At a time when the words ‘locally sourced’ are as fashionable to the food world as windowpane checks and origami skirts (we’re not quite sure what they are either) are to the catwalks, it’s refreshing to see a pub that takes the ethos seriously, says LAURA ROWE
Pubs aren’t quite what they used to be, are they? Much like the maligned British high street, the traditional boozer has become a homogenized institution of late where – though quality is certainly up on what it used to be – things can all get rather samey. Even at the very best gastropub, you’re more than likely to be presented with a strict uniform of sanded-downwooden tables and obligatory ‘crushed, minted petit pois’.
So what makes a pub really special? Perhaps a historical founding in the local community? Period features? Real ales and a menu that celebrates the area? The Ebrington Arms on the outskirts of Chipping Campden ticks all of these boxes and then some.
It was originally built in the 1600s as a large house or farm building, but centuries of locals have known it as a public house. William Kyte was the first registered landlord in 1717, and it remained in his family for 200 years – even though he was once given a rollicking by the local authorities for keeping a “disorderly alehouse”.
But it’s also served the community in other ways, too. Before the war, in 1933, one side of the pub became a butcher’s – and you can still see the original meat hooks hanging from the ceiling in the dining room today. Meanwhile, in the first dining room, the inglenook fireplace and bread ovens suggest it doubled as bakery.
Nowadays, though, the pub is owned by Jim and Claire Alexander, who left careers in the music business to live the dream in 2007. They’ve renovated the place, created five boutique B&B rooms above the pub, and reinstalled a true sense of locality, with the help of GM Jean-Marc Delys and Evesham-born head chef Darral Warner. They aren’t ‘local’ to be trendy – it’s an ethos that runs through every vein of the business.
The menu is changed every two months with the seasons. There’s a blackboard of pub classics and blinkand- you’ll-miss-it dishes. And, if you venture onto the website, there is even a map showing where everything is sourced from, with biographies of the suppliers – from the Drinkwater family in Ebrington, who supply all the veg (including asparagus from the very fields surrounding the pub) to Martin’s Meat in Toddington, which provides the beef and Old Spot and Middle White pork. There are six real ales on tap (four permanent localales and two guest ales from other UK suppliers) and you’ll find no Carlsberg here – instead an English lager called Freedom from Staffordshire. Even the wine list has been carefully considered – it’s strictly Old World, to keep ‘wine miles’ to a minimum, and 95% of the list is either biodynamic, organic, naturally produced or made by small producers.
There’s also a weekly Sunday social with comedy and live music, a monthly pub quiz, themed food nights and, by all accounts, they also do a cracking afternoon tea. It’s no wonder they’ve been named CAMRA North Cotswold pub of the year – for three successive years! – and have bagged themselves two AA Rosettes.
We started with a selection of bread, which is homemade, naturally, and oil (£2.75), before getting stuck into a starter of confit duck and foie gras croquettes (£6.50). A golden crumb protected tender shreds of duck, while fresh slices of orange provided a fresh tang to proceedings; it was rounded off nicely with a savoury caramelised orange and rosemary sauce.
A veggie main of broccoli and Colston Bassett blue cheese soufflé (£12) was a lesson in balancing textures and flavours on plate. The soufflé itself was light and yet packed with flavour, the florets of broccoli had been fried in a deliciously crisp tempura batter, while candied walnuts provided a sweet crunch against the salty cheese.
A slab of pan-roasted lamb leg steak (£17) suffered the fate of being an uneven cut – one side was overdone, while the other blushed beautifully. The flavour couldn’t be faulted though. Parmentier potatoes were made extra moreish with the addition of a caper butter and fresh parsley, but a courgette ‘pesto’ was a little bland for me.
Puds, however, were masterful. A chocolate and raspberry tart (£6) contained the smoothest, darkest, glossiest ganache, and hid gems of sharp bursting raspberries, while a caramel panna cotta (£6) shook “like a polaroid picture” and had cheeky rubbles of honeycomb, poached apple and a drizzle of caramel.
The Ebrington Arms is everything a proper country pub should be. In every sense it is at the heart of its community. It serves local drinks, good-value local food and is run by staff who care about what they do. That’s worth a celebratory pint or two, surely?
THE EBRINGTON ARMS, Ebrington, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6NH; 01386 593223; www.theebringtonarms.co.uk