Friday, 11 March 2011

REVIEW: The Paulet Arms, Wiltshire

With his shaven head, tattooed arms and generous girth, Adrian Jones looks like a proper chef, or at least a chef in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie.
Thankfully, his bark is worse than his bite. He’s a gentle giant and when it comes to talking about food, he’s a pussycat waiting to have his tummy tickled. He is passionate about cooking.
This is a man whose simple and robust cooking resulted in him being described as a ‘gastroterrorist’ by the fiery Irish chef Richard Corrigan no less. High praise indeed.
Earlier this year, Jones turned up at The Paulet Arms, a newly-opened village pub close to Westbury in Wiltshire.
The pub used to be called The Three Daggers and then The Lamb but a wealthy American businessman acquired the red-brick building last year and invested around £1.3m into making it a smart pub with four chic bedrooms.
The Paulet Arms doesn’t want to be tagged a gastropub and the handpumps of Wadworth 6X and Bath Ales Gem are there as much for the locals on the barstools as the groups of diners in the light, conservatory-style dining room.
The scrubbed pine table and antique leather armchair style is understated but not without its quirky touches, including underfloor heating under the slate flagstones and flat screen TVs concealed behind mirrors.
No expense has been spared in making this a comfortable and stylish pub – down to the linen tea towel napkins and stainless steel cutlery especially made in Sheffield.
Jones had carte blanche when it came to creating the menus for the pub but his time at The Salisbury in Fulham – where he garnered a rave review from Fay Maschler – has equipped him with the knowledge of what people want to eat in pubs.
His food is produce-driven and he uses predominantly local suppliers, including nearby Bratton Pig - breeders of free-range Mangalitza and British Saddleback pigs – and La Chasse, the Dorset-based hunter-gatherers.
“I want to be told by my suppliers what’s good that day,” says Jones. “That’s got to the best way to write seasonal menus, and we are lucky to have such great produce on our doorstep.”
There are already plans to expand the operation at the pub, with a farm shop at the end of the year (the village no longer has a local shop) and even an on-site microbrewery to supply the pub with its own ales.
In the bar, there are tapas-sized snacks such as salt cod fish fingers, rare roast beef and pickles and sausages and mustard.
You can eat from the main menu anywhere in the pub, which is a refreshing change from all those self-styled gastropubs where diners and drinkers are segregated.
At lunch, there is a eye-rubbingly good value menu for £10 (two courses) or £13 (three courses) and on the day I visited choices included chicken and sweetcorn soup; salt cod fritter with Dorset leaves and garlic mayo, and grilled sea bass, hot smoked salmon and celeriac.
My starter of grilled scallops, Trealy Farm cured meat and red watercress (a supplement of £6) was bang on the money. The bushy sprigs of watercress were intensely peppery and were the perfect match for the sweet scallops and rich, salty meats.
A main course of slow roast venison, red cabbage and soft mash was beautifully cooked. The meat had been cooked slowly for several hours and it was pink and velvety in texture. The red cabbage was sweet and sticky but retained an earthiness, the mash was generously seasoned with white pepper and probably contained as much butter and cream as potato.
A flourless chocolate brownie made using ground almonds was almost fondant-like in the middle and the richness was cut with kirsch-soaked cherries.
In the evening, things move up a gear with the likes of salt cod fritters with garlic mayo (£4.75), bavette steak and chips with bĂ©arnaise (£11) and lamb shank shepherd’s pie with roast carrots and peas (£13).
This is confident cooking of well-sourced ingredients by a chef who doesn’t go in for froths and fads.
Everything on the plate was there for a reason and it was as honest and unpretentious as good food gets.

The Paulet Arms, Edington, Westbury, Wiltshire. Tel: 01380 830940

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