Many Prestonians wouldn’t dream of trying a new restaurant without first consulting TripAdvisor- the world’s largest customer review website for hotels and restaurants.Advertisement
But how easy is it to propel a restaurant to the top or bottom of TripAdvisor’s list of local restaurants? And is a website that frequently fails to ensure that the reviews are truthful, genuine and fair really the most reliable source?
Over the next several weeks Blog Preston will be visiting a selection of the city’s highest and lowest-rated restaurants as defined by TripAdvisor, to see if we agree.
Cafes, takeaways and restaurants with less than ten reviews are not included in this series.
My first visit was to The Mad Hunter in St.Michael’s near Garstang; a restaurant serving, “fusion cuisine combining elements of different culinary traditions.” Described in TripAdvisor reviews as, “amazing, lovely and unique,” the menu is predominantly influenced by the food of South Africa. It is the top rated restaurant in Preston, with 175 out of 200 reviewers awarding it the highest score possible.
Entering the restaurant past a decked dining area, my excited 73 year old mother Yvonne and I were greeted by a friendly waitress who took us to a table in a surprisingly small but well decorated and airy dining area. We were promptly given the menu and wine list and asked if we’d like some water with ice and lemon, which was brought to the table and poured.
The wine list had plenty of variety, but I ordered a 250ml glass of the house white at £6.50; a lovely light Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
All of the choices in the menu sounded delicious, but eventually I decided on “Biltong Spiced Kangaroo Tartare,” at £8.95 to start, and as a main we shared the £ 22.95 “South African Tasting Board.”
When my starter arrived I got a fleeting glimpse of beautifully presented, raw kangaroo with slivers of radish, a quail egg, tiny toast soldiers and an apricot aioli before Yvonne was in with her fork, smashing disrespectfully at the infrastructure like it was a Fray Bentos pie. Though horrified I managed to shoo her away and reassemble the set-up for a photo.
I had never tried kangaroo before and expected the meat to be quite chewy and gamey, but instead it had a surprisingly delicate, smokey taste that went beautifully with the apricot aioli, and a texture almost like raw tuna steak.
The plates were cleared quickly and a bowl of hot water was brought to the table, closely followed by the tasting board. This time I managed to block Yvonne’s incoming fork with my forearm and she briefly retreated a centimeter, allowing me to snap another quick photo.
First I tried the boar bobotie spring rolls; crispy meat and egg filled pastries flavoured with earthy spices like cumin and ginger to compliment the strong taste of boar.
Next was a lamb and pineapple kebab, cooked and mildly seasoned in a way that allowed the lamb to be the dominant flavour.
Yvonne went straight for the barbecue beef ribs, announcing that the meat “just falls off the bone.” This wasn’t an exaggeration as when I tried to take the first tentative bite the entire sticky, smoky meat of the rib came with it. It was incredibly messy, but tasted so good that I found myself briefly closing my eyes like a woman in a chocolate advert, except older and greasier.
I was full halfway through the lamb kebab and sweet potato fries, but Yvonne finished it off for me with the disconcerting ability of tiny 70 year old ladies everywhere to eat several times their own weight in one sitting.
We asked for the bill without ordering a dessert, though the menu had tempting classics like salted caramel tart and chocolate and strawberry cheesecake, as well as the more unfamiliar South African malva pudding. The total bill for a large glass of wine, one starter and a tasting platter came £38, excluding tips.
The Mad Hunter has comfy seating and a welcoming dining space. It’s perfectly lit, spotlessly clean, wheelchair friendly and has a chef and owner who clearly put their heart into their business.
What really stood out however, is the fabulous and unusual food and the impeccable service by Hannah and James; two young, unexpectedly unflappable waiters who appeared to be managing the whole front of house service alone whilst the owner was away.
The Mad Hunter in my opinion absolutely deserves to occupy a place at the top of TripAdvisor’s most highly rated restaurants in Preston.