Grand for its rural village location, a large garden, sweeping countryside views. The bar of The Queens Arms, in Corton Denham, Somerset, is the heart, there’s a dining area on one side and a more relaxed area for drinking and eating on the other. The floors are worn, the furniture is modern in its antiquity, tastefully miss-matched. On the bar are four handpumps (two from Moor, Adnams Extra, Millstone True Grit, plus a couple in the cellar if you know the right people); behind it are two casks of cider; in keg they have Meantime London Stout (they stopped selling Guinness a couple of years ago); Pilsner Urquell for the beer lover who fancies a lager; Amstel for the guy who doesn’t recognise anything else; a rolling tap, this weekend featuring Duvel Green; and two kegs of cider, one of them local. Lined all around is a widescreen vision of bottles - gins and whiskys, spirits, exciting world beers - pale, dark, sour. On the bar are bottles of Moor beer, packs of eggs laid in the village, a mountain of freshly baked pork pies and jars of mustard. Upstairs they have five fine rooms, cosy, smart, relaxing, ideal for a weekend away.
The beers were fantastically kept and all excellent. Adnams Extra was an ode to the Fuggle with its earthy, bitter fruit flavour while Millstone’s True Grit was brioche and citrus hops. Then four Moor beers, which was good as Justin Hawke, the Moor head brewer, was the guy who greeted me at the bar. Queens Revival (3.8%) was a great, refreshing hoppy session beer. Northern Star was a special dry-hopped batch with lots of Citra, giving a bold punch of citrus bitterness and a quenching drinkability for its modest 4.1%. Raw (4.3%), a Celeia (I think...) dry-hopped version of Merlin's Magic, was like a very good best bitter but better. And Hoppiness (6.5%), a 50/50 blend of Revival and JJJ IPA (this one also dry-hopped with Citra), which with one sniff transported me to the West Coast USA with its big, pithy, punchy citrus – bold, bitter and bloody good to see a beer of this style and quality in a British pub. We also opened a bottle of Moor Fusion, an old ale aged in ex-cider brandy barrels. There are only 700 bottles around; it’s dark and fruity and beneath that comes a dry, apple-skin flavour, a woodiness in the texture, some chocolate and spice. It’s subtle and very special. Then, picking from their spirits, two from the Anchor Distillery - an Old Potrero 19th century whiskey which was smooth, vanilla-licked, charred, vegetal and warming, and a Genevieve gin which had crazy botanicals, a dry finish and an unexpected bready, malty middle.
We ate there too. The asparagus and local poached egg was my idea of spring food heaven, especially with the Raw. My belly pork with bubble and squeak is my idea of any day food heaven, especially with the Hoppiness. Lauren’s bream with tapenade, tomatoes and pepper was swimmingly-fresh and delicious. A rhubarb clafoutis was the lightest I’ve ever tasted and perfect with a glass of sweet Italian dessert wine (the wine list is also excellent and long). The breakfast the morning after was spot on – bacon, sausage, perfectly oozing poached eggs, mushroom, haggis, roasted vine tomatoes and toast.
The best thing about The Queens Arms is the way everything is finished with smart little touches. A fresh flower on the windowsill makes a big difference. We had a sofa in our room and a view out onto fields which tells you to slow down, you’re in the country now. The room has a pack of jelly babies and a couple of magazines. If you want to go for a walk they have wellies, they’ll even make you a picnic if you want one. The pork pies and olives on the bar are great with beer and impossible to resist. There are games in the garden for the (big and little) kids. The way the menus look and feel, the way the staff say hello, the care and attention of everything – it just makes you feel at home, the way the best pubs should.
Some pubs are perfect: a garden for the sun; a respite from the rain where muddy boots aren’t frowned upon; a fire warming the stone walls with its smoky heat; a destination on a spring afternoon: somewhere you can always find good beer, good food and good people. The Queens Arms is one of those rare places.