Nestled on the outskirts of Lichfield, The Boat Inn is giving Staffordshire’s fine dining scene a boost in the right direction
There was a time when you thought of fine dining as a stuffy, pretentious pastime of the upper class. But that’s just not the case anymore. Today’s foodie world is accessible for all who love and respect food. Prices are more affordable and fine dining restaurants are opening out of major cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham. And that’s just the case with successful local chef Liam Dillon’s latest venture – The Boat Inn.
It’s located just on the outskirts of Lichfield off Walsall Road. The name is a giveaway; from the outside it’s your classic and traditional English pub, but inside has been transformed into a highly sophisticated establishment bursting with energy, suave and quality.
As you enter, you’re greeted by friendly and warm staff happy to chat away with you. The large open kitchen is in the background where you can view the chefs at work including Liam himself, who owns the venue and heads up the kitchen. We had an early seating on a midweek evening, but it wasn’t long before the restaurant had filled up.
The décor has a distinctly rustic theme throughout, and there’s plenty of talking points too. From the black and white photos depicting the area to an interesting, but stunning nonetheless, wall of silver salvers. The bar area has a mismatch of furniture which gives it a cosy and homely vibe. There’s a good amount of space in the restaurant too – large wooden tables and comfy armchair-style seating make it easy to while away the hours enjoying fabulous food, wine and company.
And the food is fabulous. But then we’ve come to expect nothing less of the young chef, who is proudly from the area, born and bred, and becoming one of the hottest Midlands-based chefs around. Dillon has spent time working in some of the world’s best kitchens, including Michelin-starred restaurants such as Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Eleven Madison Park in New York with Daniel Humm and Tom Seller’s Restaurant Story in London.
He brings a wealth of experience with him, but this is all his own work and you can see he has put his heart and soul into it. No more apparent than Liam himself bringing out a taster to set the scene before we’d even been shown to our table – a delicious bite-sized portion of crispy coated pig’s cheek served on a pig’s skull, testament to his promise to use each ingredient to its full potential and with as little waste as possible. A principle founded by his grandmother who remains the key influence in his choice of career.
The restaurant offers five types of menu including tasting, a la carte and a classic set menu as well. We ate from the small but exciting seasonal a la carte menu, which is diverse and adventurous, but why not? The Midlands has proved itself to be a premier contender on the British foodie scene. Starters like Jersey Oysters, Dorset Crab and Burrata precede Roast Cod, Peas and Bacon; Duck Breast, Mushroom, Potato Terrine and Turnip; and Hake, Brown Shrimp, Mash Potato and Lovage – for a sample of the mains. And there’s also a selection of meat dishes from the dry ageing cabinet to tempt you. The Rib of Beef was particularly impressive and more than enough for two to share.
Here, Dillon has excelled in every plate. The ingredients are perfectly matched, and each dish is a little piece of art in terms of presentation and taste. For dessert, I’d urge you to try the carrot cake which came with an almond tuille and a to-die-for rum and raisin ice cream.
I’d say it’s a mixture of Liam’s down to earth vision and the fancy food that is bringing the hordes of people through the door. It is, after all, exquisite food served in a relaxed atmosphere that everyone – from casual diners to the more seasoned lovers of fine dining – can indulge in and love.
A rising star
And it really is a success story for the Lichfield lad, who is holding a strong vision for a Michelin star, and we’re sure it won’t be long until he has one under his belt. Having only taken the reins in 2018, his progressive approach to the dining scene in Lichfield has seen him win numerous awards in a very short amount of time. He was awarded ‘Best Chef’ at the Midlands Food Drink & Hospitality Awards 2018; soon after, The Boat Inn picking up ‘Best Independent Restaurant’ by the Taste of Staffordshire Awards (2018). Most recently the restaurant was awarded ‘Newcomer of The Year’ at the Top 50 Gastropub Awards.
And if this wasn’t enough to tempt you through the door, The Michelin Guide came down to check out Liam’s new venture three weeks after opening and The Boat Inn has been listed in the Michelin Guide ever since it opened.
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