Having not sat down in a restaurant since Eat Out to Help Out, my next meal out needed to be somewhere spectacular to make up for lost time. That’s why we chose Ego at The Hollybush, in Stockton Brook – offering a taste of the Mediterranean right here in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
The eatery is set in a beautifully restored early 20th century pub between Leek and Hanley, so in the perfect location for rural and city dwellers alike. We booked a table for five on Sunday morning at 11am for an early lunch, and were seated in their outdoor patio area. The terrace is like a conservatory, but with the roof rolled back and all of the floor-to-ceiling windows open, so as to comply with current Covid-19 guidelines. It was the perfect little suntrap complete with artificial grass, and despite being outdoors, still provided good shelter from the breeze. It felt very luxe, like a rooftop bar in an inner-city venue, with the peace and quiet of the countryside.
As I was driving, I opted for their two for £6 mocktails. I went for an Apple and Elderflower fizz first, which was elderflower cordial topped with apple juice and lemonade. By the end of the meal, I’d also tried the Tropical Punch – a tarty passionfruit puree with orange and pineapple juice – as well as a virgin mojito, so lime juice, soda, mint and apple juice. All three were really refreshing and easy to drink, but I think the Apple and Elderflower fizz was my favourite, as it’s something I would make at home – with gin, of course. I’m very much looking forward to returning one weekend to try their cocktail menu. Their alcoholic cocktails are two for £12, which is ideal for a girls day out! Their Lemon Drizzle cocktail sounds to-die-for, and I’m very intrigued by the Queen Bee sour.
The food menu is packed full of flavours from France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco. There’s plenty of choice for vegetarians and vegans, and seems a good selection of gluten free food, too. I ordered the breaded camembert starter, which featured three large camembert wedges served with mixed leaves and a cranberry compote. The wedges were huge and as you cut into them, camembert just oozed out. The dish costs £6.65, and if you were having a girls day out, you could quite happily order a bunch of starters to pick at. Mum, dad and my brother all had the Grilled Goat’s Cheese on toasted brioche with aged balsamic, caramelised red onions and beetroot chutney, which looked delicious, and Mel opted for the Calamari Fritti, which was a number of paprika floured squid rings, aioli and fresh lemon.
Having purveyed the menu on more than one occasion in the week running up to our visit, I had changed my mind from stonebaked pizza to fresh carbonara more times than I care to remember. I was swayed by their Sunday Roast menu, but following a recommendation from my brother and his girlfriend, I settled on the piri-piri chicken and chorizo kebab. Priced at £16.95, it came skewered with red onion, courgette and mixed peppers, served with a salad, tzatziki, tomato salsa and tortillas. I also ordered a portion of skin on fires, and a side of halloumi for a maximum flavour combination.
The portion sizes are very generous, and we all struggled to finish our meals. The kebab is a foot long and packed with flavour and a spicy kick, and the sauce that drips off onto the plate is perfect for mopping up with chips. The tortillas came in their own little box to keep them warm, and contained four wraps – though I only ate one, as my meal would have otherwise been incredibly carb-heavy. Everything was really thoughtfully served, paying attention to colours and textures – and the plates that everything was served on were beautiful – albeit lacking a Potteries backstamp!
The atmosphere was lovely, and although we were there from 11am to 1pm, it never felt too busy. It’s an incredibly popular venue, but due to their booking system and large amount of outdoor seating, it didn’t feel at all crammed – and we found it easy to park up in two separate cars. All of the tables are very well spaced, with a sanitising station on entry, all staff wearing masks and a QR code to check in via Test and Trace. I can often get frustrated in pubs and bars when there’s too much going on around me – even in pre-Covid times – but I barely even noticed other diners, so I felt very comfortable.
I desperately wished I’d saved room for dessert, having seen someone’s triple chocolate brownie head to their table looking and smelling delicious. The Sicilian Lemon Tart with Chantilly cream and raspberry coulis would definitely have my heart.
As my mum is signed up to the Ego Club – the brand’s loyalty scheme – we were able to bag 20% off the food. For five people, the food bill worked out around £24 each, with drinks paid for separately – there are many ways you could order in line with your own budget if you wanted to opt for lower-priced menu items, or order regular soft drinks – or go all out for a special occasion with a three course a la carte meal.
The Ego Club offers members exclusive deals and promotions, including 20% off all a la carte starters, mains and desserts Sunday to Friday, a free three course meal on your birthday, and a free bottle of Prosecco on your anniversary. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to sign up ahead of the day, as vouchers are sent the day after signing up online.
This was my first time dining at Ego at The Hollybush, and I’m already planning a date night with Jake, as we never got to celebrate our five year anniversary due to Covid. The food was so tasty, and really generously portioned, the drinks were delicious and it really felt like the start of summer and the return of some normality after a challenging year. The atmosphere was homely and welcoming, with attentive staff who were clearly very busy, but didn’t mind giving us extra time to look at the menu, and brought food and drinks out swiftly.