Second, as you arrive in the village, this red brick pub which dates back to the 16th Century is just beautiful, and beautifully kept. It's what you want a rural pub to be and that remains with you when you step in side to low wood beams, the glow and warmth of a wood burner and an equally warm and effusive welcome from the owner and staff. What's more, it's a real pub, not a restaurant that was formerly a pub and they have guest ales (which sadly driving precluded me trying). That said, the place is pretty tiny and can't have room for more than 20 people sitting. Needless to say, booking is essential.
Third, we like the menu and basically want to have everything on it. Five starters, five mains, all begging to be ordered. Even an red onion tart, not something I might ordinarily go for sounds enticing as it comes dressed with 'melting wigmore cheese, balsamic dressing'. A Cornish fish soup is made from smoked cod, pan fried turbot and hake. Mains that we didn't go for included loin of fallow deer and a roasted Dover sole with chantrelle mushrooms.
The menu reads so well, can the chef pull it off?
So what did we order? We elected for some comfort starters, crispy middle white pig cheek with egg yolk ravioli, pennybu mushrooms, and Salcombe crab risotto. The pig cheek is pretty large portion, not far off what would be an acceptable main course in fact. Crucially, the egg yolk ravioli works perfectly and the pork packs in dense flavours with just the right amount of crisp while some apple sauce on the bottom clears the mouth with acidity and freshness so that even with the a larger portion size, you don't grow tired. This was a rich and classy dish and we loved it. Equally, the crab risotto showed its best side too with a suitably oozy texture. We have generally observed in the blog 'so goes the starters, so goes the meal' and these starters were good.
This time of year in the countryside, how could we not order the partridge? The crown is served up with faggot and onions while we assume the legs must have been confited as the meat fell off the bone after taking the first bite into it (making eating the legs a less messy affair than normal which was nice). This was exactly how partridge should be, the meat nice and moist and the delicate flavours preserved. I always like it just a little bit when I find a piece of shot in my game bird as a nod to provenance, and to be able to enjoy a precisely cooked partridge in a beautiful country pub seems to me one of the great pleasure in life. The fillet of beef showed equal precision in the cooking with some really great flavours to the beef. Only the small oxtail pie with it lets the side down, missing inside its own rich gravy. Given the quantity of food we have already been served, it's a minor matter.
Indeed, dessert is more out of curiosity and we share peanut caramel & pistachio macarons with pistachio ice cream, lemon & pear sorbet. Brown sugar donuts and orange marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard sound delightful but are definitely for another day. Maybe because we are full, maybe because it is slightly less country pub than what else we've enjoyed so far, but it doesn't quite deliver the same happy '"I never want to leave here" satisfaction as what's gone before.
London doesn't really do pubs with Michelin stars (except The Harwood Arms), while outside of London they are found in greater frequency. Some deliver outstanding cooking, like Royal Oak, Paley Street, while many others leave us aghast that they have been recognised by Michelin when the likes of The French, The Clove Club and Bubbledogs Kitchen Table have been passed over (as of the 2014 Guide). With The Butchers Arms however, we really did love it and as Tom Kerridge has shown everyone this year, the UK really is ready to embrace proper pub food. Indeed, even booking a couple of weeks in advance, we found The Butchers Arms to be full on our originally chosen day to eat there and we ended up moving our visit to accommodate when they had a table free. It was worth it.
If you are staying in the Gloucestershire area, you are now pretty much spoiled for choice when it comes to great places to eat, with Le Champignon Sauvage, Lords of The Manor, 5 North Street and Lumiere all in the county. We now add The Butchers Arms to this list (okay, it's technically Worcestershire by 20 yards), it's everything we think a country pub should be, and with game season upon us, it seems a great time of year to visit them. And with husband and wife team James and Elizabeth Winter so young, The Butchers Arms is another reason to celebrate British food and British restaurants. We'll certainly be back.