Pictured: The Coach House Grill Room at The Talbot
I guess the people of Mells know how good they’ve got it. They always had one of the prettiest villages in Somerset with close proximity to Babington House for added hipster value. Now they have The Talbot and I have to admit I’m jealous.
Good pubs are thin on the ground in this part of the world but to think of The Talbot as simply a great pub slightly misses the point. Yes there are fine local ales and ciders on tap and some tempting sounding bar food but there’s also a restaurant, a monthly supper club, Sunday night cinema screenings, uber bedrooms and a full blown grill house styled, if you can imagine it, a bit like a hunting lodge on acid. Let’s just call it a pub with bells on. The team behind the Beckford Charlie Luxton and Dan Brod and now a third partner Matt Greenlees, former general manager of Babington House – are behind the Talbot’s reinvention and it’s safe to say they’ve thought of everything.
This is a great space built around a cobbled stableyard, which was bathed in sunshine the day we visited and dotted with contented looking cider drinkers. The Talbot has been designed as a sequence of different rooms in varying degrees of laid-backness, so you can pretty much choose your area depending on your mood. In the bar we found locals supping quiet Tuesday pints of ale and a couple of tables ordering classic pub staples of ploughman's and burgers. Next to the bar is a small and perfectly formed snug with 4 tables laid up for lunch and beyond that a bigger dining room. There's also a sitting room, fully WiFi-ed up and with big, squashy sofas, quiet corner tables and a cinema screen playing Wimbledon with the sound turned down. Somewhere to hot-desk with the perks of great coffee and food on hand or perhaps nurse a hangover with the weekend papers.
What the team have engineered, just like the Beckford, is a pub that works on many levels. First and foremost they wanted to create a village hub, hence the supper club which has been so popular with villagers, it is twice over capacity. Matt Greenlees says: "We wanted to bring locals back into the pub and we hold the supper club on the big, shared tables so it mixes everyone up. It's been really popular." The Coach House Grill Room, by the way, is open Friday to Sunday and is like a medieval banqueting hall crossed with a film set: green walls, huge chandeliers, enormous long tables, fake boars and stags heads glaring down from the walls. I love this room, it rocks. On Sundays for £14 a head you can turn up for lunch and have a platter of meat - chicken, lamb, pork, beef - plus all the trimmings delivered to your table. There's whole grilled fish for non-carnivores and since you know the Bloody Mary's will be spot-on it feels like the perfect Sunday. Anyway back to our lunch - whole trout with caper butter and samphire and a perfectly judged burger and chips. Chips can tell you as much about a pub as the beer I think - these, of course, were golden-brown, crunchy and fat (but not too fat). We shared a chocolate mousse with ginger ice cream and it was a knock out. The decor here is cutting edge country - lots of Farrow & Ball greens and blues, well chosen antiques and tweed everywhere (curtains, chairs, sofas) - but the vibe is mellow, nothing gets in the way of the fact that it's a pub. The bedrooms are beautiful and uber-stylish - huge four posters, roll tops baths by the window, Welsh blankets on the bed - but again the emphasis is on comfort rather than bling. A couple of these rooms are seriously huge incidentally and I think pretty good value at £150, the smallest ones go for £95 and there are a couple with adjacent rooms for kids. Since much of the weekend business is Londoners escaping to the country this makes perfect sense (and puts Babington's nuts pricing structure rather in perspective).
I've been here many times since it opened two years ago - (incidentally scoring number one pub in Britain from the Sunday Times within its first year) and it literally never disappoints. From random late afternoon ciders with kids and dogs in tow, to business meetings (which always feel instantly less like so) to celebratory dinners, perfect every time. Anyone who is a fan of the Beckford is going to love its groovier younger sister The Talbot. Almost worth selling up and moving to Mells, I'd say.