Restaurant review: My Great Grandfather's Restaurant
PUBLISHED: 11:54 24 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:17 24 February 2015
Forget visions of tinned tomato soup with bread and marge. 'My Great Grandfather's Restaurant' in Tewkesbury is simply and utterly superb, says Katie Jarvis
There’s an old, old photograph hanging in my parents’ house of my great, great (I think that’s enough greats) grandfather, ‘James Brown of Huddersfield’. He’s sitting, camera-still, white-bearded and Victorian-sepia-ed, in a dusty workshop filled with the carcasses of violins, violas and double basses. From 1827, for nearly 60 years, he worked these luscious curves into good-quality instruments: maple ribs, burnish of varnish, scrolls unfurling notes for ear, not eye. When I was tiny, I was taken to see a miniature violin of his, hanging on the back of a door in Huddersfield Museum; a violin for a Tom Thumb orchestra.
I’ve equally no idea of how a family – ordinary to the point of little education and less money, as far as I’m aware – would branch into musical instrument-making; one day, I’ll look more deeply into the family tree from which that tiny violin was fashioned. But I do know that, just as counter-intuitively, my great grandfather was a painter and decorator by day and a passionate cellist by night, giving private recitals and instilling a love of Fauré, Dvořák and Elgar into his son, Albert – known affectionately as John Willie - who chanced snubbing completely the stiff hog-bristles of a paintbrush for the silky-smooth of a rosined horsehair bow.
And life was good while Clara Bow lisped silently to camera or Harold Lloyd dangled from a clock tower, a fully-employed orchestra bowing its frantic concern. But when the talkies arrived, it wasn’t only Clara who covered her ears in horror. (“I hope to Christ it was the sound stages!” she supposedly cried out on hearing of a conflagration at Paramount in 1929.) Many a musician left orchestra pit for deeper slough; a haunted stare into the inky portals of the workhouse. “I dreaded the thought of old-age,” my grandmother told me, her 20-something-self seeing nothing but grim grinning poverty twining hands with infirmity and exhaustion as made-for-each-other ghosts of the future.
In fact, though far from wealthy when she died, she was comfortable; owner of her own little cottage. My grandmother left her money to my mum and uncle, but there was £10,000 each for me and my brother, with a stipulation attached. It had to be frittered – no paying off debts or putting it into sensible investments; it should go on ribbons and bows, shirts and shoes, cufflinks and pearls. Fripperies she never wanted us to be denied.
So those are my great greats. Mathew and Shiho Gabb, and daughter Aimi, named a restaurant in Tewkesbury after Aimi’s great grandfather, Mr Ernest Ellery Clayton (who sadly died in 1997), a talented baker in nearby Tirley. “His handmade bread recipes are still used in our restaurant today,” they say, baked using the best organic flour from Shipton Mill.
Once the idea of the restaurant name is explained, it’s wonderful, touching, heroic, even. So don’t think for a moment, as I might have done, that something called My Great Grandfather’s restaurant serves tinned tomato soup with pre-sliced bread and marg. No, no, no! This restaurant is simply and utterly superb.
And interesting. Mat, who cooks, scours markets to buy the best of the seasonals. While he keeps his eye on maintaining top-quality beef, Shiho - raised in Japan - adores seafood – fresh lobster; crab. “Our fish, as we have witnessed, is caught and brought to land at Looe in Cornwall and delivered to Birmingham, where a vast cornucopia is available to us.”
The welcome is delightful – from Shiho, I assume; and if the room is a little chilly, it is lit by a fire (though the air-con is alarmingly bulky), with music at perfect volume. The menu is delightful; inventive without scariness – pan-fried sea bass, yuzu (an East Asian citrus fruit) and sake butter, baby vegetables and king prawn; or, if you want to push the boat out, you can pre-order a fresh lobster thermidor with Tewkesbury mustard and gratin potato. But we choose from a set menu - £22 for two courses; £27 for three – deep-fried brie wedges with caramelised strawberries and apple balsamic dressing (I can’t tell you how much I loved the crisp/soft/creamy sweetness of this, even though I’ve supposedly given up sugar) and salmon and crab fishcakes with Marie Rose dressing and yuzu salad. Then we both have the belly pork (I know, I know, we’re supposed to have different orders, but you want us to stay married, right?), with twice-baked soufflé, dauphinoise potatoes and adorable mini toffee apples. Again, fabulous – a mix of crunchy, juicy, sweet and savoury. If I were being picky, I’d perhaps have had a palate-cleansing green amongst the richness… But who am I kidding. I loved it.
The biggest surprise is dessert – no choice; just brandy basket and Turkish delight, with Turkish delight ice cream and a chocolate sauce. It’s a drawback, when you supposedly can’t stand Turkish delight. But it’s wonderful! Honestly! Subtle, gentle, flavoursome. I can still taste it in my dreams.
I have no idea what my great great grandfather would think about my plodding musical ability. But Ernest Ellery Clayton? I’m betting he’d be pleased as punch.
• Ambience 7
• Service 8.5
• Food 8.5
• Value for money 8
Our restaurant reviews are completely independent. Katie arrives unannounced and pays for her meal.
My Great Grandfather’s Restaurant, 83-84 Church Street, Tewkesbury GL20 5RX, 01684 292687; www.mygreatgrandfathers.co.uk