woman who ate green, unripe grapes from our vine and said they were sweet. *blink* Anyway, she added a wee bit of sugar to the sauce which sorted it out. No 1 Husband chose the liver and bacon but with mash instead of the polenta, and they were more than happy to substitute that. I tried the sauce, which was beautifully rich and am assured that it was very good indeed, with extremely nice bacon.
I had Pie. I never make Pie at home so Pie it was. Pie is important, so it deserves a capital letter. 28 day hung Steak and Ale Pie with a suet crust.
OH MY GOD.
The pastry was utterly perfect. A thin, crispy but substantial shell to hold in the steak and smooth, rich gravy. The mash was plain, but very tasty and just enough to cope with the juices and gravy that spilled out. Serious chunks of meat too, which just flaked as you ate it.
The vegetables were also perfectly cooked. Carrots roasted with caraway seeds - but only a few, mind, which is good - steamed tender broccoli and wonderful cauliflower with a light cheese sauce. Fresh and cooked absolutely right. The veggies come from Jamie's certified organic garden, not far away. No food miles here!
Everyone except Mom tried some (she doesn't eat beef) and agreed upon the awesomeness of my lunch. I actually gave some to No 1 Husband as I was getting full, and dessert was on the horizon. Plus he really enjoyed it and I like making him happy.
Now. Onto the desserts. Oh the agonies of choosing! Lemon Posset with Lemon Madeleines? Marmalade Steamed Pudding? Vanilla Rice Pudding? Coffee Cheesecake??
We made it in the end but it was very hard indeed.
Dad - Semi Freddo with Dates, Prunes and Armagnac with a Butterscotch Sauce.
Mom - Prune Egg Custard Tart
No 1 Husband - Marmalade Steamed Pudding with Custard
Me - Coffee Cheesecake with an Espresso Glaze
And here you go. Look at how pretty they are! I apologise that I don't have a shot of the Marmalade Pudding but Tex was already well into it.
The last piece that Mom got.
Every single one of them was utterly gorgeous. The semi-freddo was creamy and rich, with a dark toffee hint from the fruits. The butterscotch sauce had started to chill and went into sticky strands of sweetness.
The egg custard was sweet and thick, not a hint of separation and the prunes were jammy, the pastry buttery and crisp.
Tex said that the pudding was perfect, with the bitter hint of the marmalade coming through in the right balance. "Needed more custard" was his only comment apart from Mmmm.
My cheesecake was absolutely to die for. Solid and rich, liked a baked cheesecake should be but not at all overly sweet. The coffee came through so very well, and the base! Oh my, the base was a cross between a biscuit and a sponge, with the coffee flavour very intense there. The espresso glaze...well that I could have drunk a cup of. In the spirit of Birthday-ness, I gave Mom the very last bit. See what a nice daughter-in-law I am? See??
Absolute perfection in every way. Please, if you can, do visit them. They are truly lovely people and they make you very welcome indeed.
The Cricketers, Clavering, Nr Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4QT
Tel: +44 (0)1799 550442
Fax: +44 (0)1799 550882
EDIT: Update from Sally and Trevor Oliver in reply to my email:
"And, no we are not retiring, there have been rumours of that nature for years. I think it's because a pub three miles away, which keeps closing down and opening up again, is similarly named (but with 'Arms'). The owners change so regularly and hence the rumours that it is us."