The Spotgate, Spot Acre, near Stone: Alan Cookman's restaurant review
visits The Spotgate, Spot Acre, Nr Stone
THE smoked salmon was going down a treat, reinforcing my desire to come back in another life as an Alaskan brown bear.
I was idly picturing myself plucking spawning salmon from a fast-flowing river when something – quite possibly the wood-panelled elegance of the 1928 Pullman coach – reminded me of the first and only time I travelled on the legendary Orient Express.
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The boss had called me into his office and said the operators of the service renowned for mystery, romance and intrigue were offering a free trip for a
writer. Did I fancy it?
Before he'd finished the sentence, images from a dozen novels and films were passing before my eyes.
Of course I fancied it. The destination may no longer be Istanbul, but I'd settle for London to Venice or even Paris to Vienna.
"Which route is it?" I said. The boss cleared his throat, examined his fingernails and mumbled something I couldn't quite make out.
"Pardon?" I said. "Well, as a matter of fact it's Blackpool to Stoke, a short promotional run," he said.
How much mystery, romance and intrigue can you pack into a train journey from Blackpool to Stoke? Not much, I discovered, although the vintage carriages were fabulous, and they served an amazing breakfast preceded by limitless measures of Buck's Fizz.
The vintage railway carriages at The Spotgate are not going anywhere, not even to Blackpool or Stoke. But that doesn't impair their capacity to transport one to another time and place.
These lovingly-preserved relics, first entered service 80-odd years ago and they do seem to embody all the mystique and romance of steam.
More cosy than opulent, they've been fixtures at this charming country inn since the 1960s, and you don't have to be a complete anorak to appreciate the novel experience of dining on board antique rolling stock.
Thankfully, there's more to The Spotgate than nostalgia, and I have to say that the cuisine seems to get better and better.
From a menu that's interesting but manageable, I chose to start with the aforementioned oak smoked salmon (£4.95), despite being powerfully drawn to the home-made ham hock terrine with sweet apple chutney (£4.75).
The salmon was perfect in texture and flavour, the kind that leaves you wanting much, much more, and it came with a lovely potato, dill and mayonnaise salad and brown bread and butter.
Herself started with Thai prawns (£4.95), fresh tiger prawns coated in tempura batter, served with salad and a pot of sweet chilli. They were quality prawns – I know because she gave me a free sample.
Mains include grilled fish and steaks priced at around £14, some tasty-sounding chicken dishes in the region of £10, and a few spicy numbers such as the Mexican chilli beef tortilla stack (£7.95), which speaks for itself.
My peppered pork loin cost £10.95 and consisted of chargrilled pork in a delicious peppercorn, brandy and cream sauce which formed a highly rewarding partnership with the new potatoes. Herself ordered the traditional Italian lasagne (£7.95), a dish which had home-made with tender loving care written all over it.
Lasagne is often cheap and rather unpleasant, but this was clearly the real deal, hot, rich and herby. It was an individual lasagne al forno, and a big one, so she was not even tempted by The Spotgate's speciality bread and butter pudding (£4.25) or the Bailey's and butterscotch cheesecake (£4.50), no more than I could have faced the cheese selection (£5.25 for one, £8.95 to share). After we drained our wine glasses, I proposed re-enacting the scene from Brief Encounter where Trevor Howard removes a spot of soot from Celia Johnson's eye.
Herself said that if I'd excuse her she'd rather re-enact a scene from another classic railway movie – The Lady Vanishes.
Name: The Spotgate
Where: Hilderstone Road, Spot Acre, near Stone. Tel: 01889 505277
Open: Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 2.30pm and 6pm to 10pm; Sunday noon to 4pm
Wheelchair access? To bar/dining area, but not to railway carriages.
The Bill: starters x 2 – £7.90; mains x 2 – £18.90; drinks – £13.80 Total: £42.60