Meandering country lanes? Check.
Dog bowl on the floor? Check.
‘Bob’s eggs, £1’ from a few doors up, next to an honesty box on the bar? Check.
A pre-starter of hot, sour lobster soup from a stock of real depth and character, punchy with Thai flavours? Homemade bread, homemade butter, a rich canary yellow? A smokehouse out back? A menu which changes not just every day, but with every service? Hmm.
The Longs Arms looks like your typical Wiltshire country pub. Low ceilings, stone walls, flagstones: it would be a lovely place to pass a couple of hours with a pint. And then you look at the menu, which couldn’t be more transparent if it was etched on glass. Each dish is billed with a county of origin, but it goes further than that: in the small print there are credits for the farmer breeding the pigs, the boat which lands your fish.
Lamb breast with haggis is densely, richly meaty and tender to a fault, a thick jus dark and sticky and finger-dabbingly good. Cucumber and peanuts add texture and lightness against all that richness: it’s a lovely way to start a meal, and clearly the result of some patience in that kitchen.
Crab salad is delicate and sweet, with green strawberries bringing a clever touch of the sour to a dish of subtle Asian accents.
Sole is a treat. It just nudges apart. Potato ‘terrine’ is made of scores of tender compressed slivers, evidence of even more diligent work in the kitchen. But the pork? Ah the pork… settle in, young ‘uns, and I’ll tell ye such tales…
‘Crackling’ doesn’t do justice to a strip as long as my forearm (for regular readers who are fond of Ancient World non-standardised units, that’s a Porky Cubit). I’m told later that it takes more than a day to prep this particular element; one can only appluad it as time well spent.
The fat on the piece of belly has been rendered until the skin is parchment-thin: glossy, delicate. ‘Porky glass’ would nail it.
I make no apologies whatsoever for including multiple pictures of this plate, this love letter to pork and its possibilities. This is the product of long hours- there’s that word patience again- of attention, of careful consideration of how to show off wonderful produce to best effect.
Black pud is crumbled on faultlessly silky truffled mash, the tartness from the apple a vivid reminder of just how well these everyday things fit together. There’s nothing revolutionary here, no frippery and no fuss: it’s essentially pork and mash and apple sauce, but so beautifully done, such honest to goodness wonderful cooking, that you already know this meal will loom large in the memory.
This dish reminds me of music. Stay with me on this: specifically, it reminds me of The Stone Roses’ I Am The Resurrection. It’s the way things start conventionally enough, the metronomic drumbeat, the bass’ simple loop locking in, before everything goes widescreen technicolour as John Squires’ guitar starts to curl around the beat, starts to spray rainbow quicksilver. It’s sumptuous stuff.
Desserts take you by the hand and walk you down the road to your favourite childhood sweet shop, the one where they knew you by name and always threw in an extra treat or two when you turned up with your coins in your greedy little hands. From a pantechnicon’s worth of ice cream flavours (all made here, of course) we have liquorice, cherry and parma violet. It’s a whimsical end to a remarkably satisfying meal.
It’s enough to make man come over all Proustian.
The Longs Arms is ‘just’ a pub. This is ‘just’ pub food. But this is a showcase of brilliant British produce, cooked with an eye to extracting the maximum flavour with no fuss, no flannel, no finicky frippery. No airs and graces. Just the best of British ingredients, treated with love and respect, and never in danger of disappearing up its own arse.
Recommended without any hesitation or reservation: but you already knew that. (The Good Food Guide is well off the mark when it calls this ‘a regulation roadside boozer’). There may well be some parallel dimension in which cooking like this is found in every English country pub;
but until then, this is a place to be treasured, and if I was a local I’d have to sell some of my favourite internal organs to fund frequent visits.)
I’ve had Michelin starred meals which have lingered a lot less in the memory: plates from household names which didn’t give me this much joy. This is food which suspends the outside world and its cares, and wraps you up in the simple pleasures of excellent British produce, beautifully cooked. It sends you out into the world that little bit happier, that little bit more hopeful.
And there isn’t anything better, really- is there?
The Longs Arms
Upper South Wraxall
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.