A thoroughly British pub, in a pleasingly modern, foodish way – welcome to Broughton Gifford’s shining star, says LAURA ROWE
I don’t really need to bother introducing The Fox at Broughton Gifford because, chances are, if you’ve even the slightest interest in food, you’ll have heard of it before.
Tucked away on the edge of Melksham, it’s renowned for its Sunday lunches (think big sharing platters of roasted Chateaubriand of Wiltshire beef), and only last month was named ‘Best Newcomer’ in the Trencherman’s Awards (beating Menu Gordon Jones and Ben’s Cornish Kitchen).
We start our lunch, unusually (honestly), by comparing ourselves to Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip, before enduring each other’s Michael Caine impressions. I blame The Fox. You see, it’s just the sort of comfortable boozer that (first series) Steve and Rob would settle down in. It’s stylish but homely (there are few pubs with such foodie credentials in the city centre that would mess up the Feng Shui for a Bath Rugby flag behind the bar, or swap valuable table space for several sink-into leather sofas). It’s toasty from an open fire, too, and has cool, excitable staff with trendy facial hair, and body art that would look just as at home in a hipster London joint.
The menu, which changes monthly, starts where all good meals should – with apertifs, including one of my personal faves, a classic negroni. Feeling vaguely fragile from the night before, though, I skipped to the starters instead – local quail (£8.50). Perched daintily on a round of toast, the bird was sweet, tender and beautifully paired with its natural plate buddies – wild mushroom, barley and lentils in an earthy cream jus. Gnawing about a bone at a dinner table could be considered uncouth – but it didn’t hold me back.
Mr B, meanwhile, plunged his knife into the light-as-air puff pastry layers of a warm goat’s cheese tart (£6.95). You can normally predict exactly what this modern gastropub starter will be like – and even though it was basic, it still surprised. That pastry: did I mention how light? And then there was the cheese. Rather than a round of dry, bland goat’s log, this grassy fromage was perfectly melty, oozing between slices of tangy green olives and sweet fresh figs. A sticky fig reduction, drizzle of thick balsamic, and a smattering of pretty purple borage flowers showed just why this pub is taken so seriously in food-loving circles.
C, meanwhile, flipped over her menu to tuck into the ‘pub classics’, where you can find everything from Scotch eggs (£3) and sausage roll (£3) to pork kievs (£15.95), hotpot (£13.95), fish and chips (£13.95) and steak (£18.95). Her enamelware bowl (told you this place was a bit trendy) was near overflowing with crispy whitebait (£6.50). The tartare was just the right side of chunky – packed with piquant cornichons and capers, it had the poor wee whitebait weighing heavy with every greedy dunk.
Back to the menu ‘proper’, and I’d shotgunned (not literally) the lamb shank (£20.95). Indeed, I wanted everything on this menu – classic winter flavours with seasonal veg, what’s not to love? Near snarling across the table, as I eyed up the bone marrow in my shank while C took pictures, I knew I’d made the right choice. The bone lifted with ease away from the meat – the sticky, slow-cooked flesh collapsing into perfect bitesize pieces ready and waiting for every stab of my fork. A slightly more elegant square of dauphinoise potatoes was a little heavy on the rosemary for me, but the red cabbage was both superbly tender and expertly spiced, with green sprouting broccoli on the side adding a layer of fresh, clean flavour.
C and Mr B couldn’t resist their own hunks of red meat. C went for venison steak (£21.95), which came thick, ruddy and well seasoned, every gamey mouthful causing murmurs of delight across the table. Meaty wild mushrooms – sponges for the butter they’d been cooked in – creamy truffled mash and sprouting broccoli soon disappeared too.
While he’d toyed with the idea of the fish of the day in a chorizo, clam, red pepper and fennel stew (£19.95), Mr B was more than happy with his fillet of beef (£26.95). It could have walked off the plate, so rare was it. The mini Yorkshire pudding, too, was a refreshing change from the gargantuan, too-crisp monstrosities that you see nowadays.
My pudding of iced peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and chocolate mousse (£6.50; think deconstructed Snickers) is so good that, at request of the customers, it’s stayed on the menu for four months. Mr B’s apple and blackberry crumble (£6.50) was mighty, while C smiled smugly (and certainly less full) as she finished her Salcombe Diary sorbets, along with a cheeky glass of Tokaji (£6.50).
Less a gastropub and more of a proper pub that just does exceptionally good food, The Fox is worth a trip, no matter how far you have to travel.
Photos by CHRISTINA WEST