The Courtyard in Wombourne is owned and run by husband and wife team, Simon and Louise Ward. When I arrive at the restaurant I have no idea what their pedigree is (until Simon fills me in over drinks at the bar: both have an impressive background in hospitality) but I’m fairly certain they know how to cook, and how to run a top establishment.
I’ll tell you how I know this: it’s not because of the rave reviews you’ll find on social media, nor is it because I’ve visited before or scoped out The Courtyard’s website. It’s because, in this instance, I have a secret weapon: a friend of mine whose life revolves around two things: real ale and real food. He loathes ‘fine (posh) dining’, characterising it as “a loathsome mix of sycophantic service, over-elaborate cooking and absurdly high prices”; equally he is excoriating about ‘pub grub’. He hates all beer that is produced in high volume; anything that hasn’t only fermented in the vessel from which it was served, with only natural – not forced – carbonation, makes him apoplectic. He says the restaurant made a really good impression on him when he attended last year’s Beer Festival at The Courtyard (along with over 300 other beer boffins) and then subsequently dined there. So if he says it’s good, then it must be really good.
But don’t take his words for it, continue to read mine… after all I have, over the last ten years, consumed restaurant reviews like they were remedies for an ill-defined ailment. And as such I know the difference between artichokes and cardoons – I think.
The Courtyard is nestled away from the hustle and bustle of Wombourne’s busy High Street in an actual courtyard. One or two signs on High Street point the way to what is fast becoming the village’s worst kept secret. Success speaks for itself and Simon and Louise have seen nothing but since they took the helm in December 2017, with a mission to provide discerning diners with top-notch food at reasonable money.
“We like to think we offer Wombourne a bit more. The village is well served by two Indian restaurants and many pubs but we feel there is still demand for us – we definitely bring something new to the table,” says Simon – who is our genial host this evening – as he leads my girlfriend Nicola and I into a comfortable lounge space, which is informal, warm and rich in contemporary décor and adjacent to the bar with a view through into the kitchen.
“We hope to fill a gap in the local market – better than pub food, freshly-cooked and conceived by people who are passionate about food and drink.” And although at this point I am, to be brutally honest, most interested the filling the gap in my stomach, I indulge Simon further because passion is a watchword (or should be) for the hospitality industry and it is what helps set The Courtyard apart.
One look at the menu says it all; passion seeps from its every pore. And I’m not talking about pretentiousness: it’s not written by a chef who thinks he is a philosopher, it is instead a symphony of harmonious flavour balancing, allied to very reasonable pricing. Louise is Head Chef and has over 25 years’ in the hospitality industry (so has Simon) but she’s not spent all of that time in the kitchen, so she’s not frazzled from over work and is still hungry to prove herself. Simon has carved a niche for himself via his wine tasting evenings; he boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge that we’re both happy to tap into when we order drinks. Nicola samples a popular and hard-to-find (The Courtyard is one of but a handful of stockists in the UK) niche product of her own in Netherton’s own Dr Eamers’ gin.
We’re then led up to a charming dining space which is in equal measure private and spacious. In fact, it’s beyond what even we are expecting in both size and stature.
Separating the bar area and lounge from the dining space is a masterstroke and delivers a real sense of occasion.
Here we tuck into our starters: Nicola enjoys ‘Gyoza – Japanese vegetable-filled dumplings, teriyaki dipping sauce’ (£5.25); I have ‘Tempura battered prawns with pak choi, ginger, sweet chilli dressing’ (£5.95). We enjoy every morsel: special praise must go to the dumplings (yes, I did try one) because nailing a proper dumpling mix can be tricky but here you get flavours, textures and combinations that are pretty damn smart. The dipping sauce is exquisite also. Now the main courses…
‘Cajun spiced chicken breast, sweet potato rosti, tomato salsa, lime yoghurt’ (£12.95) for Nicola and ‘Pan fried sea bass, Italian style tomato and olive sauce, crushed new potatoes, tenderstem broccoli, baby corn’ (£14.95) is my choice. Prime ingredients, carefully sourced and cooked with real brio to bring out their qualities leave me convinced that we’ll be visiting The Courtyard again soon. Nicola, once she stops raving about the succulence of the chicken, agrees.
After Simon has delivered to us (in customarily fast, efficient style) two tantalisingly tasty desserts – ‘Crème brûlée and orange shortbread’ (£5.95) and ‘Chocolate Malteser cheesecake, vanilla ice cream’ (£5.95) – he elicits our opinion on the evening and reveals he is pleased that we “selected items from the menu that allowed us to really push ourselves and showcase what we’re able to do here.” It’s The Courtyard’s willingness to extend itself and its unwillingness to remain static that points to its continued success. After all, who wants more of the same, again and again?
So, the next time you do “the usual” and visit your local pub, remember what you’re missing. Once you’ve tried The Courtyard for yourself, you’ll no longer need the words of strangers. You’ll be a regular customer in no time; I know I will.
The Courtyard, Walkers Way, High Street, Wombourne WV5 9DP. For bookings please call 01902 894400. www.courtyardwombourne.com