Wel­com­ing vil­lage pub and best value lunch deal around

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Dining Out -

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.

RAT­ING 4.5/5

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

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