Bradley’s Hare, Church Street, Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire BA12 7HW (01985 801018). Starters £ 6.50 to £ 10, main courses £ 13.50 to £ 23, desserts £ 7.50, wines from £ 20
If you wanted a single plate of food to symbolize the current state of the bloated country pub, you could do a lot worse than study my main course in what is now the Bradley Hare in the village of Maiden Bradley, a few miles from Warminster in Wiltshire. It’s steak and fries. Except, of course, that it’s not steak and fries; or at least not correct steak and fries. The meat is flawless, true to the boisterous commitment here to quality ingredients. They don’t just have a butcher. They also have a game dealer. They say they are against waste and very supportive of community involvement, so they have a barter deal with the local home garden company, allowing them to order certain vegetables and “botanicals” for the bar. The Bradley Hare has the kind of bar that needs plants. I suspect that was not the case when it was the somewhat less titillating Somerset Arms.
As for this steak, it arrives pre-sliced, so it’s flashing pink. It’s on top of a bed of arugula and sliced cherry tomatoes. It’s in turn on a solid raft of sourdough, coated profusely with romesco, the glorious Catalan condiment of roasted almonds, peppers, bread, garlic and olive oil that makes almost everything it touches so much better. A few fried onions are sprinkled on top as they always help. It’s a serious look and, more importantly, a joy to eat. The chips are thin, hot and crisp and sometimes with the skin on.
There will be a constituency that now wants to cry out, “See! It’s all that is wrong with the modern and refined culinary culture that will not leave matters alone. What’s wrong with regular old steak and chips? To which, in this dysfunctional argument that I have now with the interlocutor in my head, I would answer, “Nothing.” But it can be better if it’s done right. Here, it is really very well done.
I agree that the Bradley Hare won’t be for everyone, that pub traditionalists might find it deeply irritating. It is worth knowing that many of the people involved are from the Soho House International Members’ Club group. Managing Director Ben Jones was previously the Restaurant Manager at Babington House, the country house of the Soho House group. A co-director is James Thurstan Waterworth, who bears the name of one of those valiant souls who sacrificed themselves on Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition. He is the former Director of European Design for Soho House. If you’ve never heard of Soho House, the mere fact that they need a European design director tells you all you need to know.
It’s, in short, a brilliant relaunch of a country pub, aimed at people who know the different shades of paint on the walls have fancy names; that the weaving of carpets, and saris remade into plaids, count; that canapes should be squelchy but not too squelchy. Obviously I’m very happy here, because traditional ads make me feel like I never read the ad user manual completely. The food follows this steak’s pattern, for the most part. It’s thoughtful and thoughtful. Cod roe is creamy and whipped, but can still be salty and tangy. It’s accompanied by crunchy, immaculate radishes, which gag to be pulled through, and slices of warm, slightly fatty, flaky flatbread, much like a paratha, but in more delicate ways.
There’s a beetroot “risotto” made with puffy pearl barley jewelry and chunky curls of freshly grated horseradish that tickle the nose. A puree of red beets has been cooked through pearl barley and then it is layered with chunks and slices alike in shades of purple, purple, orange and pink. It’s purposefully beautiful, like a polite 20 year old who knows he will look just plain fabulous in any Instagram photo. Specifically, it’s a good punch for the parison. It reminds me of the classic Jewish Beetroot and Horseradish Chrain condiment, broken down into its parts to come together again on the fork. It’s a little strange to meet him here, in the middle of what is part of the Duke of Somerset’s estate. Some would say the same about another main course: cod, with brown shrimp butter and grilled cucumber. It’s a reminder that this is ambitious pub territory, where cucumbers can be charred.
After weeks of hanging around, shaking your head at wine lists designed to make people feel like fools to even think about going out to eat on a budget, this one deserves all kinds of attention. hosannas. The choice is wide without being overwhelming, but most importantly it opens at £ 20 a bottle and about half is under £ 35. A large part is also available by the glass and in a carafe. It’s a list written by people who want you to have a good time. Again, the place is designed for a few days rather than a one-night stand. There are a dozen rooms and an associated spa in the village, also occupied by elders of Babington House.
A few days after my visit, their PR emailed me to let me know that the chef, whose name was trumpeted on the website at launch (and who, at the time of writing, is still listed) , had separated from the company a couple of weeks before. This may explain the slump at the end of a sweet meal. A raspberry cabbage with cream of gin is a millefeuille that no one could bother to build. There is a mound of whipped cream with juniper, a few raspberries and a few triangles of squeezed cabbage, cleverly positioned. It is an idea, incomplete. A crumb of brown butter with strawberries and curd cream is a nice idea, executed in a disappointing way. It is dominated by this too salty and slightly sweet cookie crumb. Add more sugar and maybe a few crushed gingerbread cookies and it just might be dessert. Right now, it’s a waste of calories. With a choice of Brickell’s ice cream, it looks like a dessert list specially designed to make serving more manageable for the kitchen, rather than to please the punters.
That moody note undermines the headlines: Here, amid the Narnian wonders of Longleat Forest, an old pub has been taken over, brushed, sanded, painted, varnished, and turned into an extremely civilized retreat from a world that, frankly, right now, deserves to flee from time to time. This version of the ad might just drive some people crazy. I suggest they go hang out elsewhere.
The much loved JoJo’s, overlooking the sea in Tankerton just outside Whitstable, has launched a Crowdfunder to secure its future. Full ownership of the whitewashed corner of a building that houses the Mediterranean-tapas restaurant, is for sale. To help buy it, they need £ 100,000. So far, two-thirds of that has been pledged, in return for various rewards and incentives: a dinner cooked by Chef Tom Kerridge and hosted by Suggs of Madness is already fully subscribed, for example. But there are still more available in exchange for your dosh, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/save-jojos.
It’s a cautious and wide-eyed welcome to The Top Hat, a new restaurant on Tottenham Court Road in London with a Monopoly board game theme. Cocktails refer to different properties on the London table and you can ‘Take a Chance card’ when ordering drinks. The food, which includes pork belly stuffed with applesauce and fish and chips, luckily has nothing to do with the theme. It sits alongside Monopoly Lifesize, an attraction that offers a chance to play an enlarged version of the game. monopolelifesized.com/le-top-hat-bar-restaurant
And some figures on the personnel crisis in the restaurant, pub and bar sector. A survey by three industry bodies – UK Hospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping – puts the vacancy rate at around 10%. This equates to a shortfall of 200,000 people.