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Castle House

Location: Castle House hotel, Hereford. Near the cathedral.

We came for a leisurely dinner and didn't get off to the best start. We were set enough on leisurely that we started at the bar, for pre-dinner drinks and loitering. The menus had barely arrived before someone first tried to take our orders. The nibbles were plated elegantly, but not intelligently, with the crisps prone to migrating out of reach underneath the dish containing olives and nuts. In the heart of cider land, the bar only stocked Westons.

Our drinks followed us to the table, since we were seated before we finished them. There, a selection of bread arrived - but no introductions to their variety were given - and immediately after, our starters. Mine was a homey, beautifully-balanced pear and celeriac soup, sided with a dull little herb scone. C's was all good looks and general disappointment; dry pork belly, bland layers of apple, adequate black pudding, plus slate is much easier to deal with as a dish for finger food than anything requiring cutting, or where edges would be convenient.

In retrospect, we should have tried beef variants for our mains, as I now know that's the restaurant's specialty; but neither menu or our uninformative waitstaff told us so, and we'd both had beef for lunch. The lamb dishes were okay; the meat itself was excellent, if not cooked into the tenderness I'd have liked. The carefully-layered potato was very much over-salted.

By this point in the meal, we were both seriously questioning the Good Food Guide rating as being overblown, a rare point of major disagreement for us with it. But then there was dessert.

One dessert between us, one more chance for the kitchen to redeem itself. And oh, did it ever. This dessert was sublime, exciting, a thrill for my tastebuds. The coconut pannacotta arrived as two thick semi-circles of dense, creamy pannacotta, rolled in toasted, shredded coconut. It came with mango sorbet, which was topped with what tasted like essence of mango, an intense, delicately-thin, transparent layer of chewy mangoness. In between were two tiny little marshmallows, passionfruit-flavored and topped with sesame seeds. That doesn't sound like much, but they were amazing, even better than the rest of the dish, hits of flavorsome intensity which we divided into smaller and smaller pieces to make it last.

So that was dinner. Our would-be leisurely dinner took about an hour-and-a-half of efficiency. A perfectly pleasant, be-linened dining room, a spectacular dessert after a lackluster dinner, haphazardly-functional plating, and staff going through all the right motions but without nuance or brain engaged. I blame the management and their training, not the young staff members personally.

Currently, I'd go back for dessert. I'd be willing to consider beef. But for anything else, I'd be interested in seeing what else there Herefordshire area had to offer instead.