Some Farrow & Ball paint and stripped floorboards do not a gastropub make. What’s needed is affordable and location-appropriate food, served with a smile. And The Falcon Inn in Poulton offers just that and more, says LAURA ROWE
While going to the local pub used to be highly predictable – a pint of lager and a pack of crisps – the new breed of gastropub can be just as formulaic. Flock carpets and dark wood panelling was once the order of the day, and nowadays it’s just as easy to predict the look and feel of a typical Cotswold inn.
There will inevitably be a classically muted colour palette, tactile wooden tables, battered leather chairs, stripped back floorboards, exposed beams, blackboards and, if you’re really lucky, an inglenook fireplace and a wood burner or two to snuggle up to in the winter. But though a quick refurb of a tired old pub is nice enough, it by no means transforms it into the sort of multipurpose venue you want to kick back in on Sunday with the papers and a pint, or stop by at for a quick midweek meal when you can’t be bothered to wash up.
A proper modern gastropub needs to serve real ales alongside elegant wines. It needs to have classic pub fare as well as quirky seasonal meals. And it needs to retain that sense of community spirit and friendly service that made public houses such institutions in the first place.
Lucky, then, that The Falcon Inn in Poulton has finally addressed the problem after a rocky few years under various different owners. Current incumbants, former journalist Natalie Birch and Australian husband and chef Gianni Gray, took over the pub back in 2010 from Enterprise Inns. It had been shut for nearly 18 months, and the pair immediately gave it the necessary Cotswold pub uniform, as well as added a garden.
But Gianni also revitalised the menu. Having moved from the York & Albany in Camden – under the guidance of Gordon Ramsay protégé, Angela Hartnett – and another gastropub in Greenwich to spend more time with daughter Isabelle, he clearly had good background for this latest venture.
There’s a solid mix here of family favourites – such as real-ale battered fish of the day with triple-cooked chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce (for a bargain £12), the Falcon burger (£10.50) and three types of local steaks (bavette, rump and rib-eye from £12-£19.50) – and more fancy, worldly dishes. These include Gressingham duck served three ways (roasted breast, confit leg and crispy rillette for £17.50), and a squid ink linguine with seared squid, cherry tomatoes and gremolata (£12.50). There’s also a choice between a la carte and a set lunchtime menu of two courses for £12.50 or three for £14.50, plus a selection of gourmet sandwiches all around the fiver mark.
We started with a gazpacho (£5) and slate of home-cured salmon (£6.50). The chilled soup tasted like summer, with fresh, clean salad flavours: tomato, cucumber, peppers and an aromatic hit of basil oil. Not too pungent or overly garlicky, and just the right light, smooth texture, it showed why soup can be such a good option.
The salmon had been cured with beetroot, and so was a shade of deep cerise. Served on a slate with beetroot dice, a mini dill scone and crème fraîche, it had all the right textures, colours and flavours. Now that’s true skill, the ability to pull of something seemingly so simple, so well.
A main course of Indonesian beef rendang (£12.50) was an impressive take on the traditional curry, with huge hunks of slow-cooked beef in a gently rich, aromatic, sticky gravy; the meat naturally shredded with only the threat of a fork. Jasmine rice provided a sticky sponge for any juices, while a cucumber and herb salad refreshed the palate.
I’d opted for the chargrilled quail marinated in harissa and Moroccan spices (£12.50). I have genuinely never tasted the bird so tender – the hot and sweet spices perfectly balancing with the subtly gamey flavour of the meat. The soft cous cous was studded with a colourful and crunchy mix of veggies, including tomatoes, courgettes, raisins and herbs, while a rich tomato and aubergine compote rounded the dish off nicely. This is a something I will be shameless attempting to replicate at home: “Yes, darling, all my own recipe…”
Puddings are just as tempting, and even the warning of a 12-minute wait for the freshly cooked chocolate fondant (£6), with bittersweet shards of golden honeycomb and real pistachio ice cream, wasn’t enough to put us off. The honey and camomile poached apricots (£6) was similarly delicious, with meringue biscuits, blanched almonds, a zingy apricot purée and suitably wibbly wobbly almond panna cotta.
The Falcon Inn might not have rewritten the rulebook when it comes to Cotswold gastropubs, but it is playing by all the rules that matter. Good food and drink at good prices: that’s what pubs are all about, right?
THE FALCON INN, London Road, Poulton, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5HN; 01285 850878