FOOD MONSTER: Cross Keys eggsorcise memories of motorway snack hell
The last time I had a Scotch egg was on a bleak stretch of the A1, it was a frosty morning and the purchase was an attempt to liven up an on-the-road breakfast. Met with an eggy pong as I opened the wrapper, the experience was one to forget.
So when I spotted the Scottish farmers' favourite on the menu at the latest stop on my food trail, priced at £6.50 – even more than I paid at a service station – I was quite intrigued.
My dinner date and I travelled to Stow, just outside of Lincoln, to try the Cross Keys Country Inn. When I called to book the table I was greeted by a man who seemed enthusiastic to reserve me a table for two. First encounters with food are always before you've got a fork in your hand and this pleasant exchange made me excited to arrive.
Pulling into the ample car park, the Country Inn lived up to its name and looked inviting on an autumnal evening. We were met with an open fire and helpful staff. The Inn is split into a cosy pub and more formal restaurant, with the choice to dine in either.
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After being called sir on the phone, I'd made the effort to wear a shirt so we opted for the formal. Asked if we wanted drinks as soon as we were seated, it didn't take long to order a bottle of wine.
The menu had a choice of classics, specials and an extensive vegetarian option. We'd already been told dishes are prepared fresh so if there were any variations we'd like they would be happy to oblige.
Two words leapt out from the menu – Scotch egg. Through furrowed brow I read further, venison meat and quail Scotch egg, served with Scottish clapshot (mashed potatoes, turnips, and carrots) and a rich game sauce. I had to order it. I chose a simpler main in steak and mushroom pie. My guest, who is vegetarian, had a wide choice and her starter of cheese soufflé followed by baked courgette sounded tasty.
Food arrived just as we'd finished our first glass of wine, perfect timing. The presentation was as inventive as the composition of the dishes. Food is for sharing so I enjoyed a taste of the twice baked soufflé, finished with a sharp onion marmalade and parmesan sauce. Each flavour complemented the last as I savoured the mouthful.
On to the Scotch egg – I cannot ever recall craning my neck to peer at my food with such anticipation. The delicacy was cut open, teasing me with its runny yolk. I ignored everything else on my plate and went straight for a bite, the succulent flavour of the venison was first to hit as I broke through the crisp casing, complemented by the quail's egg which was cooked to perfection. This was a Highland fling to remember.
Our mains arrived promptly and my initial feeling was of disappointment. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to pie and expect a full pastry casing, feeling a delicately placed piece of pastry atop a mound of filling a slight cop-out. All was forgiven when I filled my mouth. The simple side of chips and vegetables were the perfect accompaniment.
The baked courgette was filled with ratatouille served over warm couscous with lemon and garlic crème fraiche. A clever dish with a collection of Mediterranean flavours that made my vegetarian guest not feel like an after thought.
We chose a chocolate and walnut brownie with cinnamon ice cream and a sticky toffee pudding served with butterscotch sauce to round off our evening of indulgence. Often a fan of sharing a dessert, ordering two was a reflection on the menu.
When the bill came I was impressed by the price, the quality of food and level of service and felt compelled to reach for a tip.
The inventive take on classic grub is a perfect treat and in the spirit of a fair trial, promise to lay a service station Scotch egg on a bed of mash, drizzled in a jus but I'm predicting it won't compare.
At a glance
Where: Cross Keys Country Inn, 4 Stow Park Rd, Stow, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, LN1 2DD
Telephone: 01427 788314
Food hygiene: 5/5 Very good
The Damage: 1x Bottle of Pinot Grigio £15.95, cheese soufflé £7.50, Scotch egg £6.50, steak and mushroom pie £10.95, baked courgette £12.95, sticky toffee pudding £5.50, chocolate brownie £5.50.
Veggie friendly: Yes, extensive vegetarian menu
Family friendly: Yes
Visit again: Yes
Good for: Special occasions or even a spontaneous treat