"Ms Wilson, I presume" - Hobbs House Bistro Restaurant Review

This month, Katie is rumbled as she visits the informal surroundings of Hobbs House Bistro...

This month, Katie is rumbled as she visits the informal surroundings of Hobbs House Bistro.

The vital component of any restaurant reviewer’s working life is to be completely anonymous. No excuses, no mistakes, no prevarications. We’re the Banksies of the restaurant world, spraying our food comments everywhere.

“Katie!” says Amanda, General All-round Front-of-house Star of Hobbs House Bistro in Nailsworth. “Lovely to see you!… But didn’t you book under the name of ‘Wilson’?”

“A bit,” I say, mysteriously. Amanda possibly gives me a funny look. Possibly doesn’t.

The point is, anonymous or not, I am beyond-thrilled to be reunited with Amanda. The last time I saw her to talk to was more than 20 years ago when my stomach was flat, my chins were few, and hairdressers didn’t ask me if I was happy with my hair colour. These were the long-ago days when my parents had Snowy, the World’s Most Considerate Dog, and Pushkin, the Cat with No Personality. It was Amanda who actually gave Pushkin to my parents. A long-haired colourpoint, he looked as if he’d been artificially created by a Blue Peter presenter. The vicar, on one of his less-pastoral days, once referred to him as ‘that rat’, an incident my mother has never really came to terms with.

I love the fact that Hobbs House Bistro doesn’t try to be different. It’s what makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s very informal – a bit like you’ve wandered into someone’s private house mistakenly thinking it’s a restaurant and they don’t want to embarrass you by pointing out that it isn’t so they start to cook you a meal instead – but in a really good way. You can have a private table, but there’s also a multi-person one in the centre. In fact, Ian and I start off at a table-for-two, and end up dining communally. As Ian has all the social gregariousness of Howard Hughes in his dodgy fingernail phase, this is simply astonishing.

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The menu states it is unashamedly British – or britannique sans vergogne, as one should properly say in a bistro – and bijou: small and gorgeously put-together. Today, the starters are wild salmon fishcakes with sauce verte (love these; both the burstingly-green sauce and the just-as-you’d-make-them-at-home fishcakes); a devilled crab, tomato and watercress salad; and a Madgets (where else?) duck charcuterie with rillettes, parfait and hearts. The latter is technically for two (�9.50) but they kindly allow Ian just to have the rillettes bit. Beautifully tasty.

Admittedly, you’re a little stuffed if you don’t like fish on this particular night because, of the three main courses, one is haddock with herb crust. I have a wood-grilled Barnsley chop with chickpea puree and Greek salad, and Ian has a rare roe deer haunch with braised lettuce, peas and bacon. (I’m assured they’ll do veggie options if you ask them when you book.) The thing about all these Herberts, who proliferate at Hobbs, is that, between them, they have enough knowledge to take over the world. Or at least a small South American country. And they use it to brilliant effect. The excellent butchery is courtesy of Henry Herbert, who runs their butcher’s in Chipping Sodbury. The �2/3 can’t-get-enough bread baskets reflect Tom’s passion for the perfect dough. I know I complain about having to pay for it in restaurants but, when it’s this good, it figures.

In between snatched memories, Amanda is perfect: recommending wine, suggesting dishes, ever attentive.

My only slight quibble involves desserts. They’re good, but not as outstanding as the rest of this meal. And with only one choice - roast plums with honey, cr�me fraiche and shortbread; or chocolate and raspberry hot-pot with cream – it does feel limiting.

But for this kind of quality and ambience (score very slightly reduced in the name of balance, because informality wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea), I really defy you to do better. Fantastic evening, costing less than �80, including pre-drinks and wine.

Later in the week, I reassume complete anonymity and bump into Tom Herbert cooking burgers outside Hobbs. He’s wearing sunglasses and I almost don’t recognise him. “Katie!” he calls out. “So how was the meal the other night?”

Hobbs House Bistro, 4 George Street, Nailsworth GL6 0AG, 01453 839396; www.hobbshousebakery.co.uk. (Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.)

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