The Brits are famous all over the world for their pub culture. However, these traditional drinking establishments did not include too many dining options besides the typically British cold appetisers known as ploughman's lunch. The concept of gastropub appeared sometime during the late 20th century as a way of reinvigorating this side of the British lifestyle. Despite the negative reactions arguing that this mixture of eating and drinking venues would destroy the character of traditional British pubs, the concept gained such a popularity that it was soon exported overseas.
The gastropub is now one of British lifestyle's core concepts and several awards are granted annually to the best of these establishments. Here are, according to Publican's Morning Advertiser, the top 5 gastropubs in the UK.
Hand & Flowers Pub - Flickrs, johnmightycat1
1. The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire A family run business, the Hand & Flowers pub has won several awards since its opening in 2005. Among this top gastropub's achievements we have to mention its two Michelin stars - a level that hasn't yet been equalled by any other British pub. When talking about Hand & Flowers' food, pub critics used phrases like "sophisticated yet familiar" dishes (Rebecca Burr – Michelin Guide editor) or "otherworldly intensity of colour and taste" (Allan Jenkins – The Guardian).
Besides being an exquisite and very trendy dining venue, Hand & Flowers is the perfect destination for a romantic weekend escape. Its owners (Tom and Beth Kerridge) decided to enlarge the range of services they provide by refurbishing two traditional cottages and turning them into luxurious suites. If this sounds inviting and you want to taste one of their foie gras dishes, poppy seed crackers or banana soufflé, it is advisable to check their reservations schedule first as their tables are booked a few months ahead.
The Sportsman, Seasalter - Flickr/Ewan-M
2. The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent
Perched on the sea shore and surrounded by an "end of the world" atmosphere, the Sportsman is another great location for a good grub. The pub's story begins in November 1999, when the owners decided to take the necessary steps in order to prove that fine dining does not have to mean exorbitant prices.
A self-taught chef, Stephen Harris and his co-chef Dan Flavell based their success on a rather uncommon concept with high class restaurants: self-sufficiency. Thus, the guys at the Sportsman avoid working with industrial wholesalers. In order to keep their costs under control, but also to make sure the ingredients are fresh they grow a part of the vegetables they use in their cooking themselves, curate their own ham, and even extract salt. The rest of the raw materials come from local farms: eggs and meat from Monkshill Farm, vegetables and soft fruits from Mallards Farm, chicken and geese from Waterham Farm, fish from Griggs of Hythe, sea fruit from Whitstable Shellfish, milk and dairy products from Hinxden Farm.
The Star at Harome - Flickr/John the Geologist
3) The Star at Harome, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Set in an idyllic location, the Star at Harome charms its customers with a traditional British pub atmosphere and delicious Yorkshire dishes. While the building itself dates back to the 14th century, the pub was opened in 1996 by Andrew Pern – the chef and owner, who grew up on a farm in Esk Valley, learned to cook on his own and now lives only a few miles away from the pub. Relying on seasonal ingredients, the pub's menu is not the same all year round and never too long. However, Pern's reputation of knowing how to cook modern dishes while also preserving the typical North Yorkshire touch travelled quickly and his restaurant is never empty.
The locals as well as tourists come to the picturesque village of Helmsley to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, to explore the surrounding woods and the quiet country lanes, or to sightsee historic landmarks like Rievaulx Abbey, Hovingham Hall and Helmsley Castle. Adjacent to the pub, there is a small 8 room hotel and the Star Inn, where you can find accommodation for your active or romantic break.
Wild Rabbit at Pipe & Glass Inn - Flickr/thefoodplace
4) Pipe & Glass Inn, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Another charming venue in Yorkshire, Pipe & Glass Inn is set in a 17th century building in South Dalton, near Beverley. After building their reputation for serving quality food in a traditional countryside pub atmosphere, James and Kate Mackenzie (the pub's owners) decided to extend their services by adding two luxurious suites – Sage (silver and black design) and Thyme (gold and aubergine theme).
Salted oxtongue starter at Harwood Arms - Flickr/elisabet.s
5) Harwood Arms, Fulham, London
It's not your average gastropub", stated Terry Durack from The Independent when reviewing Harwood Arms. London's best pub for a grub and the only one to hold a Michelin star, Harwood Arms has had its dishes praised countless of times since its re-opening in September 2008.
Its lamb shoulder was described as "ideally supple and flaky" by the World's Fussiest Eater. The same reviewer (Mathew Norman, The Guardian) speaks about "magnificent winter warmers" and "plump, fantastically fresh, fairly priced" oysters "accompanied by a fine apple and chardonnay-infused vinegar". This rural heaven located in the heart of Fulham, West London is not only one of the British capital's finest eateries, but a gastronomic benchmark.
Loved your article. I used to live in Henley-on-Thames for three years, and spent a lot of time in Marlow. I just love English pubs at the best of times.
These days the food they serve is nearly always good, bordering on excellent, yet some just shine a little brighter than others.
Carole. Sydney, Australia