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Top 50 gastropubs 2021 revealed

What better week for the reveal of the country's best gastropubs than the start of lockdown easing? Here are our pick of those a stone's throw from Northants - phones at the ready to bag your table.

With the timing perfection of an expertly cooked fillet steak, along comes the list of the country’s finest gastropubs just when we’re itching to get some pub lunches, dinners and drinkies in the diary.

Oh, gastropubs, how we’ve missed you. We’re salivating over the thought of that pan-fried trout/crispy pork belly/stick toffee pudding, washed down with some fabulous vintage from the perfectly selected wine list.

In the spirit of the gift that keeps on giving, Estrella Damm has this year decided to name 100 pubs instead of the usual 50.

After what has been the toughest year for many of the nation’s pubs, forced to shut their doors or reinvent themselves as farm shops and takeaways, we feel it’s our duty to work our way around the cream of the local crop.

So here they are the best ones near(ish) to Northants. We’ll race you to the table…

OXFORDSHIRE

The Wild Rabbit, Kingham (No. 34)

What they say:  Hopping seven places in the 2021 list,  this elegant Kingham inn, near Chipping Norton, is owned by Lady Bamford, who is also behind the Daylesford organic café, deli, cookery school and spa complex near the pub (no not literally, can you imagine Lady B serving your flat white?). The restaurant combines the traditional British country-dining scene with more modern, urban touches. The Wild Rabbit has 12 rooms located in the main building and four dog-friendly garden rooms.

What we say: You can tell that the Daylesford touch is all over this restaurant-with-rooms – The Wild Rabbit is cosy Cotswold chic at its finest with nooks of seating around huge log fires and stylish pared back interiors. There’s also private dining in ‘The Chicken Shed’ for up to 20 but you can expect more than a handful of corn. Local ingredients feature highly in summer the terrace has a BBQ/grill menu. Outdoor dining from 12 Apr – 17 May, walk in only.

Try this: Cornish Pollock, salt baked carrots, salted pollock fish cake, sea herbs, shellfish sauce £28.50

The Kingham Plough (No. 68)

You’re spoilt for choice in Kingham with The Plough and The Wild Rabbit… we feel a foodie break coming on. This pub-with-rooms offers innovative modern British dishes with Mediterranean influences from head chef, Jonny Pons. Dishes on the sample menu include Cornish Moules Mariniere and fries, as well as roasted butternut squash risotto, chestnuts, pearl onion and parmesan.

The Nut Tree, Murcott (No. 69)

This pretty village pub has held its Michelin Star since 2008 thanks to a menu that balances British gastro pub classics with modern twists. Main courses on the pub’s sample menu include Blythburgh pork belly porchetta cauliflower, pear, Iberico chorizo.

The Magdalen Arms, Oxford (No. 72)

This corner of Iffley is becoming a bit of a foodie paradise with this quirky pub at its centre. Alongside hosting flea markets the pub serves cracking seasonal dishes with a twist such as slow cooked lamb shoulder, dauphinoise gratin and pickled red cabbage.

The Bell at Langford, Near Burford (No. 94)

What the Bell does best is simple, hearty food in a modern country pub setting – perfection for any lazy Sunday afternoon we reckon. Run by Peter Creed and Tom Noest, focussing on good pub grub with a straightforward wine list, spirits and beer selection.

There is a cosy bar area with lots of seating to have a quiet drink, a separate restaurant with open fire and a view of the pizza oven, also a large beer garden overlooking the open countryside. It’s one of Muddy’s fave pubs, with its seasonal menu ever-changing and sourced from local game dealers, farmers, butchers and fishmongers.

RUTLAND

The Olive Branch, Clipsham (No. 25 )

Foodies will know all about the award-winning The Olive Branch pub. Situated in the pretty village of Clipsham, the pub is housed in a building that dates back to 1890. Today the kitchen is overseen by chef and co-owner Sean Hope, who seeks out new local produce from the kitchen garden and surrounding farms, estates, woodland and hedgerows to inspire the kitchen team and develop new dishes. Their spring menu is already live and features the likes of English asparagus, wild garlic soup, Cornish cod, tarragon gnocchi, garden peas and more. We can’t wait to visit again when they reopen on April 14 when they’ll be serving food in their outdoor gazebos and on the terrace.

The Wheatsheaf, Greetham (No. 46)

We’ve been shouting about this beautiful pub for as long as we can remember. Carol cooks in the kitchen while Scott looks after the front of house. Originally from South Africa, the Craddocks settled in Rutland with her family after working with the likes of Rebecca Mascarenhas at The Phoenix in Putney and Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum. 12 years ago they turned what was once a quiet village pub, into a buzzing village local. Carol focuses on local ingredients and once told me that she “tends to only feature dishes on her menu that she likes to eat.” It’s obviously working! They’re currently offering a takeaway menu and plan to reopen in April.

LEICESTERSHIRE

The Badger’s Mount, Elmsthorpe (No. 63)

Relatively unheard of on the foodie scene, this charming gourmet bolthole is perfectly located in the gorgeous green Leicestershire countryside. Eating at the Glen Watson Restaurant is a chic country dining experience and the menu features a hearty selection of seasonal dishes like rump of lamb, pan fried Dover sole as well as a wine cellar brimming with everything from premium vintages to crowd pleasers to accompany your meal. Guests who don’t want to journey home can take advantage of the 2 bedrooms or the larger apartment.

CAMBRIDGESHIRE

The Three Hills, Bartlow (Number 22) 

What They Say: The highest new entry at number 22, The Three Hills is already an award-winning kitchen, with two AA Rosettes and a Michelin Plate. The menu is local, seasonal, and offers real choice from light bites to stunning mains. The Three Hills have lovely rooms too, located in the pretty 110-person village of Bartlow, it’s the ideal place for a foodie to relax.  

What We Say: We have enjoyed many a lunch, the odd dinner, a truly memorable Sunday roast, and copious glasses of very good wine at this super friendly, but hugely professional pub. All areas are equally attractive and welcoming from the bar to the bright and airy restaurant to the gorgeous big garden. Whether you want a light lunch of filled flatbreads or sharing boards or something classy and delicate like beetroot tartare followed by pan-fried halibut – you will not be disappointed. That big garden will get busy this summer – so book far in advance! 

Try this: Crispy Battered Haddock and Chips with dill creamed crushed peas, triple cooked chips, & charred lemon: £14.

The Hole in the Wall, Wilberham (Number 62)

What they say they: Head chef Nilesh Misquitta took over The Hole in the Wall two years ago after spending twenty years at the top end of hospitality working on the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship and leading hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Now serving great locally sourced food, from British classics with an unexpected twist to delicious Asian dishes.

What we say: We love the story of this pub’s name –  tired farmers would grab their ales through an actual hole in the wall of this 16th Century (grade II listed) building. You can get great classics like fish and chips. delicate dishes and amazing asian fayre like Chicken teriyaki – what’s not to love?  

Try this: Teriyaki chicken with stir fry vegetables in egg noodles and Thai red curry sauce: from £11 (current take-out price).

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