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Church salvation is historic and gastronomic

Review: The Church, 67-83 Bridge Street, Northampton, NN1 1PD. Tel: 01604 603800

Penda remembers when the church on the island at the bottom of Bridge Street was pretty much abandoned.

It seemed desperately disappointing that this ancient building was neglected and invisible, broken by fire and vandalism, yet right in the centre of the town.

A survivor of over 800 years of history, the Church, or Hospital of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, really must have seen some things. From the days when King Stephen was on the throne fighting with Matilda, through the bloody Battle of Northampton, Henry VIII’s reformation, right through to becoming part of Northampton’s long since closed St John’s station buildings and then a Catholic Church,

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When Northampton’s Richardson family stepped in to save it, buying the site in the late 1990s, it wasn’t without opposition. Should a religious building be used to sell alcohol? Considering, as so often with the county’s ancient heritage, the lack of commitment or cash from anywhere else, permission was rightly granted. A determined refurbishment project began and by the mid 2000s, the Church was reborn.

It is a fantastic building, retaining many of the original features but with a modern staircase and mezzanine as a striking feature. This is where we opted to sit when a group of eight of us dined one Friday evening.

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The last time we visited, not long after it opened, it seemed far stiffer, perhaps over-formal. Posh food for posh folk, not for the likes of us.

Now it’s far more welcoming, with a young chef and manager and a decent al a carte menu as well as seasonal specials. You can also order a fully vegan menu, with a couple of days notice.

We chose starters – soups – chicken and mushroom with a delicious bacon crisp on top, and a beautifully light crab salad with smoky sauce. A Thai fish-cake on the specials was the only one which wasn’t perfect – as it could have been crispier on the outside. Still delicious though.

Our mains included a spiced Moroccan lamb burger in foccacia, pork three ways , posh cod and chips and an amazing fillet steak. The presentation was excellent, and most importantly, the flavours were too. They had no problem, either, with whipping up a couple of plates of fresh chicken and chips for two less adventurous junior diners.

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We shouldn’t have had puddings, but the chef’s ‘blue macaroons’, as they were too hard to resist. There’s a very reasonably priced wine list and the ubiquitous fancy gin menu, making the most of the locally distilled Warner Edwards varieties.

There is good disabled access, if you can opt to stay on terra firm rather than upstairs. The loos are modern and clean, though Penda’s picky eye would rather not have had mops and buckets on display on the way to use the facilities. It wasn’t quite in keeping with the rest of the aesthetics.

Our bill is difficult to summarise, as we split between two families. But you’re looking at an average of £5-8 for a starter, £10-20 for a main course, except for that amazing fillet steak, and around £6 for desserts, which is pretty much standard now in the gastropub era.

There is something odd, even in these more secular times, about ordering from a bar beneath a huge stained glass window of the Crucifixion. But hey, this building was in ruins.

Indeed, it has been resurrected.

NQ Penda

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