Tucked away in the charming Staffordshire village of Ellastone is The Duncombe Arms – a country pub making a serious impression on the local culinary scene
Having reopened up to the public in 2012 under the new ownership of Johnny and Laura Greenhall, The Duncombe Arms has gone from strength to strength, despite a relatively humble launch. I say humble because while you may not have heard so much about it, it’s been quietly building an enviable reputation in the quaint little village of Ellastone on the Staffordshire and Derbyshire boarder (a few miles off the A50 at Uttoxeter) for the past six years, racking up recognition and acclaim from food critics like Tom Parker Bowles, as well as featuring in The Michelin Guide and The Good Pub Guide, among others, and collecting five star reviews from its clientele.
The Duncombe Arms has the perfect mix of sophistication, class and comfort – there is a good-sized restaurant and plenty of nooks to hide away in and you are always welcome to perch at the small but fully-stocked bar to sample its gin of the day or array of whiskies and ales.
Tasty, wholesome and a little bit fancy – the food is just as deliciously presented too – and you can be as adventurous as you like
Rustic decor with contemporary edges and nods to its farming heritage all feature in the interior design. It’s very home from home – in fact, the area dubbed ‘Johnny’s Bar’ could be your own sitting room – think cosy rugs, log burners and a selection of coffee table books sitting on the window sill. It’s the perfect setting for a romantic meal for two or a catch up with old friends. It all adds to the relaxed luxury vibe present from the moment you walk in.
The food is the product of young head chef Stuart Langdell who is a firm believer in using locally sourced produce, and he uses it to produce some truly exciting dishes. The menu is small but solid with a varied choice of starters, mains and additional sides. It does change regularly but you can expect to find dishes like ham & parsley terrine, violet mustard & pickles or homemade Scotch egg and mustard mayo for starters. Followed by pork belly with creamed mash and green apple puree, fillet steak with triple cooked chips, onion rings and peppercorn sauce or the popular Duncombe Ale haddock & chips, crushed peas and tartare sauce for a main.
And while it delivers a standard of service much accustomed to fine dining establishments, it does so without being pretentious, unwelcoming or intimidating.
Tasty, wholesome and a little bit fancy – the food is just as deliciously presented too – and you can be as adventurous as you like because the menu has both modern dishes and a few classic pub favourites thrown in. Prices are also another reason to go because you’ll only pay around £7-£9 for a starter and anywhere from £15 – £25 for a main – which is more than acceptable for the quality of food.
When it comes to puddings, the menu is divine. I have to recommend the chocolate delice – served with honeycomb & caramel and a creme fraiche sorbet – if you can possibly fit in it, please do. But then raspberry souffle and buttermilk panna cotta also feature so it’s a tough decision to make! You’ll pay around £7.50 for a pudding or you can opt for a selection of five cheeses for £10.50.
And finally, the wine. With an extensive list of around 98 in total, you’ll be glad of the knowledgeable staff to give you a guide. The Duncombe Arms also uses ‘Coravin’ – a revolutionary wine preservation system – so you can try the best wines by the 125ml glass. Please go and try something you wouldn’t normally go for – it’s a great way to sample the perfect accompanying glass with each course you have gone for.
It’s your traditional country pub, revitalised to survive in a time when staying in is the new going out; the Greenhall’s have given it a contemporary twist and the ample portion sizes make it worth every mile you have to make (which is about 23 miles from Stoke on Trent).
And while it delivers a standard of service much accustomed to fine dining establishments, it does so without being pretentious, unwelcoming or intimidating. So, if hearing the words Michelin makes you question your choice (purely because somewhere of this ‘calibre’ is not for you and your hungry tribe of little people or group of fun-loving friends on a Sunday) then think again. You will be met with the same warming welcome and level of service as anyone else.
An absolute gem for the growing gastronomy scene in Staffordshire.
It’s worth noting that they do also have a refurbished stone cottage just down the road on the estate where the family live, so you can even make a night of it and visit with stunning countryside the following day if you so wish. Garden Cottage costs from £200 per night and sleeps up to six people.