Restaurant review: The Wellington ArmsBy Tom Fahey
March 28, 2012
Now dear readers, don’t think me a terrible glutton, but over the last two years I have eaten 531 meals in restaurants.
Most were three-course, one was 20, the others sat somewhere in between. I tell you this not to flaunt my own shameful over-indulgence (80 per cent of consumption is purely professional you understand), but to emphasise the significance of a single main course managing to stand out among so many.
While not the single greatest culinary feat, the most visually stunning presentation or the most inventive concept, it still remains very special.
A great slab of pork loin, cut to include substantial belly, its fat baked to crisp perfection, its interior bouncy, silky and tender.
Beneath it, fluffy new potatoes roasted crunchy to match the crackling, red cabbage stewed ever-so-lightly in a slick, jammy glaze and, on the side not ‘jus’ but a jug of the glossiest, meatiest gravy.
Aside from the obvious, though, why so memorable?
Perhaps knowing the pig had lived out its life metres from my table; maybe it was the garden of salad leaves, pumpkin flowers, green beans, strawberries and herbs also destined for my plate I’d passed on the way in; or did the cosy, country front room interior of The Wellington Arms, its bar laden not with burly locals but pots of homemade jam, chutney, tea cosies, and eggs laid that day by happy hens, have something to do with it?
Sometimes, food is very much about where you’re eating it and I cannot think of a more beautiful pub than The Wellington Arms. Of course, you’ll scream, it’s not a pub, but what difference does that make?
Pubs can’t survive on booze and fruit machines alone so if serving food is inevitable, why not go the whole hog and serve great food?
Because it’s expensive? Not really.
Thanks to a ‘simple lunch’ it's £15.75 for two courses or £3 more for three, neither of my two most recent meals here have topped £20.
I’ve tried a terrine of pheasant and rabbit with homemade apple chutney and toast, and a cottage pie of pork and beef labelled ‘proper’ on the menu which, if ‘proper’ means bursting with meaty goodness beneath a buttery, cheesy crust of fluffy mash, it certainly is.
Vegetables are justly spotlighted and might feature as a salad of fennel, squash and leaves cut minutes earlier in the garden then dressed with honey produced by the pub’s own bees; or puffy, oven-baked gnocchi, buttery roasted squash, crisp sage leaves and local wet walnuts smothered in Parmesan.
For pudding – whether destined to coat an Eccles cake or a treacle tart – ensure you bag a jug of custard (it’s made using eggs laid by Wellington hens, you see). Oh, and go in warmer months for a summer pudding of berries picked just outside the kitchen and in the local wood. In my not inconsiderable experience there’s no better version.
Co-proprietor Jason King has recently won gastropub chef of the year but, with all its over-priced, over-fancy, over-branded implications, the ‘gastro’ epithet seems misplaced when applied to his impeccably sourced produce and simple but careful cooking.
Rather than a soulless Pubco rollout, expect the intimacy and warmth of a friend’s dinner party alongside the quality of a fine restaurant (minus the usual stuff and nonsense).
Whether you’re lucky enough to bag a portion of pork loin or not, The Wellington Arms is a special place to eat capable of capturing even the most jaded over-eater’s attention.
- Telephone: 0118 9820110
- Website: www.thewellingtonarms.com
- Address: The Wellington Arms
Baughurst. RG26 5LP