The presence of the Old Mill at Baginton has for years assured affluent south Cov that despite their bristlingly suburban surroundings, a tawny country pub is a mere skip away. And although it’s now part of a chain (Chef and Brewer) and in asphyxiatingly close proximity to the airport and the thundering A45/A46 junction, you can still just about persuade yourself you’ve found a bucolic corner of rural England. For how much longer though? Round the table next to ours, the quartet of golfing-slacks-and-mocassin types were furrow-browed over recent proposals to build five thousand new homes on nearby land.
A Monday lunchtime in March, grey skies matched by wearyingly on-trend grey décor. The Mill was surprisingly busy – at least I thought so, and maybe the staff did too; although our drinks arrived brightly enough, service thereafter had the slowness of the wrongfooted. The waitress, catching my quizzical looks when people who had ordered after us were served before, was sufficiently embarrassed to apologise – but not to offer an explanation.
Personally, I suspected that the delay was down to my ‘white wine, tomato & pea risotto with roasted butternut squash and asparagus, finished with toasted cashew nuts and dressed with rocket’; when it was finally placed before me, I was certain. Despairing of the rice ever cooking, kitchen staff had evidently decided that dishing up underdone fare was a lesser evil than keeping us waiting any longer.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of risotto; I find its stickiness rather cloying. But I went for it because although the vegetarian menu was reasonably extensive, it was one of the few ‘authentic’ vegetarian dishes on offer. Too many of the others were just predictable ‘veggied-up’ versions of carnivore classics, including the inexplicably (to me) ubiquitous ‘cod’ cod and chips (detailed description: battered halloumi and chips).
I mean seriously, what strange species of diner is this abomination aimed at? If you’re an omnivore, you’d just order standard fish and chips, right?; and if you’re a vegetarian, what you’re looking for is a different type of dining, one that showcases the star-quality of non-meat ingredients. The last thing you want is a recreation in helpful fish-free form the very things you’re trying to get away from!
But back to the dish in hand. Overall it was seasoned about right, but the presence of resolutely firm slices of tomato suggested under-ripeness or under-cooking. Either way, they imparted a jarring acidity to a dish whose ambition is supposed to be soothing creaminess. The butternut, on the other hand, was perfect softness, with hints of thyme.
No marks for the peas – sad little things, the vitality sucked out of them by over-boiling (just how hard is it to cook a frozen pea?); and while the generous serving of asparagus retained some pleasing crunch, it had presumably been carted halfway round the world from some place where it’s actually in season, with inevitable effects on flavour.
The whole thing was topped with baby leaves. Because they didn’t really add anything, I’m not going to quibble that some of them were not – strictly-speaking – rocket. And if I say it was ‘just the right amount,’ it’s only because it was considerably less than the inches-thick layer of sulphurous wild rocket that smothered the life out of a hapless risotto I was once memorably (for the wrong reasons) served elsewhere. I’m not sure what ‘the ‘right’ amount would be – ‘none’ would be fine (the asparagus was plenty on its own), but chefs seem to think risotto too plain to serve without a random strew of foliage to jazz it up. (Why? Don’t they have the confidence to let their food speak for itself?). I’m unable to comment on the promised toasted cashew nut ‘finish’ because I never found it.
The Old Mill, Mill Hill, Baginton, Warwickshire, CV8 3AH. Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto, £9.99