The Puesdown Inn near Cheltenham is a perfect example of a restaurant making good use of cheaper, locally sourced meats. Tom Vaughan popped down to the Cotswolds to sample the fare
When chef John Armstrong and his wife Maggie decided to buy the Puesdown Inn at Compton Abdale near Cheltenham in 2002 it was an unpromising local pub that needed a bit of money spent on it. But it had potential, so they sold their house and bought the property and set about creating a pub centred on a restaurant serving good quality food.
However, it's not always been easy to spread the word about the Puesdown - a fact brought home to the couple when it transpired that old friend Prue Leith lived 10 minutes away but was unaware of the pub's existence. They never doubted the path they'd chosen - even though they sold their house to buy the inn - and their faith was vindicated when the pub started winning awards, culminating in the 2007 West Country Gastropub of the Year.
So what's the secret of their success? Putting out good pub grub that people want to eat, it seems. The Puesdown's lunch menu, for example, is aimed at those seeking traditional pub fare, such as beer-battered fillets of lemon sole with chips and peas (£11.50) or steamed venison pudding with glazed carrots and mash (£8.95). There are a few evening dishes available during the day, but the lunch menu is generally more straightforward than its evening counterpart, which steps up a level in ambition.
For instance, among the starters on the latter you might get a dish like tiger prawns with black pudding and brandy butternut squash (£7.25), using locally sourced black pudding, roasted rather than fried, and butternut squash with a dash of brandy blitzed into a foam, or as Armstrong refers to it, "butternut squash air". It's nice to see a focus on cheaper cuts of meat cleverly used on the menu - pressed pig's head and foie gras terrine served with sauce gribiche (£7.25), for instance.
Pot roast mutton
There's also a main of pot roast mutton (the meat of choice of Cotswold neighbour the Prince of Wales), served with a small steamed pudding of neck of mutton (£15.50). For both his mutton and his venison Armstrong buys in whole carcasses, butchering them himself to cut costs and use as much of the animal as possible. Typical among venison offerings is a dish in which he matches the deer meat with vanilla syrup and glazed root vegetables (£16).
Popular fish dishes include a tournado of hake with a salmon mousseline, trompette and Parmesan hash (£14.50) and I also rated the seared scallops with celeriac purée, pea foam and a cleverly constructed circular pancetta crisp (£8.50) which was perfectly balanced and had great presentation.
On the whole, the Puesdown doesn't go down the route of using expensive ingredients. And, generally, the food is solidly rooted in British classics, although there are a few crowd-pleasers with Asian crossover appeal - such as chargrilled marinated wild salmon with crisp noodle cake, pak choi and coriander (£16), and a supreme of duck, crispy leg spring roll, beetroot risotto, honey-soused vegetables and green peppercorn sauce (£17).
Desserts are fimly in the comfort zone. A bread and butter pudding (steamed for 20 minutes before resting for another five) comes with marmalade ice-cream (£6.25), perfectly moist and zinging with fruit a warm chocolate fondant likewise avoids dryness, and is complemented by chocolate and brandy sorbet (£6.25).
At the moment, average spend varies greatly at lunchtime, but clocks in at about £30-£35 a head in the evening. Not bad considering the pub is currently doing up to 100 covers on a Sunday lunch, 75 on a Saturday evening and about 30 on a midweek evening.
Three rooms, converted from old grain stores, now give non-locals the chance to visit the Puesdown for a weekend, while Armstrong says that people are travelling from further and further away to attend regular cookery demonstrations which he stages. Slowly, people are starting to know that the Puesdown Inn is in existence. Even Prue Leith.
What's on the menu
- Bowl of Fowey mussels, white wine shallot jus, £7.25
- Langoustine bisque, tortellini of white meat, £6.95
- Hazelnut and goats' cheese cheesecake with pesto of sun-dried tomato, £7.25
- Assiette of Old Spot pork and apple, cider fondant, soured white cabbage, green apple jus, £17
- Wild sea bass with a carrot fondue, £18
- Roast cannon of Gloucestershire lamb, pommes Anna, root vegetables, £17
- Tarte tatin, cinnamon ice-cream, £6.25
- Chilled glazed vanilla rice pudding, £6.25
- Lemon and lime tart, £6.25
The Puesdown Inn, Compton Abdale, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 4DN. Tel: 01451 860262 www.puesdown.cotswoldinns.com