Whose tripled-cooked chips have got them into the gastropub hall of fame? Check out the best foodie destinations in the Muddy counties.
After much scoffing, quaffing and deliberating, the UK’s top foodies and pub pros have agreed on the best of the best to compile Estrella Damm’s Top 50 Gastropubs in the UK for 2020.
The top spot may have been taken by The Harwood Arms in Fulham, but the rest of the list goes to show that there’s plenty of gastronomic delight to be had outside of London. Here’s who made the list throughout the Muddy counties (brace yourself, because there are a LOT).
This Michelin starred pub has long sat at the top of the chart and rightly so. On the surface it’s very low key – even describing itself on Twitter as the ‘grotty rundown pub by the sea’. All a bit tongue-in-cheek obviously – more that they just don’t buy into pretentiousness and there’s a really laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. When I visited the menu was simple and perfectly executed – the fish could not have tasted fresher (it’s right by the sea just outside Whitstable). Book now!
The Coach, Marlow, Buckinghamshire (No. 5)
The fact that you can’t book at The Coach makes it an absolute gem for the locals who would otherwise have to battle it out with foodie tourists at The Hand and Flowers down the road. The vibe in this small 40 cover restaurant is buzzy, the room open-plan, and the menu a groovy mix of tapas-style plates that you can scoff with friends.
Rising 15 places from last year’s ranking of 21, the Shepherd Neame establishment has really impressed the judges this time round. This rural pub is found deep into the chocolate-box depths of the Kentish countryside, down narrow winding country roads tucked away in the village of Crundale, between Canterbury and Ashford. Husband and wife team, Rob and Donna Taylor describe their pub as a ‘muddy wellies and fine food kind of place,’ which sums it up perfectly. Since they took it over several years ago, they transformed the menu and refurbished the restaurant a bit but very much kept the country pub style – garlands of hops, low beams and inglenook fireplaces.
Run by brother and sister Josh and Holly Eggleton, may have held a Michelin star since 2011, but the place still feels like a country pub. Very much a field-to-fork experience with all fresh ingredients coming from just across the Chew Valley and the farmland around.
Book well in advance – it may well be months but it will be worth it. It’s not pub fare here, it’s fine dining (you may guess that from the £50 mains) but the relaxed vibe and laid-back interiors stop The Hand and Flowers from feeling stuffy. Ideal for a special occasion.
A thriving gastro pub in the heart of town, quietly going about its very brilliant business. Dishes are unpretentious and great value (hence it has a Bib Gourmand). I’ve not yet been, but this is one to put on the list.
The Fordwich Arms near Canterbury was another Kent pub which jumped a significant number of places this year – from 42nd to 17th. Fordwich Arms is the winning mix of a great Kent pub that just so happens to serve exquisite food (the pheasant dumplings are a must, trust me) which affirms once again why it’s really not that bad living in the sticks.
The Crown Burchetts Green is on a roll. Believe the hype! It debuted in the Top 50 in 2016 and went on to be awarded a Michelin star and most recently Michelin’s Special Service Award. It’s a foodie destination pub that’s gone from strength to strength and is now ranked 18 on the list – Simon Bonwick’s French bourgeoisie cooking is certainly getting the attention of foodie pilgrims. While the small bar is filled with local drinkers, the two relaxed dining rooms is where the magic happens – showcasing seasonal dishes made with top-notch UK and French ingredients.
The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall (No. 23)
Local pub food with a Michelin starred chef twist is the name of the game, with one of the best water views in North Cornwall on the waterfront of the Camel Estuary. We know, we’ve been there.
The Beehive, White Waltham, Berkshire (No. 25)
Nestled in the village of White Waltham, it is still very much a pub where as much love has been lavished on the booze offering as the food. The kitchen sources locally, but it also aims to represent the UK’s larder. This means ingredients from the country’s uplands and pastures, its meadows, woods, hedgerows, rivers, and seas. Having worked at The Royal Oak Paley Street and Heston’s The Fat Duck and The Hind’s Head, Dom is passionate about creating beautiful food in a real English pub.
A new entry for 2020, The Olive Branch is a true community project, having been saved from closure by current owners Sean Hope, Ben Jones and Marcus Welford (with the help of some of the locals) back in 1999. Now it has plenty of accolades to its name, and focuses on fresh, seasonal menus that make the best of the bijou coastal location. Ingredients are sourced from local farms (and sometimes hedgerows!), and the superb shellfish hails from Norfolk and the Yorkshire coast. Bonus: every dish looks like it jumped off an Instagram feed.
The Unruly Pig, Woodbridge, Suffolk (No. 29)
The Unruly Pig has become the destination du jour thanks to owner Brendan Padfield (a former solicitor). It was recently named one of the top six pubs in the East of England and Head Chef Dave Wall won Britain’s best pub restaurant chef 2019/20. It’s all thanks to its charming mix of monthly changing menus (including amazing free from options), the flavour-enhancing Inka grill in the refurbished kitchen, and use of locally sourced ingredients.
The Swan, Bampton, Devon (No. 31)
This unassuming-looking pub doesn’t have a hint of pretentiousness despite its many awards. It’s great for families (and their four-legged friends), looking for excellent, hearty food and drink with a traditional, cosy pub atmosphere. Read our review for the full lowdown.
This award-winning pub in Essex has moved up one place this year with judge’s saying the food equals the magnificence of the 16th century exterior. So gorgeous surroundings and delicious gastropub grub are guaranteed. It’s the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the whole of Essex, so people flock here from across the East and beyond to see what’s so special. The clue’s in the name. Tim Allen is head chef (formerly the head chef at the Michelin-starred Wild Rabbit in Kingham) and he managed to secure that famous star and be named one of the top 100 restaurants in the UK after just six months at the helm.
St Tudy Inn, Bodmin, Cornwall (No. 33)
Headed up by director and executive chef Emily Scott, St Tudy Inn hits all the prime Cornish pub buttons – think open fire, pretty stone building, and rustic food made from local Cornish produce. The Inn also holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand reflecting its value for money. I’m sold – book me in for lunch, dinner and the Sunday special!
This award-winning restaurant, bar and boutique hotel is situated on North Norfolk’s marshland coastline and the vista out the conservatory windows of the Norfolk Coastal Path and the tidal marsh beyond to Scolt Head Island is second to none. It’s possibly one of the best places on the coast to eat seafood as the lobster pots and oyster beds are literally a stone’s throw away and produce is delivered fresh by the village fishermen. There’s even a smokehouse in the garden, so fish-lovers will be in heaven. Read our full review here.
The Oxford Blue, Old Windsor, Berkshire (No.36)
The Oxford Blue in Old Windsor has climbed 12 places to snag the 36th spot. Congratulations to Chef-proprietor Stephen Ellis (protégé of Gordon Ramsay) and his cracking team. I have loved The Oxford Blue since it opened in 2017. Stephen lurrrrrves game (handy with Windsor Great Park on the doorstep) and that’s reflected in the menu of fancy British fare. His wife Ami makes a mean pud and you always get a warm welcome. If you’ve not eaten here, book up. You’ll love it.
The Longs Arms, nr Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts (No. 40)
Groaning under awards and numerous times a Michelin Bib Gourmand (including 2019), this beautiful country pub serves up trad British grub, all homemade and home-smoked. Meat is sourced from Aubrey Allen – an ethical, welfare friendly supplier – so that’s another big fat Muddy tick.
The Wild Rabbit, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire (No. 42)
You can tell that the Daylesford touch is all over this restaurant-with-rooms – The Wild Rabbit is cozy Cotswold chic at its finest – you’ll love the sympathetic restoration of this handsome stone building, and the stylishly pared back interiors. If you can’t get a spot in the dining room, then the pub menu is equally brilliant.
Tunbridge Wells’ the Kentish Hare came in at number 28 galloping up the poles from number 43 last year – so climbing a total of 15 places. Winner of Best Destination Pub in the 2019 Muddy Awards this eatery is stylishly designed with the hare theme and quirky furnishings dotted around the place, there’s lots of pockets of space here and you’d be just at home having a grown up meal out with the mother-in-law in the main dining room, or feeding your kids in the more relaxed bar area. The kids menu is spot on, there’s a beer garden, Fish’n’Chip FryDay and even better all kids under 5 eat free. Whatcha waiting for?
The White Post, Rimpton, Somerset/Dorset borders (No. 44)
Equidistant between Yeovil and Sherborne, it’s more of a restaurant than a pub (though there is a bar and some leather club chairs and sofas for loafing). Straddling two counties, you can go with a friend and one of you can sit in Dorset and the other in Somerset. Try the 10-course tasting menu or Sunday roasts with five or six different roasts and revel in the far-reaching views across the countryside. A big Muddy thumbs up.
The Gunton Arms, near Cromer, Norfolk (No. 45)
Art gallery meets cosy country gastropub at The Gunton Arms, which is situated in the 1,000-acre historic deer park that surrounds the 150-year-old Gunton Hall, near Cromer in Norfolk. Everything combines here to create the perfect pub – an idyllic setting, cool, one-of-a-kind interiors and a meat and fish-lovers menu full of inspired dishes like Blythburgh pork chops and Gunton red deer rump, all prepared on an open fire. Head chef Stuart Tattersall and his wife Simone have retained a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the past six years and were the highest new entry in The Good Pub Guide in 2012. Read our full review here.
We’re still weeping into our posh gravy at the news Nick Parkinson is selling The Royal Oak at Paley Street. But whoever takes on this iconic destination pub has a lot to live up to, as it continues to sit pretty in the Top 50, at No.48. Located in leafy Littlefield Green near Maidenhead, is famously known as ‘Parky’s pub’. But it’s now stepped out from this showbiz shadow and is a foodie destination run by Sir Michael’s son Nick. So what makes it special? Well, punters love it for its unpretentious menu with old favourites cooked to perfection whether it be a classic steak or roast lamb. There’s a real emphasis on using seasonal, local ingredients wherever possible. Don’t expect anyone to roll out the red carpet, it’s a place to relax and enjoy great food in good company.
The Bell Inn, Langford, Oxfordshire (No. 47)
The Bell Inn has an unfussy vibe and an elevated pub-grub menu. The mantra is local and seasonal, the dishes are inventive and the game is often shot by owner Peter himself. Plus, the location and eight bedrooms make it a great base for stomping about The Cotswolds.
Super rural, surrounded by cows, in the hills above the valley of the River Exe, Nicholas Hack and Tina King serve up lovingly prepared old school favourites with a modern twist; local, sustainable and excellent quality. Book us in now.
And a new entry in at number 49 – Muddy favourite The Dog – which also scooped Best Food prize at the Great British Pub Awards. This place has it all – family run, verrry good food, 8 beautifully designed bedrooms – all with en suite bathrooms and loyal regulars thanks to its strong sense of local community. Found in picturesque Wingham, which is rather superbly located on the road that links Canterbury and Sandwich, this pub makes a good option if you want to make a weekend of it – or just visit for a walk and lunch.
Award-winning fine dining as well as trad pub classics in a sleepy Devon village a few miles outside the throbbing metropolis that is Exeter. Run by husband and wife team James and Charlie Garnham, with head chef Charlotte Vincent. Go girl! Read our review here.
See the full list of the UK’s top 50 gastropubs here.