SOPHIE RAE heads into the capital of the Cotswolds for a pub lunch with a side of provenance. Just don’t ask her to share her chips
Take a short stroll through Cirencester’s market place, or get drawn down one of its cobbled backstreets, and you’ll soon come across the historic Black Jack Street. Even its name is appealing. (Who doesn’t remember digging through a bag of those retro aniseed beauties to fight for the last Fruit Salad?)
But this unassuming thoroughfare, lying in the shadows of the towering Abbey, is actually the home to many a foodie establishment. Whether you’re dropping by Jack’s café for a colossal wedge of chocolate cake, popping into Jessie Smith’s Butchers for a slab of well- hung beef, or taking ten to sip a pint of local ale in the nook of some nearby watering hole, no visit would be complete without a breather in The Golden Cross Inn.
The Arkell Brewery-owned, early 18th century coaching inn has been under the supervision of landlord Mark Lindesay since 2009 and, together with head chef Justin Ashley (previously of The Twelve Bells), he’s found a new crowd of discerning diners.
A collection of ‘from the land’ dishes offers a roasted chump of Gatcombe Park lamb, a 28-day aged 12oz Butt’s Farm rump steak and roll call of local tucker from nearby producers. Eggs come from the free-range birds of Sherston Farm, and you can thank those cheeky chappies of Hobbs House Bakery for all the delicious bread. Still with me? Good, because there’s more. Only last month Justin was nominated for the Chef of the Year award at a local ceremony and, in May, Mark and his team were awarded Cask Marque accreditation for the quality of its beer. Then there’s Franklin, the friendly in-house pooch.
Bar manager Ollie tells me the old skittle alley out the back has been refurbished too, and is now rebranded as The Stable Bar – a multi-purpose function room and sports bar. (There was even a wedding catered for on the weekend before our visit.) Now, the words ‘sports bar’ do very little to tempt me into any establishment, no matter how pretty. But, thankfully, the menus here are far from just an afterthought.
Even on a sunny Wednesday lunchtime visit, the exposed beams, solid oak bar and log fire ticked all the Cotswold charm boxes required, and we were soon joining in with the gentle murmur of fellow diners.
There’re no starters as such: olives, artisan breads or a half-pint of whitebait were offered as appetizers, but I did spot a pâté du jour and a chef’s soup of the day under the ‘light plates’ heading. Living up to my indecisive rep when dining out, I waited for the mounting pressure of Ollie patiently ready to take our order before I whittled my choice down to three possible options. Would it be bubble ’n’ squeak, woodland melt sandwich (garlic mushrooms with white wine and Emmental cheese) or moules frites? Dear reader, the look on my face now I as recall the pain of deciding is almost too much to bear.
Thankfully, my trusty companion – who was far too famished to deal with my grating hesitation – chose for me. Moules (£10.75) it was. Fresh from the Teign Valley and cooked ‘a la black jacques’ with white wine, shallots, tarragon and cream, each plump mussel was demolished, leaving a clattering mound of shells, in a matter of minutes. Impressive even for me. My frites were waiting as willing mopper-uppers, though a few were held back to star in that most comforting of culinary triumphs – the makeshift chip buttie.
My ravenous cohort opted for the pulled pork slider (£13.75), served with triple-cooked chips and coleslaw. The Jenga-like wedges were magnificent: satisfyingly crisp skin, but with a fluffy interior. All good so far. We both felt the pork didn’t yield quite as much as it should have done, but there was no doubt that the Hobbs House bun was stacked high, and the zesty barbecue sauce was damn tasty. The accompanying salad provided refreshing greenery, but was a little dull too, and the coleslaw was lacking the colour and crunch that has now become so de rigeur in trendy dude food joints. A few tweaks and this dish could be just right.
Desserts, though, were cracking. We tried a creamy New York cheesecake with raspberry coulis (£5.75) and chocolate mousse with a biscuit base (£5.75), and both plates satisfied our afternoon sweet cravings. I even managed to get a scoop of Winstones chocolate fudge brownie ice cream to seal the deal.
Mark and his team are clearly passionate about keeping things local – and why wouldn’t they be, with such great local produce around? In fact, this is a local pub in every sense: a hub for the community, with low food miles and proper ale on tap. Cheers to that!
✱ The Golden Cross Inn, 20 Black Jack street, Cirencester Gl7 2AA; 01285 652137