The Beckford Arms, Wiltshire
An uber pub that combines serious food with the feeling of a favourite country house (touches of Babington, yes, but still, emphatically, a pub).
You'll need to book, it's the hottest ticket in Wiltshire but in a good way and once there the vibe is laid back and indulgent. You can turn up for a pint of Butcombe and a generous slice of home-made sausage roll (dangerously good) but most people come for the food. An impossible-to-choose kind of menu - grilled Pythouse lamb with summer greens, calleni beans and salsa verde or Cornish fish stew with crab broth, butter beans, potatoes and braised fennel. For the red blooded carnivore the Beckford Pig salad is unmissable: hock, smoked cheeks, crisped ear n all. Recently I had the roasted Cornish sea bass, so so good. In winter there are 2 blazing fires (sometimes with a whole suckling pig roasting over the one in the bar) and in summer just the best garden with hammock and sandpit for bored offspring, halves of Pimm's and top knotch cider for the rest of us. Irresistible.
The Bull Hotel, Dorset
The Bull, the original West Country boutique hotel and pub, created by ex-Londoners Nikki and Richard Cooper. There's a cool vibe here but it's also incredibly friendly, with staff who couldn't be nicer, dogs sniffing about and kids off on bucket and spade adventures. Food is consistently great - I always have the salmon 3 ways starter: salmon tartare with anchovy mayo, smoked salmon quail scotch egg & gravadlax with a dill & mustard dressing and then it's another killer choice menu for the main. They really look after veggies here, with an innovative, appealing menu - golden saffron, butternut squash and parsley risotto with mascarpone and pecorino shaving or baked aubergine with goat’s cheese, cumin scented polenta chips and a spicy tomato sauce. People travel for the legendary fish pie and the Bull gourmet venison burger with blue cheese, sweet glazed bun, sweet & sour relish, homemade coleslaw, chips & salad.
The Gurnard's Head, Cornwall
Let's start with the stellar location of this very pretty pub on the moors just outside Zennor with showstopping views of the Atlantic and the rugged West Cornish landscape. Bottom line? It's a feel-good haven in the middle of nowhere. Roaring fires, dogs puttering about (with water bowls and biscuits readily available), books and Giles cartoons everywhere, a short and simple menu of spectacularly fresh food. Fish often comes from private boat owners after a morning on the waters, in winter fish soup with rouille, in summer perhaps a ceviche of sea bass with foraged salad leaves. Roast ray, crushed potatoes, leeks, capers, parsley brown butter? Or braised lamb shoulder, puy lentils, kale and spiced aubergine. The vibe is relaxed, pitch up for a mid-coastal walk bowl of soup or linger for a white burgundy fuelled 3 courser. One word of advice - it's dreamy here and you won't want to leave so book in for the night and bliss out.
St Kew Inn, Cornwall
It's a mystery why great pubs still remain relatively thin on the ground in Cornwall but this one definitely delivers. From the moment you set foot inside, exposed stone walls, tartain carpet (in a good way), scrubbed wooden tables and mismatched chairs, you know you're onto a good thing. The food is simple but well done, perfect rare steak baguettes with red onion marmalade and mustard mayonnaise, Porthilly mussels with fries, sausage and bean cassoulet with cheddar mash.
The White Post, Dorset/Somerset
A heads up on our latest obsession - the White Post which lies exactly on the Somerset/Dorset border. Back in the day there were 2 bars, one on each border and locals would move from one to the other to gain extra drinking time. Run by Brett and Kelly Sutton and their sons Harry and George, this is a proper feel-good pub with blazing fires in winter and chickens moseying around the garden. The food in inventive, making the most of local produce and Brett's passion for foraging. How about a starter of Lyme Bay scallops, 12 hour cooked pork belly, peas and cider syrup? Or for veggies wild garlic gnocchi, New Forest mushrooms, cashew nut granola, nettle verde and West Country caerphilly. Burgers come with bacon, pickles, onion jam, dripping cooked chips and slaw. On Sundays there's a meat board featuring roast beef and lamb, slow cooked pork belly and pot roasted chicken with all the trimmings.
The Fox, Wiltshire
Just 10 miles outside Bath, this pub in Broughton Gifford is a foodie mecca. They even raise their own pigs to produce house charcuterie, air cured hams, wet cured hams, sausages and bacon and bake their own bread while vegetables and herbs come from the garden. Sunday lunch is always a sell-out - a whole joint comes to the table with carving equipment, home-grown veggies and a jug of knock-out gravy. The style here is simple food made well with star-quality ingredients - pea and goats cheese risotto, garden salad with confit chicken leg, jersey royals and bacon. For dinner try smoked beetroot, blue cheese, capers, mustard dressing to start, then duck breast, fondant potatoes, wild garlic, spinach and wild mushrooms. Bread and butter pudding, custard and ginger ice cream sounds sublime.
The Queen's Arms, Somerset (main pic above)
Truth be told we're a little bit in love with the Queen's Arms at the moment.
It's partly to do with its welcome sign: "Dogs and humans in muddy boots welcome,' its
spectacular setting amidst the hills of Corton Denham, perfect chorizo Scotch eggs (with brilliant orange yolks) and top knotch craft ales and ciders. The food here is emphatically local, often inventive and very good. But it's the laid back vibe we love most. You can rock up for a pint of cider after walking at nearby Camelot Castle (of Arthurian legend and the most staggering of views) and settle in for the full three courses or triple cooked chips and one of those incredible Scotch eggs. Perfect in every way.
The Talbot, Somerset
The Talbot in Mells is one of those pubs that works on many different levels - roll up for a pie and pint, a perfectly made solo cappucino tucked away with the papers, a romantic dinner (perhaps followed by a night in one of the boutique bedrooms) or a full blown Sunday lunch in the Coach House Grill Room for huge grilled joints of meat at shared tables. Food provenance is taken very seriously with vegetables grown in the garden, meat and fish smoked and cured in-house. Top knotch bar food including possibly the SW's best burger (comes with cheddar, bacon and crunchy chips), fish is always stand out - Cornish hake with Castlemead egg, prawns, chard & horseradish and plenty of blokey dishes too (pan fried loin of venison with roasted garlic, mash and curly kale). Breakfast, lunch or dinner you'll find it hard to choose - so maybe have all three. This place has got mini-break written all over it.
The Treby Arms, Devon
The Treby Arms, simply put, is worth the road trip. Run by Masterchef winner Anton Piotrowski and his wife Clare, this is a classic pub in South Devon offering spectacularly good food. Reserve this one for treat days, especially the £55 a head tasting menu, inventive, naturally, sometimes even a little bizarre - black pudding scotch egg with red cabbage ketchup, cajun spiced lamb rump with lamb shank and blackened asparagus or 'apple parfait' - caramelised apple, apple sorbet, oat crumble and candy floss, of course. Head here for the kind of food you don't expect in the West Country but coupled with a laid-back, anything goes attitude that makes this one an essential stop.
The White Horse, Somerset
Everyone is talking about The White Horse in Haslebury Plunkett, run by Richard and Rebecca Robinson. The food is exciting but the vibe is relaxed, so you have a perfect place for a well chosen ale or glass of wine alongside somewhere with interesting, immaculately sourced food that is treaty enough for celebrations. You might be tempted by slow roasted belly of pork, roasted carrot puree, carrot and walnut pesto or a goat's cheese, caramelised endive and beetroot tart with truffled honey. We can guarantee you'll be tempted, this one's going places.