There’s a new pub on the block, or rather, an old pub which has retained its swirly carpet, horse brass credentials but added immaculately sourced food and booze and a commitment to good times. The Bull Inn
at Hardway (just outside Bruton) recently opened under ownership of Iwan and Manela Wirth of Hauser & Wirth and it is exactly what you would dream up if you wanted to invent the perfect country pub.
What they’ve done is find a pub that was brilliant anyway – (The Bull has a devoted local fanbase) – and add their own brand of quirky cool. In the same way that during the renovation of Durslade Farm Hauser & Wirth made a virtue out of the farmhouse’s antiquity – more than a hint of Fawlty Towers in the avocado basins and peeling floral wallpaper - you’ll walk into The Bull and think you’re in a time warp. At first. Hundreds of pewter tankards hanging from the ceiling, that vivid, swirling carpet, horseshoes everywhere. But then you’ll notice the lamps in the corners of the room (riding boots with vintage shades), the taxidermy squirrels on the wall, the ancient local newspapers repatriated as wallpaper. You’ll peruse the wine list and see that alongside the pub staples of Malbec and Sauvignon, you have St Emillion Premier Cru or a top knotch Chablis and the bar doing a fine line in craft ales (favourite has to be the trendily packaged Wiper and True from Bristol).
And then there’s the food.
Since its relaunch last month, The Bull has been fully booked every lunch and dinner – no mean feat with 90 covers. The Wirths cannily recruited Mitch Earl (pictured above) who formerly ran Pythouse Kitchen Garden & Restaurant to oversee the pub. A well known, much loved character in these parts, Mitch with his upbeat charm, wry humour and fanatically high service standards is exactly the right person for the job. And he, in turn, cannily brought Pythouse’s former head chef Ana Ortiz to revamp The Bull’s menu. From our lunch last week – cosily seated by the fire on a pale, grey Thursday – it’s easy to see why this place is packed out. The menu focuses on classics with a twist, using impeccable ingredients. Meat, for example, is sourced from surrounding Hauser & Wirth owned farms (supplying The Bull and the Roth Bar). Shepherd’s pie – so delicious, it’s a must – comes not minced but slow roasted with the consistency of pulled beef and a velvety potato puree on top. For vegetarians another sublime pie – roasted squash and spinach in a marscapone sauce with a puff pastry crust. Burgers are excellent as you’d expect –a failsafe feature of the Roth Bar menu – and there are hot smoked salmon fishcakes, a sirloin sourdough sandwich with chips and lots for veggies – we particularly liked the grilled broccoli with almond, chilli and garlic oil (the menu is marked up with veg and gluten free options).
Puddings again are a real speciailty here. We tried ginger poached pear with brandy cream and panna cotta with rum and raisin syrup, both amazing, both really quite testing to share.
As mentioned the new look Bull Inn is already crazily popular and you’ll need to book. But you can do as we did one busy Saturday and drop in for a pint, a plate of sausage rolls and a bowl of skin on chips. Keen to remain a village pub for locals rather than a gastro for foodies, The Bull has retained its drop in drinkers and plans to host quiz nights, live music and boules competitions (there’s a huge garden for summer).
Alfred’s Tower is a stone’s throw away – possibly our favourite place to walk in the South West. What could be better than a wander around the beautiful Stourhead estate followed by a craft ale in one of the most authentically pubby pubs in the West Country? That's the weekend sorted, then.