Ian Waller and his wife enjoy a grown-ups only meal out at lovely country pub in Wiltshire
School may be out for summer, but sometimes we parents and carers need a little downtime too, and there’s nothing better than a meal out at a country pub. So last night, we left the children to ready meals and Netflix while we relaxed and were well looked after in the gorgeous setting of The Horse and Groom Inn at Charlton, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire.
The Horse and Groom Inn is one of those country pubs that’s popular with the locals – it was pretty busy on the Tuesday night that we called in – and well served too by visitors, with both meals and even rooms available if you fancy a night away. Right from the start, this is a wonderfully relaxed venue, with Jack, the manager, offering a friendly welcome, while the subtle decor and low-level music meant that your senses weren’t overwrought.
With a table for two set aside for us, it was such a treat to look forward to a meal which wouldn’t be followed by us having to do the washing up and clearing away! Now while the menu at The Horse and Groom Inn wasn’t exactly extensive, my thinking is a more limited choice probably means the chef is able to really focus on the things that she or he excels at. Plus, the vegetarian options didn’t mean nutburgers and salads, which was a welcome sight.
For the starters, we went for the Castlemead Farm chicken and leek terrine, with confit garlic, pickled apricots and bitter leaf salad (£9.95) and English Pea Salad with Evesham goat’s curd, spiced pea fritters, pea shoots, mint, caper and shallot dressing (£7.95). Have you ever had starter envy? OK, without doubt, my terrine really was very good indeed, with the pickled apricots and salad a perfect accompaniment. The thing was, the pea salad – and particularly the bhaji style pea fritters – was delicious. Yes, we’re one of those couples who will occasionally try each other’s food… The flavours throughout were wonderfully fresh and I was pleased to see that the dish is also available as a main course.
With two very clean plates being taken away, I enjoyed a glass or Merlot while my wife went for a spritzer with blackcurrant gin and salad – just the thing for a summer’s evening. The short wait for the mains also gave us a chance to explore the Inn, with a interior style that combines traditional pub – including an open fire place and exposed beams – with well considered touches like genuinely comfy seating and a lamp or candle at each table. We also had a quick peak in the function room which looks like a perfect venue for wedding parties and business meetings. Apparently that afternoon it had been used by the local knitting circle.
Back at our seats, we were served the main courses, with my wife going for the sticky chilli beef short rib, with garden vegetables, bok choy and sesame (£21.95) and me the Castlemead Farm chicken thighs, chorizo, sweet potatoes and sweetcorn succotash, sour cream and chimichurri (£14.95).
Have you ever heard of mains envy? Now don’t get me wrong here – the chicken was absolutely superb. Beautifully cooked, hearty and full of flavour, it was a real delight and I finished it a very happy diner. It’s just, the beef looked and tasted amazing. OK, just a few more minutes cooking might have taken it to fall-apart perfection, but this was pretty close. The taste was something to write home about and the garden vegetables done to a tee. Looking around, the Inn was pretty full (very impressive on a Tuesday evening), but clearly the chef had been able to focus on what they do well and the result was really impressive.
Of course, a good meal can ultimately be made or spoiled by a below-par pud, although judging by the preceding courses, I was pretty confident the outcome would be positive. Yes, I was temped by the cheese board, but really there was no way I was going to resist the dark chocolate mousse, caramelised banana, salted caramel, popcorn and honeycomb ice cream (£7.95). And how good a choice was this. Pudding perfection. The individual elements went together so well and the mousse at the centre was faultless.
Unfortunately the Cheddar Valley strawberries, whipped elderflower cheesecake, vanilla shortbread and lavender praline (£7.50) ordered by my wife failed to reach the same peaks, mainly as the strawberries appeared to be in short supply and were largely replaced by raspberries which then grated with the lavender. To be fair though, this was a rare fail in an otherwise excellent meal.
By the time the dessert plates were cleared up and we enjoyed an end of meal cup of tea and Americana, we were wishing we’d booked an overnight stay to really make the most of our trip out to The Horse and Groom. As it was, it has been a really enjoyable visit, with excellent service, a friendly and relaxing ambience and generally top notch food. Yes, there is a children’s menu, but you know, we might just keep this one to us grown-ups.
To find out more about The Horse and Groom Inn and to book a meal, click here.