The Dun Cow, Ollerton restaurant review and Meal in a Minute - La Vina Restaurante Espagnol

The Dun Cow at Ollerton shows why it came so close to taking one of our top awards

It speaks volumes for the quality - and increasing numbers - of excellent dining pubs in Cheshire that this category is one of the most hotly contested in Cheshire Life’s annual Food and Drink Awards. And this year much was made locally of the fact that two of the three shortlisted contenders were not only located just a few miles apart on either side of Knutsford, but also shared some recent history.

The Bells of Peover in Lower Peover won the award, but it was only by a whisker over the Dun Cow at Ollerton and on another day, the positions might well have been reversed - hence the judges’ consistent contention that on awards night there are no losers and all the shortlisters come highly commended. Certainly that’s an accolade that the Dun Cow thoroughly deserves, for on our most recent visit to this immaculately-kept hostelry, lunch was a sheer delight.

First, that bit of shared history. The Dun Cow - as with the Bells - was acquired around 18 months ago by the Stockport-based brewer Frederic Robinson from a moribund national chain, paving the way for Marc Mattocks, one of the most talented chefs at work in the county, to take the helm as chef director.

So forget any notion of ‘‘pub grub’’, for the Dun Cow majors in top-notch restaurant quality dishes based on the best of local and seasonal ingredients handled with considerable aplomb.

The Dun Cow is mainly given over to food service these days, but it still boasts a welcoming bar with real Robbies’ ales, a rustically furnished snug and proper fireplaces. We took our place at a polished wood round pedestal table in a front room to the left of the bar; a very pleasant space with coffee and cream decor, venerable old beams and impressive animal prints what somehow, despite all the period trappings, still appeared stylish and modern.

The menu is shorter at lunchtime than in the evening and dishes are slightly simpler; nonetheless it offers an impressive array of attractive and innovative dishes that left us spoilt for choice. The kitchen’s eye for detail is a delight to encounter: my starter ham hock risotto (�7.50), presented in a lovely white porcelain risotto bowl, was perfect in texture with the creamy rice laced with melty Parmesan and the intense flavour of confit tomato and - a brilliant touch, this - sweet Branston pur�e, lifted the dish into the premier league. Mrs K’s opener of Provencal Tapenade (�6, or �12 as a main course) was similarly received; stunning to behold and delivering an array of fantastic flavours. The coarse olive tapenade came with slices of ultra-light and crispy crostini, slices of delicious pickled aubergine and a dish of exquisite beetroot hummus with crudit�s of carrot and celery for scooping.

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The mains were equally accomplished. I had an 8oz pan-roasted sirloin steak with traditional accompaniments (�16); the beef was full of flavour, tender and perfectly cooked and partnered by a knob of Old Tom mustard butter, excellent tomatoes and mushrooms, roasted garlic cloves, a tangle of peppery rocket and a dainty red bucket of perfect chips made from Sam Massey’s local potatoes.

Mrs K went for sophistication - and how. Her loin of hake (�14), beautifully moist and creamy in texture, came with a silky fennel pur�e, pomegranate salsa and - a small detail but an important one, for it showed a kitchen paying more than just lip service to region  and season - tender stem broccoli rather than high mileage asparagus.

We drank aromatic Tabali Viognier Reserva from Chile (�16.50), offering delightful citrus and apricot notes, with the starters and it was perfect with the hake, while a large glass of Las Olas Argentine Malbec (�5.30), bursting with ripe damson and mulberry fruit, complimented the sirloin wonderfully.

Tip-top desserts rounded off a memorable visit: dreamy sticky toffee pudding with lovely caramelised banana for her and fabulous fig and apple crumble for him (both �6.50).Ray King

The Dun Cow Inn, Chelford Road, Ollerton, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 8RH. 01565 633093.

With a moo moo here and a moo moo there...Three more bovine named restaurants around CheshireThe Cowshed Restaurant, Raby, Wirral. 0151 336 3416The Red Cow, 51 Beam Street, Nantwich, CW5 5NF.  01270 628581The Bull's Head, Mill Lane, Mobberley, WA16 7HX. 01565 873395

Meal in a minute

Digest this mini-review in 60 seconds

La Vina Restaurante Espagnol

105-107 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BQ0161 835

Style of venue Cosy, rustic and full of character. This restaurant, a previous winner of a Best Newcomer accolade in the Cheshire Life Food and Drink Awards, is decorated and styled like a traditional Spanish taverna.

On the menu Tapas dishes play a large part - try the albondigas a la jardinera (tender beef and pork meatballs cooked in a rich vegetable and tomato sauce) �4.55, and the croquetas de espinacas (spinach croquettes served with garlic mayonnaise) �4.15. The brochetas de pollo y chorizo (chicken and chorizo skewers, marinated in red wine and honey) �4.75 were delicious. Patatas bravas (deep fried cubes of potato with spicy tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise) �3.65 and the ensalada de jamon queso y pera (a mixed leaf salad with strips of Serrano ham, blue cheese, pear and pine nuts) �4.75, were the perfect accompaniments.

D�cor Very dark with low lighting providing a comfortable, intimate place to eat. Huge wine barrels are used as tables in parts of the restaurant.

Ambience The restaurant is large but this does not harm the atmosphere. If you love to people watch request one of the tables near the window.

Service Excellent. The staff were attentive and friendly and they were always on hand to help but were not intrusive.

Cost We enjoyed a selection of six tapas dishes to share as well as a glass of wine and a soft drink for just over �37. There is an extensive wine list and some good choices of brandy.

Suitability for entertainment A fantastic place to go out in a large group. The warm, cosy atmosphere is perfect for outings with friends or a romantic dinner for two. It's popular though, so it is wise to book in advance.

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