Turn the clock back to 12 months ago and I was getting excited about the launch of a new burger place opening in Worcester city centre. Sampson’s had opened its first restaurant kitchen, trading from inside of The Conservatory Bar on Friar Street. This seemed like an exciting move for Carl who had been flipping burgers from his roadside van up to this point in his career. After several months the new venture didn’t work out for the two businesses and they parted at the end of March 2018. I interviewed Carl about what happened and why he decided to leave The Conservatory and move Sampson’s to The Old Pheasant on New Street. You can read all about this story here.
We dined twice at The Conservatory whilst Sampson’s was there, and although I loved the food, as a diner I did find the noise levels from the bar a little irritating and it also wasn’t very clear as to where you were meant to order your food with the two businesses being separate – Carl agreed. At the time, customers were meant to order food from the kitchen counter and their drinks from the bar, and quite honestly it was a little confusing. Shortly after the announcement of Sampson’s departure, there was news of two new chefs taking on the kitchen in The Conservatory. From my previous experiences I didn’t feel the urge to rush straight down there, until an email popped into my inbox from one of the chef / owners, Tom.
Tom told me that he and his business partner, James had been friends since primary school, were both chefs who’d worked in the Worcestershire area for over 12 years, and the two of them had joined forces after deciding to go into business together. I loved the story and the ethos that Tom described to me about their food. He explained that the two of them love cooking from scratch, and that at TJ’s Kitchen they try to have as much of the menu being freshly cooked to order as possible. They also work to support the local community where they can, which is something that’s very close to my own heart. I was now hooked and really wanted to see what these guys were bringing to the Worcester food scene.
We couldn’t make it along straight away as we had a foodie trip planned on the South West coast for my birthday, so we got booked in on our return. In the meantime I was putting together an article about where to find the best vegan food in Worcester city centre, and so I got in touch with Tom again to find out if their menu catered for vegans. It turns out that not only do they offer a vegan burger (falafel patty with pulled BBQ jackfruit, gem lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion, served with seasoned fries, salad and a homemade vegan slaw), but their soup of the day is always vegan. They can also adapt various dishes on their menu to be vegan friendly and they often have vegan specials available on the weekends.
Now I’m very much a meat eater so when we arrived on Tuesday evening for dinner, Mr R and I were very pleased to see plenty of meaty options available on the menu too. We walked towards the dining area and noticed the signage on the walls making it clear that the seating was to be used by diners only. At the table instructions at the top of the menu stated that all food and drink was to be ordered at the bar, this was also written on the chalk board at the kitchen counter. Tom had invited us this evening so he came out to introduce himself before we took some time to look over the menu.
I was quite proud of Mr R as he managed to narrow the starter choices down to 5 out of the 8 listed, but we probably weren’t going to manage that may, especially as I was meant to be on a serious diet! Luckily I had been swimming earlier that day and had a long walk with the dog so had earned myself a few extra calories to play with. We couldn’t resist trying the Mac balls (£4.50) and satay chicken skewers (£5) to start. The macaroni cheese balls had definitely been homemade and came served with a tangy tomato sauce. They were large in size, non greasy and actually seemed weirdly healthy for Mac balls. We loved them! The chicken skewers had been chargrilled and the meat remained juicy and tender. The sauce was a combination of satay and oriental flavours, and came served with a simple mixed salad and dressing. There were no complaints at all from us, so far the food was really very good.
Although the issue of knowing where to order food and making it easier to order both food and drinks from the same place was resolved, there was still a lot of noise coming from the bar. We thought it may have been quieter on a Tuesday night, and although the bar wasn’t full the customers seemed to want to be heard. It’s just worth noting that if you’re booking in for dinner here, it is an adult bar and restaurant in the evening so it may not be the best choice if you’re looking for a quiet and intimate place. Having said that it is a bar and the food menu works alongside this very well with its classic pub style food offer.
Moving on to main courses and trying to be a little conscious of my diet, I decided to order the chilli con carne (£8.95). This was a brave move for me since I have a reputation for cooking a seriously good chilli con carne myself, and I was even once referred to as ‘chilli chef’. A very generous portion of chilli arrived with homemade nachos, some citrus & coriander rice and side pots of salsa and sour cream. As I tried a couple of mouthfuls a smile appeared on my face. This was a damn good chilli and one that rivalled my own – even if I do say so myself. The meat was lean and finely ground, it was full of flavour and had the perfect level of heat. It may be a little too hot for some, but for me this was exactly as a chilli should be. The homemade nachos were spot on and the rice was both fresh and fragrant. Everything that Tom had told me about his food was absolutely true and I was very happy indeed.
Mr R had ordered the Xim Xim (£10.95), TJ’s signature dish inspired by something similar that Tom had created when he had been working at Bodega Cantina, Worcester. Now that’s where I’d had those nachos before! Xim Xim is a Brazilian dish is a very popular choice with TJ’s customers according to Tom. It’s made with chicken, prawns, peppers, onions, chilli & garlic and has a rich creamy peanut butter sauce. This dish is also served with rice and nachos. Peanut butter is just about my favourite thing on the planet, but I know it’s not for everyone. I tried some of the Xim Xim and actually the peanut flavour isn’t too strong. It also had a bit of a chilli kick (not as hot as the chilli con carne), and apart from being just a little on the rich side for us both with the cream, it was delicious and something you really must try. Now TJ’s portion sizes are pretty huge so we were quite full, however I’d seen pictures of some of their desserts on Instagram and I wasn’t leaving before seeing one in the flesh. We were swayed by the sticky brownie waffles (£5), being as the waffles were homemade and came smothered with chocolate & caramel sauce as well as a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You don’t need me to tell you this was an awesome dessert – Just look at the picture….
There’s loads of other stuff we’d like to go back and try at TJ’s too. I really want to check out their burger, especially after hearing Tom talking to John Motson on BBC Hereford & Worcester back in May about ‘The Great Burger Debate: Fresh vs Frozen?’. We spent some time after dinner talking to Tom about his radio experience and had some foodie chat with him and his girlfriend Lucy. We didn’t get to meet James, the other half of the duo this time, as they only tend to work together on the busier nights of the week. We were delighted to see yet another independent restaurant open in Worcester city centre this year, especially one with such a great offer of homemade pub classics with a modern twist and very fair prices. Best of luck guys with the venture – see you again soon.
Cost: £34.40 (food only)
2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert
Worcester, Worcestershire, United Kingdom – last visited in June 2018
Food hygiene rating – 4/5 good – date of last inspection 6th March 2017
*Although our food was complimentary on this particular visit (we paid for our drinks in full), as ever my words and photos are my own. Thank you again to Tom, James and Lucy at TJ’s Kitchen for hosting us and making us feel very welcome.