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Barry Peters discovers a gem in the Fens at cosy country restaurant The Merry Monk in Isleham

I almost moved to a home in Isleham back in 2007 and, thanks to a return trip a few weeks ago, I can see I would have been very well served for a place to dine out at.

Isleham is a small village in the Fens probably made most famous by the late Clem Tompsett’s carrots in recent years.

Now it can add fantastic country restaurant food to that list of attractions, thanks to The Merry Monk.

A dish at The Merry Monk (30138418)
A dish at The Merry Monk (30138418)

We arrived on a cool February evening and were struck by the warm welcome and inviting decor. The roaring fire helped, too.

The menu is always a good indicator of what you can expect; too large, and you sense that identity and quality could be under question. Too small and the price just went up heftily. At The Merry Monk, there’s an excellent mix of flavours and prices to suit all pockets and we dived straight in, eager to get a taste of the treacle muffin bread which accompanies all starters.

I plumped for the Truffle orzo pasta with Samphire (£8.50), topped with egg yolk and parmesan. The egg brought all the ingredients together and the dish was smoother and more moist as a result. The hints of truffle and samphire were welcome and cut through the richness of the parmesan.

My partner went for the Crispy Peking duck (£8.50), with cucumber, spring onion, hoisin, coriander & mango salad. As expected, it was a lovely self-assembly dish with pancakes which was packed with flavours and led nicely into the mains without leaving us feeling too full.

Debbie chose the Roasted Aubergine Tagliatelle (£15.50), featuring burnt onion, sautéed Girolle mushrooms, courgette and honey-glazed goat’s cheese. The flavours danced together in a perfect partnership like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

I fancied something light. I’d dined out earlier in the day at Haughley’s King’s Arms with the Bishop so the edge had gone from my usual evening hunger. So the Breast of chicken (£16.50) with crisp bacon, mushrooms, broccoli, chickpea purée and pomegranate hit the mark superbly. The chicken was done to perfection and allowed all the flavours to star in their own right, rather than having one dominant taste on the plate.

While pudding is often left on the menu, we did decide to give in to sweet tooth syndrome and the Chocolate ganache, dark chocolate, peanut butter ice cream, brownie and peanut tuile (£7.50) was a triumph of sweetness married to just enough naughtiness as to make the dish seem worth the extra calories. My other half decided on the Sticky toffee pudding, banana ice cream and salted butterscotch sauce (£6.50). Delicious from first spoon to the last, it’s indulgence on a global scale.

We weren’t rushed either – one of my pet hates – and the tables were waited on with skill and clarity by the staff. There are some decent pubs/restaurants around these days which are sitting nicely in the £15-£30 main dish cost bracket and The Merry Monk has the setting, the ambience, the food and the know how to deserve to be at the very top of that list.

The Merry Monk, 30 West Street, Isleham. Call 01638 780900 or see merry-monk.co.uk

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