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John Batchelor: This English pub food won't leave you hungry

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No one will leave this place hungry.

Marshall Free House follows an English theme, with elements of Scotland thrown in. Lots of elaborate, dark wood establishes the primary decor. Most servers, regardless of gender, wear kilts.

In addition to conventional tables and chairs, much seating is provided on long tables with benches, hosting large parties, whether they came together or not. Plates are embossed with the Marshall Free House logo.

A mixology laboratory enclosed behind the bar is equipped with exotic devices, enabling the creation of unique drinks. A huge number of beers as well as scotches are available.

Obviously, quite a bit of time and effort, as well as money, has been devoted to reimagining this space, in a high-traffic location where several other restaurants have failed.

Food comes out of the kitchen rather rapidly. Portions are huge.

Scotch Eggs are a novelty, successful in my appraisal. Boiled eggs — firm, not hard — are coated with ground sausage and panko bread crumbs and fried crisp. A light lemon aioli surrounds the presentation. An enjoyable blend of flavors and textures emerges.

In Confit Lamb Chips, the “chips” are french fries, using English parlance. They taste fresh cut, ranking in an echelon well above most of the Triad french fries wasteland. In this construction, they are soft and moist, a byproduct of the pulled lamb confit — slow-cooked, tender and deeply flavorful — that is placed over them. Melted Havarti and queso fresco cheeses complete the conception. This is served hot in a large, deep iron skillet.

Bangers and Mash are available as a first course or entree. About an inch thick, the sausage exudes a mild, albeit pleasant flavor from within very soft texture, flanked by mashed potatoes with rich brown gravy bearing a pleasant peppery kick.

My favorite entree is Pan Seared Scottish Salmon. Tender and moist, its natural flavor is enhanced with a mild mustard crust. Sliced figs and dates, orange wedges, and carrot and turnip cubes join braised Swiss chard in this complete, nutritious, balanced conception.

I feel more comfortable ordering salmon that is identified as “Scottish” as opposed to “Atlantic salmon” or salmon of undetermined origin that appears on so many area menus. I have read numerous articles that praise farming practices for Scottish salmon, as opposed to myriad issues related to sanitation and drugs, as well as artificial dyes that characterize a lot of salmon farming in other locations.

Chicken Tikka Masala occupies another deep iron skillet. Pieces of chicken convey good curry flavor, albeit not quite a match for the best I’ve had in area Indian restaurants, and come with lots of white rice and toasted pita bread.

Shepherd’s Pie hosts lots of good lamb, along with a very small quantity of green peas, interspersed with carrots, pearl onions and a little corn, all covered with a mashed potato crust, in another deep iron skillet.

In both of these, the meat is cut into bite-size pieces — appropriate — but enjoyment is undermined somewhat by a little gristle and fat that had not been trimmed away.

Cornish Pastie is a large, fairly thick pastry, exhibiting good flavor of its own, folded over minced beef, oozing with rich, oniony flavor. Those excellent french fries are placed on the side, fairly crisp in this presentation.

A flaky crust, almost 2 inches thick, covers Steak and Ale Pie. Pieces of beef are tender and richly flavored, braised in Guinness ale, along with soft-cooked potatoes, carrots, onions, and green peas.

Roasted Chicken is sprinkled with herbs, its natural flavor and tender, moist texture otherwise unmolested. The serving is about a half-chicken, cut into breast and leg sections, presented over mashed cauliflower, surrounded by chicken veloute — light brown gravy — and fresh carrots.

Desserts are not listed on the menu; servers provided a price range of $5 to $8. Neither I nor anyone else in my party had room for sweets, even after we boxed half or more of our entrees to take home.

If you like big portions, this is your place. On the other hand, the food here is heavy and starchy, a reasonable reflection of the English pub concept. Of the six entrees I tried, only one — the salmon — provided an adequate green vegetable. If you add a salad to establish a semblance of balanced nutrition, you can wind up with a pretty expensive tab.

Servers are well-informed. One commented that he had eaten everything on the menu.

If you get lost trying to navigate the beer selections, expert consultation is available. The wine list provides good selections, too, at slightly higher prices than would otherwise fit my comfort zone.

Marshall Free House is a large, ambitious venture from the Kotis restaurant group. It is interesting to observe how these concepts are expanding. The group includes Pig Pounder Brewery, which makes some of the beers on the extensive list.

John Batchelor has been reviewing restaurants for 30 years. His reviews appear the first Thursday of the month. Contact him at john.e.batchelor@gmail.com. For recent Fine Dining columns, visit www.gotriad.com and click dining. Or visit John Batchelor’s blog at www.johnbatchelordiningandtravel.blogspot.com.

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