The small cathedral city of Lichfield may not be somewhere you’d particularly associate with fine dining, but it only takes one exceptional restaurant to put somewhere on the culinary map. In the case of Lichfield, that place is The Boat Inn.
Chef and owner Liam Dillon originally opened the roadside gastropub in 2017, having previously worked in renowned kitchens including MARCUS at The Berkeley. However, when 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown forced the restaurant to close, Dillon took the decision to gut the pub and completely revamp the interiors. The result? A complete lockdown glow-up.
Flaming torches guide you towards the entrance, immediately instilling an appropriate sense of occasion on arrival. Once inside, a vast open kitchen looks out over the whole dining room, allowing guests to catch a glimpse of the skilful chefs in action from their tables. The ultra-chic new décor beautifully balances grand, silver ornament-lined feature walls and avant-garde artworks, with some more homely touches, such as footstools alongside every table.
The fact is though, however impressive the refurb, nothing can distract from The Boat Inn’s exquisite food. Offering an à la carte or a choice of tasting menus, Dillon’s ingredient-led dishes ooze elegance and sparkle with know-how. Perfectly cooked salmon came sat in a shallow puddle of rich crab bisque, topped with lightly smoked eel and pickled grapes, and finished with crumbled nuts to complete the textural wizardry. Elsewhere, a playful open quail ravioli dish saw the pasta-wrapped pink flesh surrounded by a delicate mousse, with the addition of a crispy leg and smooth celeriac purée providing an extra umami kick.
To say that the best was saved until last would be doing a great disservice to the rest of the meal, but we were particularly taken with the rich chocolate cake-cum-sandwich. Coming artfully presented so that each individual layer was visible, the simple addition of three mint leaves played beautifully off the deep chocolatey flavour, while the accompanying quenelle of caramel ice cream left us wanting to lick the plate clean.
Having opted for the drinks pairing, wines were both cleverly and thoughtfully matched to each dish by our charming sommelier. A particular highlight was the Clos Ventas Terrasses du Larzac - an organic wine exclusively available at The Boat Inn within the UK. A number of tempting cocktails can also be enjoyed either pre- or post-food, with some house specials on offer too.
There’s no doubt that The Boat Inn is a destination restaurant, so wait to book at your own risk because before you know it, there’ll be a significant queue for reservations. If you do decide to visit, we’d also highly recommend staying at the nearby Grade II-listed St John’s House boutique B&B for a luxurious night’s sleep after your meal.