A busy Friday night at The Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham and this rather cool pub in the heart of Somerset is seguing effortlessly from boutique hotel to hipster restaurant to regular drinking den where locals are downing a quick pint of Orchard Pig cider before heading home.
I love pubs like this, picture-pretty and trad on the outside, stylishly made over on the inside but still emphatically a great boozer, just one where you can have a side order of pan roasted scallops and langoustines if you want it.
Case in point I order an espresso martini while my other half has a pint of local ale. The bar here is a London cum country hybrid so you can find Sipsmith gin and Fever Tree tonic, craft ales, local beers and ciders and great bar food with homemade chorizo scotch eggs and pork pies.
The chef has also introduced a tapas menu which is a stroke of genius, nothing I like better than pitching up last minute for a pint and a few shared plates of whitebait without the formality of sitting down for a full blown lunch (especially with antsy kids in tow). The Queen’s Arms is set amidst the Corton hills, proper hiking country, so it’s an ideal weekend spot and popular with escaping Londoners.
Come here on a Saturday lunchtime and you’ll find dogs snoozing on the slate floors, children wandering in and out and walkers nursing ciders alongside big celebratory lunches in the restaurant.
There are two dining rooms at the Queen’s Arms and an inventive menu from chef Ben Abercrombie, who trained under Mark Hix. The vegetables are all home grown in an extensive vegetable patch, pork is reared nearby and everything else sourced as locally as possible. Good provenance served with a twist is Ben’s trademark.
So for tapas there’s chorizo arancini with sweet chilli dip, white onion bhaji with cucumber raita, mini Caesar salad and at brilliant prices too, around £2.95 a dish.
My starter of salmon ceviche was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in a long time and a signature dish of 60 hour braised Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with apples and black pudding was seriously good and far more delicate than it sounds.
Steak was perfectly cooked and came with burnt onions, roasted tomatoes and anchovy butter, my seabass on a bed of spinach had an inky black cuttlefish sauce.
There are flashes of humour on the menu – I didn’t try but perhaps should have – Mutton Dressed as Lamb - a mutton and celeriac pie with lamb rump, wilted spinach and chanterelle mushrooms. Or you can opt for the comical sounding Barnyard Burger - beef burger, smoked chicken thigh, home cured bacon.
Puddings are inventive too – we shared a cider poached pear tartin with lemon curd mousse but could have had Rhubarb and Custard – rhubarb partfait, custard doughnut and forced rhubard consommé. What you have here is a menu where the chef is having fun but still producing classic, crowd pleasing food.
The bedrooms here are swish without being too bling, big, comfortable beds, roll top baths.
A quick word for the staff who are unfailingly helpful and upbeat without being remotely in your face. Owner Gordon Reid tells us he chooses his staff on grounds of personality rather than experience and then trains them up and it seems like a clever strategy.
It just makes the Queen’s Arms a very nice place to hangout whether you’re here for a quick pint or the full two night mini break. We’ll be back.