LAURA ROWE settles in for a comfortable night at this Tetbury hotel, with an eclectic menu in one hand and a glass of great wine in the other
I know pubs represent different things to different people, but The Ormond in Tetbury really has served a wide spectrum of purposes over its 250-year history.
Originally a coaching inn, dating back to the mid-17th century, it’s been a telegraphic and postal station for communications to soldiers in WWI, a convalescence hotel for American troops in WWII, and it was even thought to be a meeting place for generals plotting the Omaha Beach Invasion in 1944. It doesn’t much look like a traditional inn now, either. A Victorian façade was added sometime around 1900 and inside, particularly after a spruce up back in March, this is a hotel, restaurant and bar with a suitably contemporary Cotswold feel.
The current owners have been here since 2005, and head chef Mariuz Przeworski (Mario) for the past two years. Between them, they’ve created a pub that’s frequented by locals – my dinner guest, FDG, settled in quite nicely with them for his first pint – with three real ales (including a guest ale), as well as two well-chosen draught ciders on tap.
The restaurant, known as The Panel Bar, naturally flows around the bar in a horseshoe, and has the perfect sense of intimacy for a dinner date – but still with a great atmosphere from the chatter across the bar. (Although you can eat in the front pub if you want, and many people do.) We settled in for the night with a sparkling Pinot Brut rosé (£5.50) while we looked over the menu.
There are ‘nibbles’ – from olives and mixed nuts, to spicy whitebait and homemade bread with vinegar and oil. (The sourdough starter here is said to be a ripe 18 years old.) We cracked right into the starters, though – FDG calling dibs on the twice-baked cheese soufflé (£8.95).
“That will test the chef’s mettle, won’t it?,” cackled FDG. (He’s new to this reviewing, malarkey; forgive him.) Consider this first test passed, though. The soufflé was light but assertive – a pokey cheese and cream sauce lapping against the soufflé like an edible moat. Frankly, a hunk of buttered bread would have done the job here – but chef had taken the time to make a well-paired dressed salad too, with sticks of green apple, rocket leaves and bitter walnuts. Good job. FDG was happy.
I’d gone for a dish that both of us had eyed up – a crispy duck salad (£7.95). The duck here (if you do a bit of digging – this isn’t the sort of menu to brag about the geniality of every morsel on the plate) is sourced from Madgett’s Farm near the Wye Valley, and delivered on its promise – a tasty mix of succulent shredded meat and crispy bits. This bird had flavour. So much so, it could quite happily stand up to the punchy chilli, pickled ginger, honey and soy dressing, which made a great contrast to the clean cucumber wedges and peppery rocket leaves it found itself buried in.
Service is consistent and helpful – you won’t find yourself with a different waiter for each course – and nothing is too much trouble. FDG ordered the wine. Never one to miss an opportunity to drop in how he’d spent the past two years “finding himself” in South America, yah, he approved of the plummy Carta Vieja Merlot from Chile (£18.50).
Although tempted by the pork special – a medley of loin and belly, with cavolo nero (cue FDG saying ‘cavolo nero’ in mock Italian accent and gesticulating lots) – my companion went for a cheeky venison and cranberry pie (£15.95) instead. Its pastry case was a pleasant surprise for us both – a suet, pudding-like, stodgetastic creation packed with supremely tender venny (despite its inherently lean nature). Neither of us could detect the cranberries, so rich was the meaty sauce, but the mash was creamy and the cavolo nero (you imagined the gesticulation again, didn’t you? It’s fine, he did do it again) tasted as good as nature intended.
The spice-crusted hake (£16.95) caught my attention. It was well-cooked and Mario had been bold with his spicing, if a little heavy handed with the black pepper. It worked, though. A bed of aloo mattor (essentially potato and peas in a spiced gravy) was delicious too – although I would have liked my potatoes cooked for a few minutes more.
Puddings (£6.50 each) lean towards the heavy, and so we decided to share. A lemon cheesecake didn’t provoke too much of a battle between us, though. I like my lemon to slap me around the face, and this was much more subtle – but you couldn’t fault the creamy, light texture and buttery biscuit base. FDG certainly didn’t seem too perturbed as he shovelled it into his gob regardless.
With a charming courtyard and a lovely selection of rooms in which to collapse into a postprandial snooze, The Ormond is a great all-rounder. Whether visiting for drinks, dinner or a doze, it’s a gem in Tetbury’s royal crown.