Welcoming village pub and best value lunch deal around
Mark Taylor enjoys a delicious and brilliant value lunch at The Wheatsheaf
THE first forkful of my starter had barely reached my mouth when a head suddenly appeared between my knees.
Moving the napkin from my lap, I could see the hazel eyes and moist nose of a friendly Spaniel although this hungry gun dog wasn’t flushing out its usual quarry, it was more interested in snaffling some of my lunch.
I’m not sure the name of my new lunch companion. The Barton family who own The Wheatsheaf have four spaniels - Gloria, Margaux, Brie and Lyla - and they are often wandering around the place, which adds to the pub’s rural allure as much as the flagstone floors, distressed mirrors and sumptuous sofas.
With rows of muddy wellies by the door, wreaths of pheasant feathers on the wall and the air scented by smoke from the smouldering log fire, it ticks every box for the upmarket country gastropub it is.
Four miles from Bath, The Wheatsheaf occupies an idyllic spot in the delightful village of Combe Hay but it feels far more remote than that.
With a stream trickling through watercress beds at the bottom of the sloping garden, a drink on the terrace of this 18th-century pub (it was originally built as a farmhouse in 1576) is a tranquil and bucolic affair. Unless you know it, it’s one of those tucked away boltholes you only find if the sat nav is broken and you’re completely lost.
The windows may be plastered with stickers and awards from the likes of Michelin and The Good Food Guide for its food, but this is still very much a village pub where locals or walkers can pop in for a pint of Butcombe ale and a roast ham and mustard sandwich or cheese ploughman’s. On Tuesdays, there is a steak night and a few days before I visited there had been a game evening inspired by the owners’ day of shooting at Guy Ritchie’s Ashcombe Estate in Wiltshire.
At lunchtime, you can order from the main menu or the bar menu, the latter featuring simple pub staples such as Somerset sausage and mashed potato with onion gravy for £10.50. I ordered from the daily market menu, which is a serious giveaway at £26 for three courses. That’s £6 cheaper than the most expensive main course, but then if your pockets are deep, £32 is still a pretty good price for a 6oz beef fillet with seared foie gras, truffled mashed potato and creamed wild mushrooms.
Head chef Eddy Rains sticks to the Modern British gastropub template and his food is driven by the seasons and locality. A thick slice of ham hock terrine served at room temperature (rather than fridge cold, hurrah!) was a meaty mosaic of piggy bits glued together with jelly. The accompanying piccalilli was well made and piquant with firm chunks of yellow-hued cauliflower, carrot and green beans. The perky salad garnish was well dressed.
Normally £18 on the main menu, the main course of Ashcombe Estate partridge ballotine was fantastic value as part of the lunchtime deal. The breast was impressively juicy and the Parma ham on the outside was crisp and salty. It was paired with discs of sautéed potatoes, cavolo nero and crushed root vegetables, all of it brought together by lashings of a rich and glossy jus.
To finish, an individual poached pear frangipane cake was topped with flaked almonds and a light flurry of icing sugar. Within the crisp, buttery pastry, the warm, nutty sponge was studded with slices of soft and sweet pear and a scoop of vanilla ice cream completed a deliciously seasonal dessert perfectly in step with the months of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
Before drinks and service, £26 for such generosity on the plate, not to mention such assured cooking, seems almost too small a price to pay for a memorable lunch. Don’t tell everybody, but it just might be the best-value lunch deal in the region.
Head chef Eddy Rains sticks to the ModernBritish gastropub template and his food is driven by the seasons and locality
Mark’s main course of partridge ballotine was cooked beautifully
The starter of thick slice of ham hock terrine was served at room temperature, much to Mark’s delight