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Take me to church

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I’ve driven past The Church loads of times. I see it, nod and say to Mr M, we really must try it there, it’s meant to be very good. Well it must be pretty special, because it won the Muddy Stilettos Awards for best restaurant, and of course, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about. The 12th century building opened as The Church Bar & Restaurant in 2005, so its been around a while (you know we don’t discriminate here at Muddy Towers) and is now considered a quirky venue in Northamptonshire for both dining and weddings. And you can see why weddings are tres popular (not least because it is actually a church, where you can drink booze, win/win). Formerly known as St John’s Church, it’s a Grade 1 listed and the oldest secular building in Northampton. It does feel pretty magical when you walk in – I can imagine it would be an amazing venue for a rave – ahh, remember those days *stares into the ether wistfully. There isn’t any parking at The Church, but we found a space easily on Bridge Street, and there’s a number of car parks close by.

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The staff were friendly and chatty (a couple of students who’d moved to northants for Uni), and we were asked if we’d like a drink to start in the bar area (I like that kind of vibe where it’s appropriate to get slowly sloshed while you’re picking from the menu and watching the light stream through the stained glass). After a chin wag in the bar/hall area (above), we were taken through to the restaurant which has a mezzanine level as well as a large dining area.

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One thing I really liked about the restaurant was there was plenty of room. No neighbouring diners practically sitting on your lap, cooing over your food choice (I always find that slightly disconcerting). As it was, there wasn’t a large crowd as it was pretty early for dinner because we were off to the theatre. Usually I would find it a bit sterile if no one was there, but there were lots of quirky bits to look at, ghostly ghouls on the window ledge anyone.

IMG_7046We asked the waitress to pick for us (I often like a recommendation, it prevents me from ordering tried and tested favourites all of the time). First up was sweet red pepper falafel, amethyst chickpeas (nope, I don’t know what they are either), rolled in harissa and cumin, with a Kalamata black olive hummus (good choice as I’m trying to minimise my meat consumption). BUT, who can say no to a Scotch egg! Or to be specific, a Houghton ham and guinea fowl Scotch egg, wrapped in golden panko breadcrumbs, with a maple mayo and crispy brown sugar bacon (Mr Muddy didn’t get a look in on that crispy bacon, oops). Portion size was good and both starters did what they were meant to do, tickle our taste buds for the main course!

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Next up was fillet of lemon sole and tiger prawns grilled with Dijon mustard, lemon and dill and served with a white wine vinaigrette dressing, spring onion potato rosti and crunchy fennel salad. It was surf and turf as we were served a 32 day aged fillet steak (70z) with rosemary salt hand cut chips, shaved asparagus and chive slaw, and a wholegrain mustard and peppercorn butter. Both were utterly delicious and reassuringly familiar. It’s a menu that would please the kids and the grandparents (and everyone inbetween). I wouldn’t say it was particularly radical or experimental, but I think that’s what diners like about The Church.

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IMG_7051Not to be beaten by two courses we were served up a chef’s sharing plate of puddings. I thought these were a tad more adventurous, although equally delicious. It looked like a very modern plate and definitely Instagram friendly, if that’s your thang!

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I can see why The Church is so popular. It appeals to a wide range of people and is very inclusive (whilst feeling like a special venue). Sometimes we want to try the new and the shiny places popping up all over the county, but other times it’s nice to have a familiar seat in somwhere we dined a decade ago, when we could still stay up past 11pm without falling asleep in our soup ; )

Good for: Food lovers wanting a good solid choice of old faves with a new twist; foodies in general; anyone after a restaurant with genuine atmosphere; romantics on an evening; larger groups particularly will enjoy the ambience and can stretch into the space offered.
Not for: Those expecting glorious a countryside in the summer. There is an outdoor space but you’re in Northampton town and the traffic is nearby. It’s not necessarily a kids destination – if you’re expecting crayons and colouring books, go elsewhere.
£££: On the expensive side of average – it’s treat territory, but what a treat! Entrees between £6.50, mains £16.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Northamptonshire