Skinny country lanes, hulking 4x4s coming the other way, and no signal to work out which direction I’m meant to be driving in is a combination that stirs much fear in me and my tiny Aygo. At least this last issue was (sort of) covered on this trip: Crumbs’ own Mr Bielby was in charge of the route. Thing is, his navigation technique largely relies on me guessing when I’m turning and him confirming whether or not I was correct afterwards.
Luckily, we only had 20 minutes of this farcical travel to see out; Freshford isn’t actually that far from Crumbs’ central Bath HQ. It’s managed to bag itself an enviable spot within easy reach of the city (it has its own train station too), while also being tucked inside the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village inn’s suitably rustic-cum-contemporary look flows throughout the relaxed bar area (flanked by two large stone fireplaces, where flames were happily crackling on our visit) and into the restaurant, where there’s another fireplace and a blend of weathered wood, brushed metal and mirrored glass.
We sat in the bar, next to one of those fires and a huge bookcase filled with vintage tomes (we’re talking the likes of volumes II-V of The Second World War by Winston Churchill), which my busy-handed lunch pal couldn’t leave be. I’m not sure the books are strictly there to be thumbed through as he did – they’re more for décor than a community book exchange. Just something to bear in mind…
There are a few light bites on the menu (£4 a pop) for kicking off your meal or nibbling with a drink – the Cheddar and spring onion soda bread is stodgy and comforting, and was served warm with soft, truffle-infused butter.
Underneath those are a dozen or so small plates (£7 each, or three for £17) ranging from crab on sourdough with sardine ketchup to homemade sausage roll with piccalilli and sumac-roasted squash with baba ganoush – good for grazing sharers or starters. It was a fairly misty, Highlands and Islands-style day outside, so, for us, it was hard to see beyond the haggis, neeps and tatties with whisky sauce. The star ingredient was the work of George Cockburn and Son – Scottish champion haggis makers. America, which has banned haggis for decades, doesn’t know what it’s missing.
Pulled beef brisket burger with smoked Dorset red rarebit sauce and turmeric-roasted cauliflower salad with teriyaki dressing bookend the spectrum of mains, which it helps to not be ravenous when you’re trying to read. Only now, with full belly, am I noticing the likes of mushroom and garlic butter chicken Kiev and smoked haddock fishcake with mussel chowder, which both sound right up my street.
The celeriac, truffle and Old Winchester arancini (£13), which I did manage to notice – and order – was good, though; three large, golden spheres were topped with crisp curls of celeriac and inside the thin breadcrumb shells was a subtly flavoured (if a spot dryer than I’d have hoped) risotto mix. The gracious whisper of truffle and mellow cheesiness was added to by a drizzle of smoked tomato sauce and zingy salsa verde, which cut through the creaminess.
The roast rump of lamb with potato, heritage carrots, roasted celeriac, kale and gravy (£16) was a generously proportioned, juicy and beautifully cooked slab of beast, prettily pink in the middle, and accompanied by a well-considered range of differently textured veggies.
Bielby is a sucker for a lemon-based dessert, so his eyes lit up when they happened upon the lemon drizzle cake (£7). Served with poached pear and coulis, it showed more effort than was strictly required – but was all the better for it. The apple crumble (£7) was just as a crumble should be, and came served old-school with a jug of skin-on, slightly gloopy Bird’s-style custard – just as Mrs Carter used to serve me.
I’d be more than happy with this gaff as my local; good for a leisurely pint (as someone was demonstrating with a paper by the fire) as well as a coma-inducing feed (demonstrated by yours truly). And Prudence the basset hound (happily in tow) would agree – those sad eyes of hers earned three fig rolls and many a smooth during our lunch.