DECKED out with vibrant colours and sculptures depicting the sun, the Restaurant at Sol is a conspicuous new arrival in Shrewsbury's Tudor town centre. The former tapas bar has evolved into what local foodies trust will be to the north of the county what Shaun Hill's Merchant House at Ludlow is to the south.
This expectation is raised because chef-partner John Williams has come from the highly acclaimed Old Vicarage Hotel at Worfield, in Shropshire, where his use of top-quality ingredients and strong use of local produce earned him three AA rosettes.
Having worked with the likes of Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree near Abergavenny and with Raymond Blanc, Williams sees his style as eclectic and international. But he decided that he wanted to be his own man and, with wife Debbie and their children, he is now living the dream.
As at the Old Vicarage, he is a strong believer in using local suppliers where possible. He talks with conviction about the county's excellent lamb, game and poultry. His supplier of birds has most of its clients at London restaurants, while he praises his butcher as "excellent".
From his set-price menu (£25 for three courses, £17.50 for two), he highlights medallion of Ludlow venison, braised cabbage and bacon bubble-and-squeak as his top choice, while he describes as "a close second" the braised shoulder of Shropshire lamb with saffron mash, tomato and thyme jus and crispy parsnips. "My lamb supplier is excellent," he says. "I've honestly never tasted better lamb."
Other starters include home-cured bresaola with marinated broccoli and spicy yogurt dressing, and a warm gƒteau of red peppers, roasted sea scallops with orange and basil dressing, while main courses feature chargrilled breast of Goosnargh chicken with Szechwan peppercorn crust, ginger and watercress dressing, and braised shin of local beef wrapped in roasted aubergines with potato galette and red wine shallots.
Desserts from the six-strong selection include sticky toffee pudding with prune and Armagnac ice-cream, and pineapple soufflé with candied vanilla and clotted cream.
Williams describes the food at the Restaurant at Sol as high quality but down-to-earth. "I cook what I love," he says. "It's not luxury-based, as at the Old Vicarage, and this isn't French cuisine, but it is colourful food. I use a lot of oils and dressings. I aim to cook dishes that my customers wouldn't or couldn't do at home."
Although the restaurant is surrounded by farmers in a rural setting, most customers hail from businesses within Shrewsbury or at Telford, from nearby RAF bases or from among well-off locals who might otherwise make a beeline for London restaurants. "A lot of farmers think we're expensive," says Williams. "But I'll be very happy to attract the real foodies here." n
The Restaurant at Sol, 82 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Tel: 01743 340560.