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food & drink: A clever fusion of old and new; taste test.

Byline: Glyn Mon Hughes at the Royal Oak, Kinnerton

INTERNET and sat nav may not be the most obvious ways to expand the waistline. We do like, before visiting a restaurant, to look at its website and, if possible, examine the menu. And there are few better ways - Taste Tests apart - to suss out a restaurant than to investigate independent websites for comments.

When we looked up The Royal Oak at Higher Kinnerton, nobody breathed a bad word about the place.

Getting there, though, was not easy as signposts petered out not long after leaving Chester city centre and, arriving at an unmarked T-junction in the middle of nowhere, our local takeaway was fast becoming a viable option. That's when sat nav was added to the latest wish list.

We eventually arrived not inexcusably late, yet the welcome was just as warm. Indeed, staff had been particularly accommodating when we booked earlier in the day, pointing out if we came later in the evening food would be served in the bar, not in the restaurant - not something we'd choose.

The bar area is dark and atmospheric while the restaurant is quite the opposite: bright and airy with views out to the gardens. Once directed to our table they did make the slight faux pas of asking what we wanted to drink, practically before bottoms made contact with dining chair. So we asked for the wine list. For once, it was good to see a list supplied by a local company - Rodney Densem from Nantwich - so if there was a particularly decent bottle, it's not a needle-in-haystack job to find another. We went for a Chateau Lamothe Blanc de Blancs, which was very refreshing, a perfect summer drink.

The menu itself is extensive and a clever fusion of pub grub with offerings from a rather more exclusive restaurant. On the one hand, you could go for Cumberland sausage with champ mash, crispy bacon and onion gravy, and on the other hand, there were some unusual offerings like avocado, mint and feta cheese sale with balsamic drizzle as a starter.

I chose pea and mint risotto with Parmesan cheese shavings as a starter. When it arrived the portion size was just right and, although at first taste it felt a little bland, it grew on me and I appreciated the fact it was not one of those gloopy, rich, bloating risottos which prevent any enjoyment of the main course. The peas were previously frozen, a slight disappointment, but the rice was quite light.

Mark asked for garlic and chilli king prawns in a tomato sauce, served with a crusty baguette. "It's a generous portion," he said.

"There are eight or so large prawns and the sauce is not too spicy, which would mask the taste of the prawns."

For main course, I spotted pan-fried duck breast with a potato hash cake on a plum and orange sauce. There was a generous serving of duck and the hash cake was excellent. The very generous serving of vegetables were fresh and served hot and al dente - carrots, swede, beans and cauliflower.

Mark had the pan-fried salmon supreme on a warm Nicoise salad. "An excellent piece of salmon, well cooked and a delicate sauce," he said.

The desserts, too, combine the familiar with unusual fare.

Cheeses, sorbets and ice creams vie with the likes of an individual chilled passion fruit souffle on a biscuit base. I asked for the home-made arctic roll with fresh strawberries. My memories of arctic roll were from school dinner ladies fixed with an icy stare who served factory produced, tasteless sponge with ice cream. This was nothing of the sort: light sponge and creamy, rich ice cream.

Mark's lemon sorbet was certainly a generous portion. "Bursting with citrus flavour but not cloyingly sweet," he said.

There are plenty of salads and a range of vegetarian meals on offer. And service is excellent - though we were a little disappointed the attention was not drawn to the blackboard of specials where some exotic and enticing offerings were chalked up.

But that's all for another day - and, believe me, that day will soon arrive.

the bill

risotto pounds 4.25

prawns pounds 5.95

duck breast pounds 13.50

salmon pounds 10.50

sorbet pounds 4

arctic roll pounds 4.50

bottle of bordeaux pounds 14.50

orange juice pounds 1.25

total pounds 58.20

the facts

open mon-fri noon-2.30pm, 6.30pm-9.30, sat noon-3pm, 5.30-9.30pm, sun noon-9.30pm

parking extensive car park

disabled access all on the flat

ambience bright and cheerful

service prompt and helpful

value for money good

Royal Oak Inn, Higher Kinnerton, Flintshire (erokinnerton@aol.com, call 01244 660871; fax 01244 6 61395)

CAPTION(S):

The Royal Oak proved well worth the journey Pictures: STACEY ROBERTS
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2008
Words:801
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