I was looking forward to trying a re-launched offering at The Sheep Heid. When I last went a few years ago, the menu was a reflection of new corporate owners, Johnny Walker. Although the charming jumbled antiquities and dark wood furnishings remained, the food and drink felt soulless. This time, following a lick of paint, the ever present antiques were shinier than ever. What of the new menu?
Settling into stylish new chairs during a busy Sunday lunch, we studied the extensive menu, ordering what tickled our fancy: two starters, a sharing plate and a main. The accompanying alcohol-free beer and Seedlip non-alcoholic ‘gin’ and tonic were delightful, making the meal more of an occasion than a Coke could.
Service was polite and attentive as it could be, with the food arriving promptly and all at once, at our request. It’s hard to go wrong with box-baked camembert and we were pleased with the combination of omega seed sprinkle topping, cranberry and sloe gin chutney, plus warm dough sticks. The dough was genius: the soft carby squiggles had a very satisfying texture, just rigid enough to carry oozy cheese. The chutney, more of a jam, had a necessary tartness, and the salty seeds – I was initially skeptical – came into their own once mixed into the cheese.
We inhaled the salt and Szechuan pepper squid with aioli. A light and bubbly batter encased thin strips of squid, savoury and moreish. A little more aioli would have been appreciated, but I am a sauce fiend. The Szechuan pepper was only evident amongst some rocket leaves, and it was an excellent contrast. We thought the chef should be more heavy handed.
Since it was a Sunday, the fig and dolcelatte nut roast seemed like a must, and it was probably the highlight of our meal. More than just satisfying or tasty, it was made with skill; textured with oats and carrot; mixed with creamy blue cheese for a streak of flavour. The accompanying Yorkshire pudding was enormous and rather crunchy; the sweet honey-roasted apple and onion gravy was its saviour. I enjoyed the roasted potatoes and the salted seasonal vegetables; the roots more than the limp cabbage.
Undeniably stuffed, we still soldiered on to our final dish. Technically a starter, the lobster and king prawn pot in Devon crab creme fraiche with toasted ciabatta was actually a really lovely finish. A mix of velvety crab and well chosen pieces of lobster, it was a generous portion of a zingy and palatable classic.
We certainly enjoyed our meal in the traditional surrounds of The Sheep Heid and its popularity with families of all ages gave it a great vibe. Dessert was truly beyond us, but the menu promised the usual suspects: brownies, cheesecake, crumble, sticky toffee pudding. We liked the idea of the pineapple tart tatin and the mini desserts you could have with a hot drink.
However, I do believe that the menu still suffers from a corporate broad brush approach. The menu is so, so long that I am convinced some dishes are pulled from the freezer rather than made to order. The sheer volume of them also makes the menu quite hard to read.
Another intriguing aspect of the new menu is the wellness information given on a sporadic selection of dishes – information such as high in protein, low in fat, number of calories. I like the idea of signaling this to diners who are looking for healthier choices, but I would put them all in one section together. In any case, we clearly weren’t there for a light meal. If you’re looking to reduce calories, my advice would be to order whatever you fancy and take the lovely 30 minute walk from Newington.