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Friday 9 January 2015

Four fabulous English country pubs that are well worth a detour

There is nothing more quintessentially English than a pint or two of bitter, some rustic grub and a game of darts in a country pub. Here are a few of my favourites: 

Clipsham, a tiny hamlet in the small county of Rutland, has maybe two dozen houses surrounded by rolling countryside populated largely by pheasants but the one pub - The Olive Branch - attracts visitors from around the country. 

They mingle happily with villagers, who are pleased that their “local”, which was closed for several years, is back in operation.

The Olive Branch (above) was originally three labourers’ cottages, which were joined together in 1890. It was renovated and revitalised in 1999 and accommodation across the road at Beech House was added in 2006 - with open fires, antique furnishings, Egyptian cotton sheets and power showers offering urban chic in rural surrounds.

The Olive Branch has a Michelin hat for its food but it is also very much a local hangout, with villagers enjoying roasted chestnuts and a log fire in winter and a beer garden in summer.

Chef Sean Hope’s menu combines gourmet pub grub with fine dining.

Think dishes like pan-fried fillets of red mullet with herb polenta and tempura vegetables; or game casserole with buttered mash and roasted root vegetables. Throw in apple pie with clotted cream or quince and mascarpone tart and you have a feast.

There is also a blackboard menu that changes daily; a wine list that flits from France and Italy to South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina to more familiar offerings from Tasmania to McLaren Vale with over a dozen available by the glass; seasonal drinks like sloe gin, damson vodka and mulled wine, as well as locally brewed real ales and farmhouse bottled ciders.

Known as the childhood home of writer George Orwell, the delightful Suffolk seaside resort of Southwold is the base of Adnams, brewers of traditional ales, and in more recent years wine merchants of renown.

Adnams own and operate several local pubs with The Crown and The Swan vying for supremacy. I opted for the 350-year-old The Swan (below), which is endearingly old fashioned and has a warm bar, a traditional al a carte menu and 42 rooms, which are being refurbished.

The menu features dishes like roulade of Dingley Dell pork shoulder, or roast sea bass with Jerusalem artichoke, mussels, fondant potato, ceps and truffle oil and there is an excellent selection of Adnams’ ales on tap. The Old Ale was named champion beer of East Anglia, with Explorer finishing third.

The next county further north is Norfolk – and the North Norfolk coastline boasts undisturbed beaches, small seaside resorts and coastal walks. It’s dotted with fishing villages and traditional pubs.

Titchwell Manor, dating back to 1896, is a boutique hotel cum pub with just 27 rooms and a superb on-site restaurant that has become a gourmet destination thanks to chef Eric Snaith’s modern English menus.

Dishes like partridge breast and leg with fruit and nut bulgar wheat and red cabbage, or maybe halibut with cauliflower, white chocolate, caviar, couscous and hazelnut are stunning and while self-saucing fishcake with caviar, lemon and dill or fillet of wild sea bass with mussels, bacon, fingerling potatoes and wild mushrooms are more mainstream, everything is very stylish.

All main courses are affordable and there is an excellent wine list along with several local ales.

Known for its many 17th-century stone buildings, the market town of Stamford in Lincolnshire is home to the William Cecil Hotel (right), reopened a couple of years ago after a complete refurbishment.

There’s a very welcoming bar, some extremely comfortable rooms and the relaxed restaurant features local and seasonal produce. Think dishes like venison Scotch egg, dandelion salad, radish and English mustard, or pan-fried halibut with persilade potatoes.

Or, of course, you could just pop in for a quick half pint.


The Olive Branch, Main Street, Clipsham, Rutland. +44 1780

The Swan Hotel, Market Place, Southwold, Suffolk. +44 1502 727256.

Titchwell Manor, Titchwell, near Brancaster, Norfolk. +44 1485 210221.

William Cecil, High Street, St Martins, Stamford, Lincolnshire. +44 1780

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