Halfpenny Green Wine Estate is a hive of activity at all times, but particularly today. Cars packed full of exuberant visitors stream up and down the long driveway, just off Tom Lane, Bobbington: a relentless flow of traffic that is challenging to negotiate but – oh so – worth it, because when you arrive at the complex the atmosphere is buzzing with the kind of energy that only a star-studded local attraction can generate.
Bustling about us, when my partner Nicola and I arrive, is a throng of people, all heading in different directions: some make no bones about the fact that they are there solely to browse the vast range of award-winning wines in the three-storey shop; for others, relaxation with a drink in the tea room is the order of the day. I’m sure many more are here to check out the on-site craft centre – which is home to over fifteen individual businesses, including a Blacksmith and a zoo.
And I bet a lucky few are here to do what I’d really like to be doing myself: trying out the brand new Balcony Tapas menu at the newly-opened Wine Loft Balcony. The idea of shooting the breeze outdoors while sipping at a glass of home-grown wine (or anything from the extensive G & T menu), overlooking the splendid surrounding countryside, and nibbling on accompanying, freshly-prepared Tapas choices from the Deli counter, such as ‘Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade, Mozzarella and Focaccia sticks’ and ‘Chargrilled Marinated Peppers’ (£3.50 each or 3 for £10) is right up my alley. But, oh well, duty calls, another day perhaps…
For us, it is lunch in the restaurant, so we dive left after entering through the conservatory atrium and are seated beside expansive windows, which overlook the vines. It is a choice table and one that allows us to absorb the sights, smells and sounds of a generously-sized and tastefully decorated dining space. It’s 12.30pm and the room is already nearly at capacity. Immediately we’re offered drinks from the ample menu. Something non-alcoholic may seem rather incongruous and yet that’s my preference and I’m not short on choice. A medium-sized glass of very-appropriately-English Rosé (£3.50) tickles Nicola’s fancy, its blend of summer fruits befit the occasion; I’m a firm believer that the vineyards is a place best served by summer.
After but a sip, a waitress arrives to take note of our starters. This is to be the beginning of a meal that is defined by good service. Clearly Halfpenny Green’s popularity has drilled its staff into a well-oiled machine, performing at optimum levels when others would be flagging under pressure. We elect to have ‘Smoked Salmon on Crisp Bread with Dill & Lemon Cream Cheese’ (£5) and ‘Chargrilled Pork Belly and Salsa Verde’ (£5).
We both find them to be well-sized and rich with well-judged flavour combinations. I take down the entirety of the salmon, such is my fondness for the stuff, and I enjoy it very much, especially when coupled with the crunch of the bread and the cool of the dill-infused cheese. Nicola dominates the pork, allowing only a morsel for me to try, but even when making do with such a meagre portion I can still speak to the singular taste and expert cooking method used.
A brief pause allows us to soak up another drink each and reflect upon the room. Almost every table is now in use as diverse groups of diners revel in the friendly atmosphere. I watch staff members interact with some in a way that’s telltale of regular visits. And I can see why people want to return again and again because there is a richness of variety here that’s hard to find elsewhere: you can dine in the formal restaurant where we are or lounge in the more informal atrium or even retreat to outside benches. And when the weather is as hospitable as it is today, I can make a strong case for each option.
Arriving promptly but not hurriedly are the main courses: I – because I’m determined to sample a British staple – go for ‘Battered Fish and Chips Hand Cut Chips, Crushed Peas and Homemade Tartar Sauce’ (£12.95) and Nicola chooses – rather more adventurously – ‘Indian Spiced Marinated Chicken, Coriander and Red Onion Braised Rice, Sweet Potato Pakora, Curried Butternut Squash Velouté and Coriander Oil’ (£12.95). Both dishes are generous servings and excite the senses. My haddock is stellar and the homemade tartar sauce delights my palate with its subtleties. So good that it should really be bottled and put on sale. I know Nicola is impressed with her choice because next to nothing remains of it, the greatest compliment anyone could pay. I will admit that I left one of two peas behind but in my defence I had overdone it somewhat on the masterfully meaty chips.
Inevitably, then comes the time-honoured refrain: “have you got room for dessert?” Happily we have, but only just. I manage to squeeze in a rather delicious ‘Treacle Tart with Berry Coulis’ (£6.25) and for Nicola, an excruciatingly indulgent ‘Banana Split Sundae’ (£6.25). How I wish I had room for it myself as I ogle it from across the table. But, that’s what return trips are all about – and I’m sure we’ll be visiting again soon, I just need to remember to leave room for dessert. And to try the Balcony Tapas menu.
Halfpenny Green Wine Estate, Tom Lane, Bobbington, South Staffs, DY7 5EP.
Tel: 01384 221122 www.halfpennygreen.co.uk