I'm sitting here, recovering from what must be one of the best meals I've ever eaten.
And just look at me. I've eaten a hell of a lot of meals.
Finally, after many false starts where it became painfully obvious they were trying to avoid me, even to the extent of moving their restaurant lock stock and barrel from Irby to Wallasey Village on the very day I'd booked a meal, myself and my partner, having dispatched offspring to the care of a paramilitary youth organisation and grandparents, snuck into Cromwells half an hour before we'd booked the table.
Yeah, didn't see THAT coming, did you?
While I went off to secure cash for the evening, my partner settled herself in with her back to the window and a hot chocolate in front of her.
Firstly, this meant that my face was pointing to the outside world. Which I think was a major contribution to us having the downstairs of the restaurant to ourselves from six until nearly eight on a Wednesday evening. This, the staff assured us, has never happened since their move to Wallasey.
I'm available for hire to anyone wishing to send me to a rival establishment to scare away business. Reasonable rates.
Secondly, it meant I was faced with Cromwells' version of the hot chocolate. Being a tall glass of hot milk with a great big chunk of chocolate on a stick indulgently melting away in the middle of it.
Pacing myself a little, I went for a pot of green tea while interrogating the menu. I'm not a tea snob, and all I can say is that it was markedly more pleasant green tea than I'm used to.
So on to starters. My partner went for the Blacksticks Mushroooms, portobello mushroom topped with Blacksticks Blue cheese and Cromwells own red onion marmalade. She claimed later that the marmalade was the highlight of the meal, but it must be said, only because it is fantastically good. It had a lot of competition.
I went for the black pudding topped with roast apple and peppercorn sauce. The sauce was quite mild, the black pudding just spiced enough, most and tender (again, I'm used to leathery black pudding, or seemingly underdone almost runny stuff; this was a delight). It's easy to overwhelm with spice and peppers in this lot, but it was pitched just right.
Already, I was feeling failry well fed, probably because I've been on a somewhat drastic feeding regime recently, and this was a very off piste excursion from what I ought to be doing. Three hail mary's and a day on the evian for me tomorrow...
Onwards, and with the recommendation of the waitress, my partner took on the red pesto linguine, while I went for the pie of the day, steak and onion, with chips. Before, when ordering a fresh pasta in a restaurant of this standard, you expect a modest amount; now, my partner may not be tall, but I expect to be able to see her chin when looking across the table, not to find it obscured by linguine. And linguine of near perfect texture, with a superb red pesto, pine nuts and parmesan, at that.
Meanwhile, I picked up a chip and bit into it... my partner caught my look and asked what was up. I passed her a chip, and she got the same surprised, almost shocked, look on her face. These were, quite possibly, the greatest chips we'd ever tasted: fluffy, light, with the barest crunch on the outside. The pie was packed with a meat that was rivalling the chips for lightness of texture, very flavoursome, with a gorgeous crunchy vegetable selection on the side.
Then the desert. After toying with ordering all six dessert options (apart from possibly Bakewell Slice, which my partner claims is "too sweet"; she also claims that icing "ruins" cakes, and is clearly delusional), I cut the deadlock by generously offering to order the jam roly poly and custard, and offering to share with my partner, allowing her to go for the plum crumble tart with cream.
The crumble was gorgeous, just tart enough to earn the name, and the jam roly poly fantastically sweet and stodgy (as it should be). If more people ate this kind of jam roly poly, there would be fewer wars. Mainly because I cannot imagine anyone being able to get up and fight after polishing off a whole bowl of it.
Didn't get to chat with the folks at Cromwells as much as I'd like: one of them was having his wedding reception upstairs (they claimed... anything to avoid me, I reckon), but the waiting staff were friendly and genuinely wanted to make sure the experience was as enjoyable as possible, and by gum it was.
Plans are already being laid to get granny in for an afternoon tea, and if I can get to the tweetup there in November, I will be.
Overall: if you ever need an excuse to break a diet, this certainly qualifies. Now, to the exercise mat to clear off some of this roly poly...