The Pony and Trap just celebrated 13 years under the ownership of brother and sister team, Josh and Holly Eggleton – and it’s held a Michelin star for nearly eight of them. (Time flies when you’re feasting on top-drawer grub in a cosy pub, overlooking the gorgeous Chew Valley, right?)
A ‘pub’ it very much is, too – star or no star. Set out in the lush greenery of Chew Magna, it’s got all the countryside feels (despite being a half-hour drive from Bristol – winner), complete with relaxed, dog-friendly bar area and top-notch brews on tap.
While he’s been at the helm for over a decade now, Josh sees his work as very far from done here and is busy plotting even more developments to take this much-loved dining pub to the next level. The most recent transformation has been of the food, by way of a reimagined collection of tasting menus. They’re shorter (five courses, plus amuse bouche, petits fours and an optional cheese course, so, like, not that short) and more relaxed than the previous tasting options, and are inspired by the pub’s informal, flexible approach as well as punters’ changing tastes and – critically – the recent fruits (and veg) of the team’s gardening labour.
After acquiring a patch of land right next to the pub, work has been underway to turn it into a thriving allotment, complete with orchard, no-dig beds and polytunnel, allowing the kitchen team to grow and harvest much of their produce just metres away from where they’ll then cook it. All sorts of curious herbs and vegetables are on the go out here, along with the pub’s neighbouring suppliers, that will continue to inform the food offering.
There are three versions of the new chef’s menu – ‘classic’, ‘fish and shellfish’ and ‘vegetable’, at £60, £65 and £50 respectively – and they all thoughtfully intertwine, meaning even if you and your fellow scoffers chose different ones (which yes, you are given the green light to do – hurrah), your meals may well cross over in parts.
A trio of oysters (one sweet and zesty poached number, a straight-up fresh version and one coated in a super thin and crisp tempura batter) kicks off the seafood lineup, while across the table are delivered strips of dark claret, meltingly lardy ‘lamb ham’, peppered with hazelnut dukka; a savoury profiterole filled with rich, tongue-tingling rarebit sauce; and a ceramic cup of umami-laced chicken consommé.
Focaccia – which is, like all the bread here, made fresh in the restaurant twice a day – is given a British spin with the use of local rapeseed oil (as opposed to the traditional olive) and also lesser-used whole rapeseeds, which are flecked throughout the soft dough for extra texture and flavour and make for gentle pops in the mouth while you chew. There’s also seaweed involved here, giving the bread a mellow salty hit. It’s served – alongside two types of sourdough – with butter that’s cultured and churned on site (the buttermilk byproduct of which is put to use later in dessert) and has a clotted-cream-like consistency, and some uber-comforting beef dripping, lifted with a base layer of treacle, that will have you reminiscing about childhood roast dinners at your nan’s.
Why give the bread so much airtime? Because as it’s pretty illustrative of the way this team’s minds work. Yes, in 2019 ‘local’, ‘seasonal’ and ‘sustainable’ have long been overused adjectives in the food world, but there’s a certain tenacity about it here – albeit one the team seem rather modest of – and about making the food a personification of its environment, which in turn, is undisrupted as little as possible.
An unctuous egg yolk sits at the heart of a bowl of mushrooms and morels, vibrant and gooey, having been brined and pickled for an unbelievable tangy, savoury flavour, while translucent slivers of raw, citrus-cured bream sat dotted with buttermilk.
Monkfish has been rolled in spices for a flavour of British curry, and paired with a chargrilled beetroot yoghurt and mussels in a barigoule-style sauce made with chardonnay vinegar, and tender, dense venison is served with a venison faggot, Butcombe beer-pickled onion and a smoky eel and apple sauce.
To end we tuck right into a beautifully loose and creamy pannacotta, made with the aforementioned buttermilk and given a sharp edge with a topping of Campari jelly, a Campari, sweet vermouth and blood orange sauce and sorrel leaf. With only a very subtle sweetness and a refreshing edge, it’s a stylish conclusion. (It’s favour is certainly done no harm by its close relation to a classic Negroni.)
Every element on each dish is pretty upfront about its purpose, making for thoughtful but unfussy plates of food, each showing just the tip of a deep iceberg of thought processes. This makes the food approachable and relevant for the country pub setting while maintaining a starkly ambitious backbone.The Pony and Trap, Moorledge Road, Newtown, Chew Magna, Bristol BS40 8TQ; 01275 332627